It was 1810 when Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria honored his bride, Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen, with a wedding day festival in Munich, inviting farmers, merchants and villagers to celebrate the fall harvest. Through the years, horse races, agricultural fairs, performers and beer pubs were part of the festivities as a way to draw tourists to the town and educate them about Bavaria and its people. Little did Prince Ludwig know that the tradition he started would continue for centuries to come, not only in Germany, but around the world.
Today, the Munich Oktoberfest is held in September because the weather is milder than it is in October. In Munich, the festival lasts for 16 days, beginning on a Saturday in September and always ending on the first Sunday in October.
In the late 1800s, lederhosen and dirndls became the traditional garb of Oktoberfest attendees. The fest traditionally begins with a parade featuring the mayor and other civic leaders, followed by horse-drawn brewer’s carts, bands, and townspeople in costumes. The parade ends at the oldest private tent at Oktoberfest, the Schottenhamel tent, where the mayor taps the first keg of beer, and the toasting begins. More than 7 million people attend the festivities each year.
Beer takes center stage at Oktoberfest. Munich’s six major brewers of the Oktoberfest beer, Märzen or Maerzen (named after the month in which they were brewed – March, or März in German), keep the brews in cold storage through the spring and summer months. Maerzen is full-bodied, rich, toasty and dark copper in color. This Oktoberfest beer may be found in the seven halls where there is live music throughout the day and evening, and is the same beer that was served at the Crown Prince’s wedding in 1810. Outside the beer tents, visitors will find music and dancing, sideshows, carnival rides and, of course, German food of all types – wursts of beef, chicken, veal or pork, as well as slices of beef, pieces of chicken, sauerkraut, potato salad, cabbage and onions. And don’t forget soft pretzels, which are often enjoyed with mustard and cheese, and a stein or two of beer.
This fall, consider hosting your own Oktoberfest-themed shindig. The following recipes will bring traditional German foods into the fold.