History of Oktoberfest

Traditional German Clothing

History of Oktoberfest Germany | Guide to Authentic Bavarian Traditions 

From horsey beginnings and magnificent inclusions to coerced terminations and deplorable attacks, Oktoberfest (German Pronunciation: [ɔkˈtoːbɐˌfɛst]) is a festival that has seen it all. We all know Oktoberfest’s German roots, but only a few know the fascinating history of ups and downs that makes the Wiesn so unique. Beyond the immense consumption of beer, traditional dresses, Bavarian foods, and amusement rides, the Munich folk festival has 200+ years of history.

Here’s a chronicle of Oktoberfest history so that we can enjoy the festival in its current state.

What is Oktoberfest?

The Largest beer festival held in Munich, Germany, annually is known as the Oktoberfest or d’Wiesn. The festival features large and small beer tents with a cozy ambiance, relishing Bavarian food and Brass music performances. With over 5.7 million attendees from across the globe, the festival creates 8000 permanent employees, brings tourism to the country, and has many other positive implications.  


German Oktoberfest History | The First Oktoberfest Celebrated in 1810

Oktoberfest, which is now the largest beer festival worldwide, was originally just a wedding. Dated October 12, 1810, the couple of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen united in wedlock. Unlike regular weddings, this one was celebrated with a big horse race. Franz Baumgartner, a member of the Bavarian National Guard, presented this idea to King Max I of Bavaria through the banker and cavalry major Andreas Michael Dall’Armi on October 5 and was welcomed immediately. 

A field on the gates of Munich was chosen for the function, and the entire town was invited. The celebrations lasted for 5 days and concluded with a horse race. The field was named “Theresens-Wiese,” honoring the bride. The meadow still keeps the name and honor of hosting Oktoberfest to this day and is referred to as Wiesn in Munich idiolect. 

16 children couples were dressed in traditional Bavarian attires to pay tribute to the royal family with cultural poems, flowers, and fruits. The function was an instant hit, and the newlywed couple decided to make it a yearly festival. This was the inception of Oktoberfest. Without beer tents, without amusement rides, just an extraordinarily arranged horse race.  

Oktoberfest Should be Top Priority: 1819

In 1810, the wedding celebrations were a huge success, and everyone wanted more. So the ‘Landwirtschaftlicher Verein in Bayern’ (Bavarian Agricultural Association) took control. They used this opportunity to showcase their farming achievements and products. However, the newly established Oktoberfest had to be canceled in 1813 due to Bavaria’s involvement in the Napoleonic Wars. In 1816, carnival booths offered prizes like silver, porcelain, and jewelry. The town fathers of Munich took over Oktoberfest in 1819 and decided that it should be celebrated annually without exception (except for the occasional global pandemic). They believed Oktoberfest would attract a large crowd and generate significant revenue, making it an annual celebration.

Unveiling of the Great Guardian Statue: 1850

In 1850, the statue of Bavaria, the guardian of Oktoberfest and a symbolic figure of the Bavaria state, was unveiled and given a place in the Hall of Fame. Leo von Klenze first sketched the Bavarian patron in a classic style, and Ludwig Michael Schwanthaler later romanticized and “Germanized” the draft. The statue was then constructed by Johann Baptist Stiglmaier and Ferdinand von Miller. However, this historical highlight was followed by some challenging years.

As it allied with Prussia, Bavaria was part of the German unification led by Otto von Bismarck. This affected the annual Oktoberfest celebrations, which continued in full flight only after the formation of the Greater German Empire in 1871.

A Roast Chicken Stall is Opened: 1881

The first roasted chicken outlet was opened at Oktoberfest, Germany in 1881, serving hungry visitors. The traditional half-roasted chicken is served to almost half a million people daily during the Wiesn today. 

The 100th Anniversary: 1910

Oktoberfest steadily started to become the event we know today. Since the introduction of electricity at Oktoberfest in 1886, new amusement rides, booths, and live performances were added to the festival each year. Seeing the constant growth, breweries set up large beer tents with thousands of seats, musical bands, and a serving crew. 

1910 marked the 100th anniversary of the German Oktoberfest, celebrated in full glow. Twelve thousand hectoliters(120,000 liters) of beer were served in the Pschorr-Bräurosl, the most enormous festival tent at the time with 12,000 seats.   

