History of the Oktoberfest

Festivals held in October have long been a part of Bavarian history. October was the time that the Märzen-Beer was ready for consumption and this was a reason to celebrate.

However, the large Oktoberfest in Munich we know today dates back 200 years. On October 12, 1810, Crown Prince Ludwig (later King Ludwig I) and Princess Theresa of Hildburghausen got married. To celebrate their wedding, the couple organized a huge horse race, which took place on October 17th. The horse race took place on a field within the city walls. The name of this field was later changed to Theresienwiese, meaning Theresa’s field.

The Crown Prince was very interested in ancient Greece and told his subjects to fashion the horse race after the ancient Olympics. The idea was received with excitement, giving the original Oktoberfest a sporty atmosphere. The couple decided to repeat the horse race every year at the same time, much to the delight of Munich’s residents. Thus began the tradition of the Oktoberfest.

In 1813, the festival was cancelled because Bavaria was involved in the Napoleonic War. However, after that, the festival quickly grew larger and larger. Addtional entertainment was added, such as bowling alleys, swings, and merry-go-rounds. Booths were added were visitors could win porcelian, sliver, and jewelry. By 1819, the management of the festival was taken over by Munich city officials and the Oktoberfest was to be organized by them every year from then on.

By the end of the 19th century, the Oktoberfest was lengthened, beginning in mid September to take advantage of the month’s warmer weather. Since then, only the last week of the festival as held in October.

In 1880, the city government gave its permission to serve beer at the festival. To go with the beer, in 1881, the first bratwurst producer, Hendlbraterei, was invited to the festival. Around this time, electricity was added to the tents and booths. To make room for the growing number of visitors, the breweries built large beer halls.

Over the next several decades, the Oktoberfest continued to grow. By 1960, the Oktoberfest was the largest festival in the world. It was also in this year that the original horse race was removed from the festival.

The Oktoberfest has been held almost every year since the original festival in 1810. The following are the years in which no Oktoberfest celebrations were held.

1813 – Bavaria was involved in the Napoleonic War

1854 – Cholera outbreak in Munich, killing 3,000 people

1866 – Bavarian fought in the Austro-Prussian War

1870 – The Franco-Prussian War

1873 – Another Cholera outbreak in Munich

1914-1918 – World War I

1919 – 1920 – After World War I, Munich celebrated with a smaller “Fall Festival”

1923 – 1924 – Hyperinflation

1939 – 1945 – World War II

1946 – 1948 – After World War II, the Oktoberfest was again reduced to a smaller “Fall Festival”