How Oktoberfest Began
The first Oktoberfest took place on October 17, 1810 to celebrate the marriage of Bavaria’s Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese Charlotte Luise of Saxony-Hildburghausen. Ludwig would become King Ludwig I of Bavaria, reigning from 1825 – 1848. Munich’s citizens were invited to partake in the celebration, and the festivities, with horse races, music and dancing, were held on the expansive meadow in front of the city gates.
Unlike how it started back in the 19th century, why Oktoberfest now begins in September instead of October is for the generally milder weather.
The land was renamed Theresienwiese for Therese’s meadow, in honor of the queen. The multi-day festival became an annual event, and Theresienwiese has become the official grounds of Oktoberfest. While in the modern history of Oktoberfest, the festival has generally run for 16 days — there have been years when it has run longer. If the last day of the festival comes before German Unity Day (Oct. 3rd, which is the anniversary date of German reunification in 1990), the festival will generally run through the national holiday.
Today, locals call the great meadow wiesn for short and aptly call Oktoberfest, die Wiesn. Theresienwiese’s land area is about 420,000 square m. or about 4.5 million square feet. In the history of Oktoberfest the grounds have also been the site of public concerts and outdoor markets.
Oktoberfest in Munich is still the largest public fair in the world, with more than 6 million visitors. Besides beer tents there are amusement park rides, both the fast and slower varieties, as well as an impressive array of food vendors from the area. Traditional Bavarian and other German dishes often available at the festival include roast pork, duck, salads and of course baked goods such as pretzels, cakes, original tarts, and sweet and savory pies. The grounds welcome visitors with a grand arch at the main gates.
Munich marked Oktoberfest’s two hundredth year in 2010 with a special, bicentennial brew in the festival tents to commemorate Oktoberfest’s origins and the original Oktoberfest, with an historical horse race on the festival grounds. As a testament to the festival’s appeal to travelers from abroad, currently about one in six Oktoberfest attendees in Munich are from outside of Germany.
In 2013, the total number of Oktoberfest visitors in Munich came to 6.4 million people – and the festival served 6.7 million liters of beer. Munich’s mayor tapped the first keg of beer at the opening ceremonies on Saturday, September 21:
Find out more about Munich and Bavaria, as well as the German Alps.