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Prost! The History of Germany's Oktoberfest

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

Since its first rendition over 200 years ago, Germany’s Oktoberfest has been synonymous with beer, bratwurst and lederhosen. Many beer lovers have dreamed of visiting Germany during the festival, or attended a similarly-inspired event in their own city. With celebrations going virtual this year, we thought we’d dive a little deeper into the world’s largest “Volkfest”, the festival today, and how you can join in the fun in a virtual way.

Oktoberfest Origins

The original Oktoberfest was held on October 12, 1810 to commemorate the marriage of Bavaria’s Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. To ring in the occasion, Munich residents were invited to partake in a gigantic feast held at the fields outside of the Munich front gates. These fields are now known as “Theresienwiese” (or Therese’s fields) after the Princess. The festivities mainly revolved around horse races, but later expanded with an agricultural fair, rides, and beer.

Traditionally, the Munich Oktoberfest takes place in the 16-18 days leading up to the first Sunday in October - hence why most of the celebrations take place in September despite the October name!

Oktoberfest Today

After the original celebration’s success, the festival became, for the most part, a yearly tradition known throughout the world. Now, it’s the world’s largest “Volkfest,” or “beer festival and fun fair”. Oktoberfest attracts around six million tourists and over seven million attendees for those 16-18 days each year. During the festival, seven million litres of beer are served to attendees, as well as a mix of wine (gluhwein, or mulled wine) and non-alcoholic drinks, with around $1 billion dollars spent in the local economy.

Oktoberfest Beer

If you keep a keen eye on the beer shelves of your favourite liquor stores, you may notice that there’s a type of beer that starts popping up beginning of September that isn’t pumpkin related. German breweries will release their Oktoberfest beers to the world market around this time, while other local craft breweries may do a seasonal release of an Oktoberfest-inspired beer.

At the official festival, only beer conforming to the Reinheitsgebot (German beer rules), and brewed within the city limits of Munich, can be served at the Munich Oktoberfest and can be designated as Oktoberfest Beer. However, the name 'Oktoberfest beer' can denote two different beer styles: a traditional Märzen lager and a paler, lighter Festbier that is now more commonly served at the festival.

That said, breweries around the world still adopt the Oktoberfest moniker to describe their seasonal fall marzens and festbiers outside of the main event in Germany!

Oktoberfest Goes Virtual

For the second year in a row, due to the global pandemic, Oktoberfest events around the world, including the main event in Munich, were cancelled. But you can take a virtual tour of Oktoberfest this week! So pick up a sampling of German or German-inspired beers, fill up your stein and celebrate from the comfort of your home.

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