The largest folk festival in the world, Oktoberfest is often the first thing many people think of when they think of Germany or beer. Held for over 200 years, Oktoberfest is the late-September stomping grounds for millions of locals and visitors who come to revel in Bavarian culture and its most famous festival item: beer. Traditional Bavarian culture is evident throughout the festival, honored with cultural events such as a procession on the first day to traditional Oktoberfest food and drink and dress throughout the 16-day event to the festival’s closing on the last day. In this list, you’ll find everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Oktoberfest – especially useful if you’re planning to stomp around this year’s festival or next’s. Raise your glass and say “Prost!” with this list of 25 Oktoberfest Facts To Get Your Party On.
Though Oktoberfest is the largest folk festival in the world, it’s not necessarily the weirdest. You’d have to go to other places around the world to find those, or you can just check out our 25 Most Insane Festivals From Around The World list. It’s fun to see some of the crazy ways people celebrate!
The History of Oktoberfest
Delving into the history of this great festival, the first Oktoberfest in Munich was held on October 12th, 1810, on the occasion of the marriage between Crown Prince Ludwig (later King Ludwig I) and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. All of Munich’s residents were invited to the massive party which was held in a field on the city’s outskirts.
No wedding but still a party
Despite not having a royal wedding the following year, Munich’s locals were eager for another big party so they held their next massive gathering, much improved, with an agricultural show, children’s rides and amusements, and the beer stalls which later turned into the iconic tents. (A horse race was held at the end of the wedding in 1813 but was discontinued between then and the present day.)
The party never ends
Oktoberfest has run consecutively since its inception – barring 24 years when it was cancelled due to war or cholera epidemics.
Traditional Oktoberfest dress
The saying “Dress to impress” is rigorously followed by many Oktoberfest fanatics. Men are generally seen wearing lederhose (leather trousers/overalls) with a white shirt, knee-length socks, and traditional Haferl shoes. Women generally show up in a dirndl: a Bavarian woman’s dress made up of a bodice, blouse, and skirt with apron.
Oktoberfest isn't actually German, not entirely
Though most people see Oktoberfest as the embodiment of all things German, it actually only represents a smaller slice of culture, that of the southeastern state of Bavaria (Bayern, in German, like the soccer team Bayern Munich). Other states have their own folk festivals though they’re less well-known than Oktoberfest. If you’re keen to visit one, check out Freimarkt in Bremen or Cannstatter Wasen in Stuttgart.
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When does Oktoberfest occur
Many a confused tourist has shown up in Munich during the month of October (having not read this list of Oktoberfest facts first) to see nothing more than the usual amount of Germans drinking beer. What gives! Oktoberfest is actually held in September, finishing off on the first Sunday in October. Why? Because it’s warmer!
Who gets the first beer
Oktoberfest Trivia! When is the first beer consumed? The downing of beer cannot begin until after the procession of landlords, breweries, and showmen to the grounds on the first Saturday. Munich’s mayor leads the parade and must tap the first barrel of beer in the Schottenhamel tent. The mayor will then shout “O’zapft is!”, meaning “it is tapped”, to start the flow of beer at all tents. (Bavaria’s Minister President gets to down the first mug.)
The beginning of the beer halls
Having grown since its inception over 200 years ago, Oktoberfest first employed its iconic tented beer halls (sponsored by major Bavarian breweries) in 1896. Prior to, the festival was more casual with beer stands dotted throughout.
Oktoberfest for those who don't like beer
It’s tough to understand why, but every year there’s a wine tent at Oktoberfest featuring some of Bavaria’s top wines. That’s an Oktoberfest fact even the French can like!
Who goes to Oktoberfest
Oktoberfest’s international appeal hasn’t stopped Germans from traveling to their most famous party. About 70% of attendees come from the surrounding state of Bavaria, another 15% come from the rest of Germany, and only 15% are non-Germans who travel in from Europe, the United States, and further afield.
What the locals call Oktoberfest
A lesser known historical fact of the festival, Munich’s residents don’t call the festival Oktoberfest. Rather, they refer to it as Wiesn, named after the field where it was first held. Named after Princess Therese, the Theresienwiese (Therese’s meadow) was the original and current location of Oktoberfest.
So big it has a post office
Specially designed for Oktoberfest (even with its own stamps), the Oktoberfest Post Office opens every year to allow festival goers to send souvenirs and post cards home and to friends and family. Around 130,000 packages and postcards are mailed annually.
Oktoberfest's attendance numbers
Let’s face it – though Oktoberfest has kid-friendly activities and rides, the main reason people visit is the beer. You’ll be in good company: each year, Oktoberfest draws in from 5-7 million people to Munich’s Theresienwiese.
Traditional Bavarian music
To get in on the Oktoberfest spirit even while far away, listen to some of the traditional Bavarian wind music known as Blasmusik. Famous songs from this historical German music include “In München steht ein Hofbräuhaus”, “Marmor, Stein und Eisen bricht”, and “Viva Colonia”.
Imagining Oktoberfest’s massive beer-drinking spaces as tents is a romantic ideal; these spaces are nowadays made from steel and wood, constructed and deconstructed every year for the festival. The largest tent, Hofbräu-Festzelt, can hold up to 10,000 drinkers with 6,000 seats inside alone.
Rich and poor - Oktoberfest is a festival for all
Despite the lederhosen and high socks, the traditional Bavarian hat, the Tirolerhüte, is a common sight. In the old days, the more patches of goat hair a man had on his hat, the wealthier he was supposed to be. Nowadays, the hats are mostly just for show.
How much it costs to get into Oktoberfest
One of the best Oktoberfest facts is that the festival is free! Well, sort of. Getting onto the festival grounds in Munich or into any of the beer tents is completely free (until you buy a beer – see #5). As the tents fill up quickly, it’s wise to show up first thing in the morning or make a reservation.
Drink, drink, drunk
With the festival atmosphere and so much free-flowing beer, it’s easy for some to imbibe a bit too much. About 600-800 people experience alcohol poisoning every year.
Oktoberfest's famous employee
There’s a genius in this list of interesting Oktoberfest facts. Oktoberfest touts a famous former employee: Albert Einstein. The German genius worked as an electrician and construction worker for the tents in the late 19th century.
What makes an Oktoberfest beer
Ah, the all-hallowed elixir: beer. Germans love their beer and Bavarians are no exception; they even turn up the notch for Oktoberfest. Either a lager or Märzenbier, Oktoberfest beer has a higher alcohol concentration than most German beer, charting in at 6-7% alcohol by volume – a good fact to remember as you slosh down liters of beers. (Yes, they come in liters – more on that in #4.)
Speaking of beer, how much does an Oktoberfest beer even cost? More than you might think! One mug cost from 8.70 – 9.20 € in 2011. That’s over $10 a mug! (And the prices go up every year.) Despite the price, around 6,000,000 liters or 1.5 million gallons of beer are downed every Oktoberfest.
The Oktoberfest mug: a Maß
Ok, so the mug of beer – known as a Maßkrug – may seem expensive, but when you consider it’s a glass liter (four cups or two pints) of beer, it’s not outrageously priced. Per pint, one of the beers would cost from 4.50 – 5 €. The Maß is made from glass (rather than the ceramic steins which are sold) so you can see it has been fully filled. Each mug belongs to a brewery and they’re serious about keeping them! If you’re looking for a souvenir, try one of the stands around the tents.
The Oktoberfest food
So you’ve drank a Maß on an empty stomach and are about ready to topple over, huh? Go for some traditional Oktoberfest grub! Try the hendl (roast chicken), included in many a table reservation. Other delicious dishes to try include Bratwurst (pork sausage), Schweinshaxen (pork knuckle), and Steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick). And you can’t forget about the Brezn – a warm and delicious German pretzel. Despite sausage’s regular appeal, far more roast chickens are consumed, around half a million each festival.
The best souvenirs are free
The glass mugs are so popular with visitors that in 2010 alone, 130,000 beer mugs were confiscated by security guards from drinkers trying to take home a free souvenir.
Getting a seat in Oktoberfest
If you’re looking to get to Oktoberfest this year or next, make a reservation! Beyond booking your hotel early, contact one of the tent landlords to reserve your seats (minimum 10 people, equating to one table). Some groups have renewing reservations year over year which makes it quite difficult to grab a seat – even the few non-reserved tables fill up early in the morning.