Tag Archives: Festbier

From Horse Races to Beer Steins: Oktoberfest Since 1810

On 17 October 1810, 40,000 people converged on a field beyond Munich’s Sedlinger Gate to watch a horse race staged by the Citizens’ Militia (Bürgermilitär) in honour of Crown Prince Ludwig’s marriage to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The numbers were impressive, given that the population of Munich at the time was only 40,338 inhabitants. It seems no one complained when the next edition of the festival rolled around the following year on the Theresienwiese, ushering in what rapidly became a hallowed annual autumn tradition.

Watching horse races was a leisure pursuit much enjoyed by Bavarians in the nineteenth century. Any person who owned a horse could enter the annual race. From 1810 to 1913, the horse race was the main attraction at Oktoberfest, but other forms of entertainment soon put their stamp on the festival.oktoberfest-1810-peter-hess The Munich Rifle Association (Münchener Schützengesellschaft) organized a prize shoot in 1810 that has remained part of Oktoberfest to this day. From 1811, organizers of the agricultural fair aimed to spur peasants and farmers within the kingdom of Bavaria to ever higher quality and efficiency. Makeshift bowling alleys vied with wheel barrow races, and savvy innkeepers began to cater to the culinary needs of festival-goers.

With each passing year, more and more simply-appointed stalls popped up along the race track, provisioning hungry and thirsty guests with beer and food. At first, the guests sat on benches and tables under the sheltering blue sky, but during the 1820s stalls began offering indoor seating for those days when the sky was not so blue.

Today, Oktoberfest and beer tents go together like beer and Weisswurst, but it wasn’t until the latter half of the nineteenth century that the current Oktoberfest landscape of architectural structures dedicated to drinking beer began to take shape. With the enormous rise in prestige of the Munich breweries from the 1880s, their presence at the festival began to grow as well. In 1895, the first “beer castle” (Bierburg) was built by the now-defunct Thomasbrauerei. Other breweries followed suit. The Thomasbrauerei’s beer castle was large enough to accommodate 800 thirsty patrons, but even that was not large enough. On the eve of the First World War, the Pschorr Brauerei turned to a simplified tent design to pack in an astounding 12,000 stein hoisters –– a capacity that has not been exceeded since.

Within the space of a mere eighty years in the nineteenth century, Oktoberfest transformed itself from a spectacular Bavarian folk festival into a festival that celebrated beer. Between 1910 and 2010, beer consumption rose from 1.2 million liters to 7.1 million liters.img_0277

Even if the Oktoberfest’s last horse race was held in 1913, the initial festival attraction lives on in Munich’s topography. We may now think of Oktoberfest as massive beer tents given over to the blissful enjoyment of Maß upon Maß of Festbier, but to this day the outlines of the Theresienwiese on city maps recall the oval of the horse-racing track.

Here’s a stein to the horses, folks.

Related Tempest Articles

O’ zapft is! Oktoberfest 2016

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Sources

Ursula Eymold (ed.), Bier.Macht.München: 500 Jahre Münchner Reinheitsgebot in Bayern, exhibition catalogue, Münchener Stadtmuseum, 2016.

Bier- und Oktoberfest Museum, Munich (visited 17 September 2016).img_0155

Astrid Assél and Christian Huber, München und das Bier: Auf großer Biertour durch 850 Jahre Braugeschichte (München: Volk Verlag, 2009).

Images

Peter Heß, “Das Pferderennen bey der Vermählungs Feyer Seiner Königlichen Hoheit des Kronprinzen von Bayern, veranstaltet am 17ten Octr 1810 auf der Theresens-Wiese bey München von der Cavallerie der National-Garde 34 Klaße. Ihren Königlichen Majestäten von Bayern Maximilian Joseph und Karoline in tiefster Ehrfurcht gewidmet von den Theilnehmern an den October-Festen,” kolorierter Konturenstich, 1810 (Münchner Stadtmuseum, G-IIIc/8).

Spaten beer tent and Münchener Stadtmuseum: F.D. Hofer.

