FORT WORTH, Texas September 17, 2016 — “O’zapft is!” is the cry signaling the start of Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. Many of us imagine the whole of Germany full of beer, bratwurst, oompah-pah bands, dancing and general merry-making this time of year.
That scene does not quite fit the reality though. Much like outsiders thinking that all Texans live on ranches, ride horses and install gun racks on baby strollers, this too is a stereotype.
I spoke with Bernhild “Bernie” Barron, German language teacher at Saginaw High School in Saginaw, Texas. Frau Barron is a native of Mainz, Germany and says, “I grew up in a different part of Germany. In the area where I grew up, we did not really pay much attention to the Oktoberfest. Each area has a multitude of their own festivals and celebrations. We tend to stay more local.”
She goes on to say, “The Oktoberfest was a much larger version of the kinds of festivals that we had throughout the year in my town and the surrounding areas. I grew up in a wine area, so our town would have the wine from the local vineyards. Munich is a beer area, as they grow hops….The festivals do differ slightly though. Mainz, where I am from is mainly a white wine region. We do have a few vineyards that grow red grapes. So my area focuses on the wine festivals. “
Interesting. Oh, and Oktoberfest doesn’t start in October. It starts in September.
OFEST.COM™ reports that the occasion traditionally starts in the third weekend in September and ends the first Sunday of October. Also, the celebration didn’t begin as a harvest festival, it started with the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen in 1810.
The royal family invited citizens of Munich to the festivities held on the grounds near the royal palace. Locals named the area Theresienwiese or Theresa’s Fields in honor of the new Crown Princess. Natives now refer to it as die Wiesn. Horse races in the presence of the royal family marked the close of the event and became one of the favorite events of the fest lasting until 1960.
Bavarian citizens loved the gala so much that they celebrated again the next year in 1811. Since then only war and cholera epidemics have interfered with the annual festivities.
In 1812 organizers added an agricultural show. In the late 1810’s carnival booths and rides added to the fun. About.com says that Oktoberfest is like a huge American state fair complete with rides, carnival booths, food and entertainment.
Beer booths evolved to tents then to huge beer halls sponsored by Bavarian brewers. The drink is an integral part of Oktoberfest. But there are strict rules that apply to the lager served at the celebration.
It is darker and stronger than traditional beer and contains up to 6 percent alcohol.
Only six Munich breweries have permission to make this particular brew and serve it. And if one wants to be a server or beer maid, employees must be able to carry ten of the beer-filled 1-liter mugs at once.
Frau Barron touched on Oktoberfest attire, “Of course you see lots of Dirndl dresses and the traditional outfits for the men at the Oktoberfest. I never had a dirndl when I grew up, nor did any of my friends or relatives. I only bought one the last time I went to Germany, because I am a German teacher in America. (I have yet to wear it.)”
Americans are usually up for a good time so it’s not surprising that Oktoberfest caught on here when Bavarian immigrants brought it to our shores. Along with the Christmas tree it is probably the biggest German import to the US and the rest of the world.
The festival has grown so much that people from North America to Japan celebrate the German gala. The US city of Dover, New Jersey holds two Oktoberfest fetes; one in June and one in September. However, most American celebrations are in September and October; some last a few days and others continue for a couple of weeks.
And that goes from one end of the country to the other.
One of the preeminent festivals in the Midwest takes place in New Ulm, Minnesota, once known as “the most German city in the USA.” A highlight of this fest is that one of the longest continuously owned and operated family-run breweries in the nation, Schell’s Brewery, provides the lager for the festival.
The Reading Liederkranz Oktoberfest is the oldest and largest in Pennsylvania. The first being in 1885 by the Reading Liederkranz, a group of friends that gathered to sing songs from their native Germany. It is currently the fourth-best Oktoberfest celebration after Munich.
Oktoberfest Zinzinnati started in 1976 as a way to celebrate Cincinnati’s deep German heritage. It is now the largest Oktoberfest in the United States. Events include the running of the wieners—a race of 100 dachshunds dressed in hotdog bun costumes and the world’s largest chicken dance.
Today, Oktoberfest in Munich is the largest festival in the world. This is not surprising since it started over two-hundred years ago. Now over six million visitors from all over the world attend the site of the original festivities. This year Oktoberfest runs from September 17th through October 3rd. If you can ever make it to Bavaria in September you will assuredly have a wundebartime.
Now about those wine-fests…..