By Žikica Milošević
There is no bigger beer carnival than Oktoberfest. This event is considered one of the most iconic in the world, such as the Carnival in Rio, Semana Santa in Seville, Palia in Siena, the Bull Run in Pamplona, or Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Beer aficionados dream of being one of Oktober’s guests, preferably several times. The same applies to those people who don’t like beer. Actually, it applies to everyone.
THE FIRST, THE BIGGEST, THE BEST
Not only is Oktoberfest the largest beer brand, but it has also become a kind of worldwide “franchise” unlike the others, which have a local historical background. Oktoberfest is the earliest grassroots festival that was created in Munich in 1810. Today, it lasts from 16 to 18 days, from mid-September to the first week of October, and is visited by six million people every year, beer drinkers and others. Locals often call it Wiesn, since the place called Theresa’s Meadows or in German, Theresienwiese, is the location where the festival is held every year. Today, interestingly enough, Oktoberfest in Munich is not the only Oktoberfest in Germany and even the rest of the world. German emigrants have taken the custom to other continents (one of the largest, and for a long time, the second-largest Oktoberfest in the world was the one held in the town of Blumenau in Santa Catarina, Brazil). Oktoberfest is also held in Argentina, the USA and more recently, in Novi Sad.
Up to 8 litres of beer are consumed at Oktoberfest in Munich. The festival is known for other types of entertainment too, with food taking the centre stage and Bavarian sausage being the highlight of the festival food. Oktoberfest’s history and timeline are also worth mentioning. The Munich Oktoberfest originally took place in the 16 days leading up to the first Sunday in October. In 1994, this longstanding schedule was modified in response to German reunification. As such, if the first Sunday in October falls on the 1st or the 2nd, then the festival would run until 3 October. Thus, the festival now runs for 17 days when the first Sunday is 2 October and 18 days when it is 1 October.
THE PAST AND CUSTOMS
It all started again with the kings of Bavaria, who had the good old custom of getting married in the autumn, same as ‘regular’ people. Ludwig I married Princess Theresa on 12 October 1810, with horse races and a beer-drinking fair held in honour of the event, and people celebrating the royal marriage. Someone figured out that all this worked out really in 1810, so they decided to persuade the king to repeat the festivities the next year at the same time. And that’s when the festival became a tradition. The rest is history. A statue of Bavaria was built in 1850 to proudly ‘supervise’ the drinking of barley and hops liquor. At the end of the 19th century, games were discontinued to leave more table space, and in 1887, the festival became a real carnival with a procession of brewers decorated with chariots and costumes, accompanied by music on the first Saturday of Oktoberfest. Since the end of World War II, serving traditional Oktoberfest beer, which is 2% stronger than regular beer, has been banned.
As of 1950, everything became standardized and starts in the same way. At noon, firing from 12 rifles on the steps of Ruhmeshalle, marks the beginning of Oktoberfest with the proclamation “O’zapft is!” (“It has been draughted!”, spoken in the Austro-Bavarian dialect) with the mayor of Munich opening the first barrel of beer in the Schottenhammel tent. The mayor then gives the first litre of beer to the Prime Minister of Bavaria. This is a sign that everyone can start serving beer. Most often, the beer is served by girls wearing attractive dirndl dresses.
There is a ‘foreplay’ to all of this too. Before the festival officially begins, parades feature traditional waiter clubs, beer servers and landowners. In fact, there are two different parades that end at Theresienwiese. They start around 9:45 a.m. and last until 10.50 p.m. During Oktoberfest, some locals wear Bavarian hats (Tirolerhüte), that are made from chamois fur (Gamsbart), which photographs well. The main row is always headed by a person featured on Munich’s coat of arms, also known as Munich Kindle, or “the Munich Child”, who was originally a monk (hence the name Munich meaning “Monk” or Monk’s Town). In a humorous interpretation from the 16th century, Munich Kindle was portrayed with a beer in his hand, instead of the Bible. Today, during the Oktoberfest parade, Munich Kindle is always represented by a young girl which is so typically German and medieval; that is turning something serious into something merry.
A STEP FORWARD
Similar albeit smaller festivals, called Voksfest, are held all around in Bavaria. Needless to say, the beer festival is globally popular everywhere where German expats are – Blumenau, Kitchener in Ontario, Villa Generál Belgrano in Argentina are just some of the places where the German expats hold their versión of Oktoberfest. The festival is also held in several other places in the US (where Germans are the largest ethnic group), mostly in Cincinnati. The history of the German expats is long. Kitchener was even called Berlin for a long time, and today a huge number of people speak German as their first language here, with the most spoken word being “Gemütlichtkeit” (warmth). In Blumenau, admission to the festival is free if you wear the traditional German costume. There are many Oktoberfests today with different customs, but there is only one original.
Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit in October in Serbia too
Belgrade and Novi Sad are no longer lagging behind the aforementioned cities, which, because of their love for this festival and the respective German communities, started celebrating Oktoberfest. In Serbia, Oktoberfest has been organized by the German-Serbian Chamber of Commerce for over a decade for the Chamber’s members and their guests. The success of Oktoberfest in Serbia is also evidenced by the fact that both festivals, the one in Belgrade and the one in Novi Sad, have become a tradition.