The very mention of Oktoberfest is sure to conjure up stereotypical images of partiers dressed in traditional German garb, sitting around communal tables guzzling beer from steins the size of their heads. To an extent, these images are correct, although they don’t illustrate the entire story behind one of the world’s most popular traditions. While the millions of people love the legacy of Oktoberfest, few understand the historic heritage that has led to its immense popularity in modern times.
On October 12, 1810 newlywed Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Bavaria held a communal celebration to commemorate their marriage, including food, beer, and special horse races for the entertainment of the royal family and approximately 40,000 of their fellow countrymen. At the time, it was a national party for the ages, but, when the decision was made to repeat the festivities the following fall, it laid the foundation for the tradition known as Oktoberfest and, unknowingly, set the stage for an international spectacle that is still thriving more than 200 years later.
Since its inadvertent origin, the German Oktoberfest has grown into a world famous festival that lasts 16 days during late September/early October and draws over 6 million visitors per year. But the popularity of the event is not just limited to its original Bavarian home, as cities all across the world have been holding annual Oktoberfest celebrations modeled after the original in Munich for decades, each offering up their own takes on beer and culture.
Celebrating culture is cool, but let’s be honest; there would be no Oktoberfest if it weren’t for the beer. If you know anything about the Germans, you know how seriously they take their beer. It should come as no surprise, then, that a two week festival dedicated to tasty suds has established itself as the marquee event of the country. Beer is so important, in fact, that those brewed for the country’s most popular event must measure up to certain standards. In order to qualify as a true Oktoberfest style, beers must contain a minimum of 13.5% Stammwürze, or approximately 5.8-6.3% alcohol by volume- noticeably higher alcohol content than average ales.
While American brewers are not required to adhere to these guidelines, many draw inspiration from German heritage during the creation of their fall seasonal brews. So much so that the arrival of pumpkin flavored and Oktoberfest inspired beers like Evolution Brewing Company’s ‘Jacques Au Lantern,’ 3rd Wave’s ‘Chunkin Punkin,’ and others brewed locally are eagerly awaited by patrons each fall.
Beer is usually the star of the show during Oktoberfests, but it is often paired with a supporting cast of classic food preparations, mood setting live music, and modern rides and carnival attractions. These festivals may have originated in Germany, but they are grossly popular across the globe, including right here in our own backyard.
Historic downtown Berlin takes an historic approach with its annual Octoberfest, including a beer garden featuring German style beers brewed down the street by Burley Oak, bratwurst, pretzels, strudel, and other authentic German food favorites, and live Polka music performed by the Continentals from Washington D.C. The 3rd annual Berlin Octoberfest takes place on Saturday, October 19 from 12:00-6:00pm and admission to the event is free.
While beer is often the focus of Oktoberfest gatherings, celebrating the spirit of the season is another driving factor behind their international success. Ocean City’s annual OCtoberfest takes place October 19-27 on the beach at North Division St and offers a family friendly take on this fall festival. OCtoberfest will include a Halloween inspired Beach Maze, pet parade, and pumpkin race, as well as live music, food, and activities.
If you ever get the chance to visit Munich during Oktoberfest, we highly recommend it, but if you’re not up for an international voyage, celebrating at the beach is surefire way to get your fix of beer, food, and fun. Make your plans for Oktoberfest now and don’t miss out on your chance to leave your mark on this centuries old legacy.