Though it may not yet be October, the world’s biggest beer festival is already underway in Munich, Germany. Despite its name, Oktoberfest actually begins in the third weekend of September and lasts until the first Sunday in October. Over the next two weeks, over 6 million people will descend on the famous tented fairgrounds for the celebration. While it may be obvious that the festival is about drinking massive 16-ounce glass steins of beer and eating plenty of smoked meat and sausage, Oktoberfest is steeped in rich history that goes back more than 200 years. Even if you can’t make it to Munich, celebrate Oktoberfest with a delicious Märzenbier, armed with these cool festival facts. Do we hear “icebreaker?”
Here are 10 facts you probably didn’t know about Oktoberfest:
- A celebration fit for a king
Oktoberfest originally began as a celebration of the marriage of Crown King Ludwig and Queen Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen in October of 1810. Today, the festival ground is called Theresienwiese, Wiesn for short, in honor of Queen Therese.
- Munich beer, or no beer at all
Only six breweries are allowed to participate in Oktoberfest, all brewing within the Munich city limits: Hofbräuhaus München, Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu, Paulaner Bräu, Löwenbräu, Hacker-Pschorr Bräu and Augustiner Bräu. Each brewery has a tent where only their beer is served.
- We only drink March in Oktober
While the festival rings in the beginning of October, the beer was traditionally brewed all the way back in March, when the summer’s heat and rampant bacteria wouldn’t interfere with the brewing process. This beer, called Märzenbier, was typically higher in alcohol so it could last all summer. During October, the rest of the year’s beer was consumed to make room for a new year’s worth of beer. Today, the beer is still brewed under the same style, but it’s now brewed right before the fall.
- Not your typical country fair
The original incarnation of Oktoberfest was a country fair with horseracing, contests and even freak shows! Horseracing is no longer part of the festivities, but you can still hit up the carnival culture.
- Glass steins were late to the party
It wasn’t until 1892 that beer was served in glass mugs. Traditional beer steins were made of stone, then metal, and while some of those are still used, they’re far outnumbered by their modern glass cousins.
- Only the strong survive
Oktoberfest beer is typically around 6% ABV, far stronger and sweeter than typical German lager. It’s easy to get dehydrated on a warm early fall afternoon, and many people pass out from exhaustion. These people are called Bierleichen (German for “Beer Corpses.”)
- Don’t expect Schlager with your lager, unless it’s after dark
If you’re going to the fest expecting some traditional German party jams, you’ll have to wait till after dark. There’s a ban on music above 85 decibels until after 6:00 PM.
- Let’s call the whole thing off
There wasn’t always a reason for celebration when Oktoberfest came around. In fact, the fest has been officially canceled 24 times due to disease and war. In 1854 and 1873, cholera epidemics forced postponement of the fest. It was also canceled during the years of the Franco-Prussian War, WWI and WWII.
- On your mark, aim, drink!
Besides the beer there are also activities in the tents, too. The Armbrustschützenzelt is a tent famous for crossbow competitions (as well as Paulaner beer) and can hold up to 7,500 people. But feel free to find the right activity for you.
- Dropping the kids off at the beer tent
The idea of bringing children to a massive beer festival might seem pretty far out, but sure enough, hundreds of children attend the festival every year. Unfortunately, every year there are also plenty of parents that have one too many steins. More than 100 children were reported lost in Oktoberfest 2012, though we believe they’ve all been claimed by now.
More Oktoberfest stories on Food Republic: