What’s the Deal With Oktoberfest in September?

Hello All!

and you thought I’d go all-history wonk on you again

Welcome to another edition of “What’s the Deal?”, the blog that takes a break from writing on policy, history, and current events to imbibe on the history of traditional binge drinking.

“Wait,” you might be asking, “Your current events and history blog won’t be an explanation about political violence or American policy?  I’m leaving.”


This is not a rant about the fact that Sam Adams releases their fall seasonal, “Octoberfest” in early August (though I do have strong feelings about this, I’ll let this blogger take care of that).

Now before all you hardcore *WTD* readers leave my famous wordpress hosted blog, let me explain myself:  After many, many posts about warring factions, states, and the poor, I wanted to take a break from the AA-like sober-fest and talk about a different fest that all non-12 steppers can appreciate: Oktoberfest!!

I’m having a Crystal-20 Malt-down!!!

I wanted to take a quick break from the “serious” stuff and talk about a lighter topic; hopefully this won’t cause a malt-down and make my readers hop away.

The Current

You might not have been aware of this, but the popular German tradition of Oktoberfest began this year on September 22nd.  No, it wasn’t moved up by 9 days so that Angela Merkel could get a round in before begrudgingly attending yet another troika meeting;  Oktoberfest actually begins in September, and has since its earliest days.

As much as it might sound like an Onion headline, it is true that the celebrated suds-fest starts on the third weekend in September, as is tradition.  This year’s official fest, held in Munich, Germany, lasts under the big tent until October 7th ( I missed my flight to Munich!).

Much is known, but also embellished and glorified about Oktoberfest here in fellow beer-loving America.  This is due to our great German population centers in the mid-west (St. Louis, Cincinatti, Chicago, and Milwaukee) who continue to cultivate and popularize the German event through similar style events here it the U.S.  On the embellishment side, tales from movies (Beerfest) and popular misconceptions (general American idiocy) give us the impression that we know all about the hallowed German tradition, when in fact, we know very little (did you know it starts in September?).

So to remedy the situation, I’m going to crack a beer, and then give you a nice tall refreshing explanation of how Oktoberfest came to be.

Thank Goodness They Got Married

Cheers to King Ludwig for starting a fine tradition, here here (not his mistresses)

The German celebration now known as “Oktoberfest” originated as a festival from the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig of Munich to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810.  All citizens of Munich were invited to attend this 19th Century allegedly “raucous” event to honor the royal union.  The festival was originally called Thereseinewiese, an honorary adaptation of the Princess’ name and the fields around the city gates.  Since then, the festival has been referred to in Germany as “die Wiesn,” not the popularly referred to name of Oktoberfest.

(Ludwig was also famous for his dabbles in adultery, so we’ll just include his wedding on the “pros” side of remembering him).

The festival is an all encompassing event, not just a drinking festival.  Horse races at the original event were repeated in the following years and gave rise to the tradition of the annual festival which included the horse races until 1960.  Agricultural shows that showcased the strong agricultural traditions in Bavaria were instituted for die Wiesn in 1811, and remain part of the celebration every three years, as well as carnival booths that had been added in 1816 with prizes of jewelry and silver.  Festivities like the parade, a staple since 1850, feature over 8,000 participants in traditional dress, costumes, led by the Munchner Kindl (the Munich Child), which adorns the municipalities coat of arms.

Die Wiesn festival has been cancelled a total of only 24 times since 1810, due to cholera epidemics and wars.  Notable mentions in the Oktoberfest-less years list include:1854 when 3,000 peopled died in a cholera epidemic, 1866 for Bavaria’s involvement in the Franco-Prussian War, 1914-1918, 1918-1920 due to WWI and 1946-48 for the post-war years.  Not too shabby considering the major historical events that were centered around Germany in the last 200 years (ie. World Wars, Unification, reunification).

Oktoberfest in September?

The crux of today’s theme though, is why die Wiesn /Oktoberfest occurs in September at all, which would seem to contradict the name of the event in the first place, right?

It turns out that drinking outside in Bavaria past the fall equinox into October gets pretty cold and is daylight-shortened.  So, the festival was deemed more appropriate to begin in the warmer, longer days of late September (the third weekend) and eventually was lengthened to 16 days to end on the first weekend of October.  After German reunification of East and West Germany in 1994, the end date changed to October 3rd (German Unity Day) if the first Sunday was October 1st.

What to Expect This Oktoberfest:

So since, I am lazy and didn’t finish writing this until the third week in October, the 179th version of die Wiesn is now over.  But let’s go over some fun stuff you (and I) missed!

-Lots of beer (bier) consumed: almost 7 million liters served

-Visitors enjoyed a wide “variety” of traditional foods such as Hendl (chicken), Schweinebraten (roast pork), Schweinshaxe (grilled ham hock), Steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick), Würstl (sausages) along with Brezeln (Pretzel), Knödel (potato or bread dumplings), Käsespätzle (cheese noodles), Reiberdatschi (potato pancakes), Sauerkraut or Rotkohl/Blaukraut (red cabbage) along with such Bavarian delicacies as Obatzda (a spiced cheese-butter spread) and Weisswurst (a white sausage).

Of course, don’t forget the carnival rides, events, parade, food tents, and more bier!!

Oktoberfest in September? Whoaa…

So, now when your friend exasperatingly laments at the early arrival of Sam Adams Octoberfest whilst extolling the wonders of the New England fall season, you can slip in this fun historical nugget and mind-fudge his/her previous conception about the festival known as “Oktoberfest.”


Thanks to the official Munich Oktoberfest website for the background: http://www.oktoberfest.de/en/


About eprileson

I am a historian and writer who wants to bring to light current events through a historical perspective. It is difficult to understand today's current events without having a grasp of what has occurred before. This is a running thread to help keep people informed about the present and remind everyone to not forget their past. Enjoy and please comment!
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