World Wars Take away the Shine: 1914-45

As more and more activities and rides were added to Oktoberfest, making it a larger event, world wars happened. The two world wars from 1914 to 1945 caused multiple cancellations or microed the celebrations to autumn festivals. Horse races, which were not only the origin but also an integral part of Oktoberfest, were canceled after the war. Afterward, horse races were only held at anniversaries in 1960 and 2010. 

“O’zapft is” is Born: 1950

1950 marked a new beginning for the Wiesn and introduced a new tradition. The Mayor of Munich, Thomas Wimmer, tapped the first beer barrel inside the Schottenhamel tent with the famous cry “O’zapft is,” meaning “It’s tapped” in the Austro-Bavarian dialect. To date, no one is permitted to drink beer at Oktober until the current mayor taps the first keg at 12:00(noon).

But did you know that this tradition wasn’t planned? It was a mere coincidence. In 1950, Thomas Wimmer missed his carriage to Oktoberfest and decided to hitch a ride with his friend Michael Schottenhamel, who was also the owner of the Schottenhamel Tent. Schottenhamel asked Wimmer on their way if he wanted to tap the first beer keg. Wimmer agreed and ended up tapping the keg at the Schottenhamel. This unplanned event was the beginning of a new tradition.

Attack on Oktoberfest: 1980

Oktoberfest suffered one of the worst attacks in German history on September 26, 1980. The allegedly Right-wing terrorist Gundolf Köhler brought an improvised explosive device (IED), which prematurely exploded at the entrance gate of Oktoberfest. The explosion took 13 lives, including 3 children and the attacker himself, and injured over 200. A memorial was placed at the site of the incident, honoring the departed.

Inception of the Oide Wiesn: 2010

An epic vintage-themed party was thrown at Oktoberfest’s 200th anniversary. Called the Oide Wiesn(Old Oktoberfest), this event was well received by everyone and turned into a permanent part of the Oktoberfest. Today, the Oide Wiesn takes visitors on a nostalgic ride showcasing Oktoberfest as it was in the past. Festzelt Tradition and Herzkasperlzelt beer tents are the main attractions, with classic rides, stalls, and music.

Covid-19 Hits the Traditional Oktoberfest: 2020-21

In 2020, the whole world was shut, and so was Oktoberfest. The coronavirus pandemic caused all public gatherings to be canceled to avoid risks of catching the disease. The same happened in the following year, 2021. 

Oktoberfest Today | After a History of Ups and Downs

In the long and fascinating history of Oktoberfest, the event and Bavarian culture has seen immense growth that is worth celebrating the way it is celebrated today.

In 1960, the Wiesn became world famous, adding international flavor to the traditional Bavarian festival. Today, the Wiesn is the world’s largest beer festival, attracting an average six million visitors annually and 6.9 million liters of beer consumed. 

The festival celebrates German culture, food, and beer, with only the original six breweries in Munich serving beer at the event. Besides the food and beer, the festival is full of traditional Bavarian music, open-air performances, grand entry and parades, vendor tents, carnival rides, and traditional German outfits. The two-week fair wraps up dramatically with a boisterous brass band and a gun salute, making it one of the most exciting festivals in the world.

There have been some issues with young people overestimating their ability to handle large amounts of alcohol, leading to many passing out due to intoxication. To address this, the “quiet Oktoberfest” concept was introduced in 2005, where until 6:00 PM, the tents only played quiet music, like traditional wind music, and Schlager and pop music were played only after that time. 

Why is Oktoberfest in September?

To be precise, since 1872, Oktoberfest has been held on the first Saturday after the 15th of September to the first Sunday in October. But if the first Sunday is 1st or 2nd of October, the event is extended to the 3rd of October to coincide it with the Day of German Unity.

The major reason for shifting the festival backward is the weather. The days in October are cooler, rainy, and shorter, causing trouble for the attendees. After constant pressure from the public, authorities moved the festival to the warmer nights of September.

The Six Original Breweries That Serve at Oktoberfest

Only Munich’s original beer from the six original breweries is served at Oktoberfest. Each of these brewhouses have a history of providing unique quality beer to the German community. Augustiner is the oldest one dating back to 1328 and still uses the classical 200-liter wooden barrels for storage. Here’s a list of breweries that serve at Oktoberfest:

  • Spaten
  • Augustiner
  • Paulaner
  • Hacker-Pschorr
  • Löwenbräu
  • Hofbräuhaus

The beer has been granted the “Protected Geographical Indication” seal of origin by the European Union since 2022. This means that the beer can only be brewed in Munich per its specific guidelines and is the only beer served at the Munich Oktoberfest. The Munich Breweries Association has always been committed to the belief that the Oktoberfest beer’s unique taste results from a combination of the local brewing and festival culture that can only exist in Munich.  

The History of Oktoberfest Lederhosen and Dirndls | What has Changed?

Much like Oktoberfest, the traditional attire for the festival also has an interesting history. 

German Lederhosen: How it Became Popular

Lederhosen was never supposed to become famous. Neither were they shorts! Initially, these were leather-made knee braces worn by working-class peasants in the Alpine regions. The durability of leather gave the farmers and peasants exactly what the harsh conditions demanded. Copying the style of French breeches, which were made of softer materials, the alpine Bavarians used leather to make breeches of their own, called Lederhosen (Leather Breeches). 

After their inception in the 18th century, Lederhosen caught the eye of the upper class in the 19th century, specifically at the first Oktoberfest. The German upper class found Lederhosen an acceptable outfit for activities like horse riding and hunting. While workers kept wearing the attire for their work, Lederhosen became a countrywide fashion trend. 

The elite found new fashion in the newly discovered Jeans, losing interest in Lederhosen. Jeans were optimal for outdoor activities and were viewed as a fashion mark by the younger generations. Just when we thought Lederhosen was done for, Oktoberfest played its role in preserving the Bavarian outfit. Following the pattern of jeans, Lederhosen was redesigned into leather-made knee-length shorts. In 1887, they were called the obligatory Oktoberfest wear for men and Dirndl for women.

Bavarian Dirndl: Going Parallel With Lederhosen

Similar to Lederhosen, Dirndl was also work-clothes for maids and female farm workers. The women’s Tracht caught the public attention alongside Lederhosen and eventually made their place in the everyday German wear. Due to its durability, the original Dirndl was made with dark, heavy cotton, providing ease for working-class women. The upper class made the Dirndl dress more fashionable using materials like linen, silk, satin, and other costly fabrics. 

Oktoberfest also rescued the traditional Dirndl dress alongside the Bavarian Lederhosen. But Dirndl lost the original feel, unlike Lederhosen, who maintained their classic look and feel. With modern-fashioned bodices, shorter skirts, and the addition of the Dirndl apron knot, the Dirndl you wear today isn’t the exact dress it used to be.

Events Featured at the Wiesn

Apart from the 25 cancellations, mostly due to wars, Oktoberfest has been a constant event for over two centuries. In the extensive history of Oktoberfest discussed, there have been many constant and variable events. From horse races and beer, to eateries and amusement rides, many things have changed, while some still keep the classical charm. 

The Historical Horse Races

It may sound odd, but beer wasn’t the primary draw of Oktoberfest. Although beer was served at Oktoberfest from the beginning, horse races were the actual attraction. The first Oktoberfest, the royal wedding, ended with a glorious horse race. Among the 30 horses that participated, the horse of Franz Baumgartner (cavalry coachman who proposed the idea of the horse race) finished first. His horse completed three laps at the 11565 Bavarian feet (3370 meters) field in front of 40,000 spectators. The minister, Maximilian Josef, Count von Montgelas, awarded Baumgartner a gold medal. 

The race was an instant success, and everyone demanded more. Since then, the horse races have seen many organizers but continued for decades until 1950. After World War 2, horse races were discontinued except for anniversaries. The last two events were in 1960 and 2010, for Oktoberfest’s 150th and 200th anniversary, respectively. After horse races ended, beer became the new attraction and is the face of Oktoberfest to this day.

Traditional Parades in Oktoberfest Costumes

The traditional Oktoberfest parade is an integral part of the festival today. Although the first parade happened in 1810, the act wasn’t officially added to the Wiesn until 1850. Eight thousand people, dressed in traditional Dirndl and Lederhosen outfits, walk through the city to the Theresienwiese(Oktoberfest grounds).

The procession was further enhanced in 1935 to celebrate the silver wedding anniversary of King Ludwig I and Princess Theresa of Bavaria. All the breweries serving at Oktoberfest also participated, led by the Münchner Kindl(Traditionally dressed young lady on a horse). They were accompanied by their staff, beer wagons showcasing their product, and lively brass bands. 

The event was revived in 1950 and is now an essential part of Oktoberfest. The parade starts at 10 am on Sunday and takes about 2.5 hours. The starting point is the Maximiliansbrücke (bridge) by the Isar River, and the parade follows a 7km-long route west along Maximilian Strasse, up to Odeonsplatz, down past Karlsplatz (Stachus), and west along SchwanthalerStrasse to the Oktoberfest grounds.  

A smaller parade is held on Saturday morning at 10:45 AM and lasts for one hour. This parade includes about 1,000 workers, carneys, and proprietors of Oktoberfest, acting as a warm-up to the Oktoberfest.

Beer Tents – Big and Small

With millions of liters of beer consumed each year at Oktoberfest, the arrangements are also massive. There are 17 large and 21 small tents, each offering a unique experience and taste. These tents are managed by independent families or breweries who start preparations almost 3 months prior to the festival to ensure the required accommodation. 

The name ‘beer tent’ doesn’t mean you only get beer in these halls. Each tent has a theme; some offer a family-friendly atmosphere, while others are just for the youngsters to party and enjoy traditional music. Visitors book spaces in their favorite tents months before Oktoberfest to ensure they get the best value. As mentioned before, the traditional beer in these tents only comes from the six original Munich breweries.

Augustiner Festhalle is the oldest tent, with a capacity of 6000 inside and 2500 outside (beer garden). Managed by the aforementioned Augustiner brewery, It is famous for the unique serving of beer in wooden barrels. Hofbräu tent is the most enormous beer tent in terms of accommodation at Oktoberfest. It has a capacity of 10,000 people, with 6,018 inside, around 1,000 in the standing area, and 3,022 outside. 

Traditional Bavarian Cuisine 

Good food fuels the fun at Oktoberfest. Since its inception, the German Volksfest has offered delicious food to the visitors. When paired with the traditional beer, the taste gets even better. You will find exceptional Bavarian eateries in more than 10 festival tents at Oktoberfest. The most sought-after delicacies at at the Wiesn are:

  • Reiberdatschi (grated potato pancake)
  • Halbes Hendl (barbecued chicken)
  • Fish-on-a-stick
  • Bavarian pork roast

These dishes have been around for decades and are prepared using fresh ingredients and traditional methods, making them a must-try for any food lover. 

Amusement Rides & Games

A major factor that justifies Oktoberfest as a family festival are the amusement park rides and game carnivals. With over 80 rides, visitors can enjoy classics like the Ferris Wheel, Swinging Carousel, Distel Bumper Cars, and even the largest transportable roller coaster in the world(The Five Loops). For those who prefer to stay on solid ground, there are plenty of horrors, including Jumanji and Ghost Palace.

In addition to the amusement park rides, Oktoberfest features game carnivals and souvenir stands. Visitors can participate in traditional bird whistling and the Gluckshafen Raffle and dress up for a free photoshoot at the “Be Marilyn” photo booth. Whether you’re looking for high-speed thrills or a fun-filled carnival experience, Oktoberfest has something for everyone.

Key Takeaway from German Oktoberfest History

From the history of Oktoberfest, the challenges it has faced, and the inclusion and removal of traditions, the Wiesn was never an instant hit. The festival took almost 150 years to make a prominent name globally. The popularity is increasing with each passing day, and the Bavarian Oktoberfest is being mimicked worldwide. 

The most notable Oktoberfest celebrations outside of Germany are held as follows: 

  • The twin cities of Kitchener and Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, attracting between 750,000 and 1,000,000 visitors. 
  • Blumenau, Brazil (with over 700,000 attendees). 
  • Cincinnati, Ohio, United States (with over 500,000 visitors). 
  • Denver Oktoberfest in Denver, Colorado, United States (with over 450,000 visitors).


Many other countries, including Argentina, Australia, Chile, Colombia, Hong Kong, and many more, host their own events. This growing Oktoberfest craze has made the Bavarian Wiesn more than just a yearly festival; it is an emotion.

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