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

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O’ zafpt is! Oktoberfest 2016

Most every beer enthusiast I know has his or her mythical geography of the beer world, a mental landscape dotted with legendary breweries and drink-before-you-die beers. This topography might also consist of wild yeasts residing in the rafters of old farmhouses, or historic hop kilns concealed along country back roads. Cities themselves stand out like beacons: Munich, Portland, Bamberg, Brussels. A large part of what sustains this mental geography is the excitement of the quest. Sometimes we manage to satisfy of our desires relatively quickly; sometimes the quest may take years.

For me, lover of German beer that I am, it took twenty-five years to make it to Oktoberfest.

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If you want to learn more about the history of Oktoberfest and its beers, check out my other articles about Munich’s favourite festival:

From Horse Races to Beer Steins: Oktoberfest Since 1810

Where Did All the Märzen Go? Provisioning Oktoberfest Imbibers over the Centuries

I’ve written about my conversion to good beer elsewhere, and I’ve also written about my first visit to a beer garden and my first winter Glühwein. All of these happened way back during my first study year abroad. But why was it so difficult to get myself to Oktoberfest? Well, you see, I thought that Oktoberfest happened in October.

It was the autumn of 1991. I had my bags packed and ready to go. The kindly woman who tended to international exchange students asked what my plans were for that particular weekend, the second in October. “Oktoberfest!” I responded. She slowly shook her head. “Oktoberfest ended last weekend.”

If you, too, happen to be traveling around Europe and are blithely planning a trip to Oktoberfest in mid-October, keep in mind that it ends on 3 October this year.

Which brings us to about ten days ago. To mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of my disappointment, I headed out not just for Oktoberfest, but for the opening ceremony itself.

The morning dawned gray and wet. Over coffee I read yet another newspaper article about how heightened precautions such as a perimeter fence and security check had all but overshadowed the perennial talk of increasing prices for a Maß (1 liter) of beer.img_0258 But the sheer crush of lederhosen and dirndls on my train from Freising to Munich spoke volumes against the anxiety expressed in certain quarters. Neither the vague threat of terrorism nor the minor deluge seemed capable of holding back the throngs of people streaming from all sides toward the Theresienwiese.

I threaded my way through the crowd and asked a few folks where the opening ceremony would take place. By 11:00 am I had found my way to the Spaten Schottenhamel Festhalle beer tent.

Anticipation grew as the clock approached noon. Screens around the edge of the tent flashed images of the horse-drawn wagons decked out for the occasion and laden with this year’s beer. The procession drew nearer. And then the grand entrance! A marching band, the Münchener Kindl, symbol of the city dressed in traditional brown and yellow-gold, the Bavarian state premier, and the mayor of Munich. The crowd surged forward as the entourage made its way to where the ceremonial wooden kegs had been set up.

Even if you don’t know much German beyond lager and bier, chances are you’ve heard or read the phrase that marks the official beginning of Oktoberfest.img_0244 After the mayor exchanged a few words with the MC, it was game on. Two, maybe three blows with the wooden mallet, and the words everyone had been waiting for: O’ zapft is!

And so, I raise my stein: Ein Prosit, not only to Gemütlichkeit, but also to another place in my beer geography that has gotten that much less mythical, even if Oktoberfest itself remains legendary.

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From now until the end of Oktoberfest, I’ll be posting a series of short pieces that paints a picture of the history and culture of Oktoberfest. Some questions I’ll seek to answer for you include:

  • How did an annual horse race that first took place in 1810 become the largest beer festival in the world? And why the heck is Oktoberfest celebrated mainly in September?
  • When did all the huge beer tents appear, and what did they replace? (Hint: beer castles!)
  • When did the annual tradition of tapping the keg begin? Where did all the Märzen go?
  • How does Oktoberfest fit into Munich’s rich calendar of beer festivals? How many people show up in any given year, and just how much Festbier do they drink?

Related Tempest Articles

A Coal Town and a Cold One: My Hefeweizen Craft Beer Conversion

Where the Wild Beers Are: Brussels and Flemish Brabant

Hefeweizen: A Beer for All Seasons

In the Cool Shade of the Beer Garden

All images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

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