Munich’s Oktoberfest lures millions of visitors

Petra Lessoing
Kaiserslautern American

***image1***The traditional “Oktoberfest” in Munich, which is known as the world’s biggest folks fest starts Saturday. The event is one of Germany’s most famous fests and takes place for the 171st time. Last year, about 6.3 million visitors from all over the world came to enjoy the Oktoberfest. It will run for 16 days through Oct. 3.

Oktoberfest has its origin in the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig, later to become King Ludwig I, with Princess Therese of Sachsen-Hildburghausen Oct. 12, 1810. Munich’s citizens were invited to the celebration outside of town on a meadow, which later was named “Theresienwiese” (Therese’s meadow) to honor the bride. At the end of celebrations there was a horse race, which in the presence of the whole Royal family was considered as a fest for all Bavaria. The people decided to repeat the race in the following year, and the tradition of the annual Oktoberfest started. Also in 1811, the fest included an agricultural show to promote Bavarian agriculture. Today there are no more horse races, but the agricultural exhibition takes places every three years.

In 1835, the 25th anniversary of Ludwig and Therese was celebrated with a big pageant. It’s the origin of today’s costume and marksmen’s parade.

In 1818, the Oktoberfest had the first carousel and two swings as well as little booths selling beer. In cooperation with the breweries, keen pub owners set up “beer castles” in 1896. Rides and showmen covered the other part of the festival grounds.

Today, the Oktoberfest includes a big amusement park with more than 80 rides and activity booths and 14 beer tents run by six local breweries.

A total of 24 Oktoberfests had to be cancelled, for example during years of wars and due to cholera epidemics in 1854 and 1873.

Festivities start with a parade of the fest’s hosts and the breweries at 10:45 a.m. Saturday. About 1,000 people including city officials, the hosts and their families, waitresses and music bands will go from Sonnenstrasse to the fest grounds on Theresienwiese in splendidly decorated horse-drawn carriages.

The second parade, the costume and marksmen’s parade, begins at 10 a.m. Sunday. More than 8,000 participants in traditional costumes from all German states, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Croatia, the Czech Republic and Poland participate in the seven-kilometer parade with more than 100 thoroughbred horses, oxes, cows, goats, and decorated wagons. The two-hour-long pageant begins at Siegestor and ends on Theresienwiese.

Oktoberfest offers two family days with reduced prices: noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday and Sept. 28. Fest tent hours are 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.