While I was sipping a delicious pumpkin beer last week (thanks to fellow Mogoer Sean Yu for the awesome recommendations), I ran smack dab into an Oktoberfest celebration at my local pub. Besides the awesome beer discount and delicious sausages that that implies, it also got me thinking about the reasons behind the Oktoberfest. Why do Germans and friends of Germans get their own week of beer drinking and oom pah pah-ing? I didn’t know! So I looked into it. You’re welcome.
Oktoberfest is over 200 years old, for starters, and it began with the marriage of the Bavarian King Max Joseph, later King Ludwig I, to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen (try saying that one three times fast). The celebration took place in what is now Munich, and became a national holiday thereafter, gradually adding in an agricultural fair, games and beer pubs (ay! There’s the rub!). The traditional costuming of lederhosen, for men, and drindls, the lady version, came shortly thereafter, and the celebration grew longer and more involved in the decades hence. In Munich, several different parties—hosted by the seven major breweries—would gather together around a central meeting place, which is where our notion of beer gardens comes from today. Things were very merry, with lots of music and dancing (polka!) and celebrations lasted into the night. There was also a religious aspect, in that the party often coincided with fall harvest and was thus tied to some of the then common pagan celebrations at the time.
Things quieted down considerably in the mid- to late-1930s, mostly because a certain Nazi party leader thought things were far too jolly and we should all be focusing on more important things, like taking over the world and destroying capitalism. But in recent years German pride has swelled once again, and Oktoberfest celebrations have become prominent, both in Germany and Austria, and in places abroad where larger German populations live (like, for example, near me).
So there you have it—basically, fun and beer. The motto of Oktoberfest then, as now!