Men really do wear lederhosen and women doll up in dirndls as they head with their extended families to the two-week-long Oktoberfest in Munich. I saw it myself the year I lived in Berlin a while back, when I joined friends heading south to the festival. This year’s Oktoberfest began last Saturday when the mayor of Munich tapped a keg and declared, “O’zapft is!” — It’s tapped! — to usher in the 183rd Oktoberfest. It runs through Oct. 3.
It was hard to wrap our heads around the number of people at the festival, especially in the Schottenhamel tent — one among many — with seats for 10,000. The seating is needed: more than 6 million people visit the Munich festival grounds, where they guzzle nearly 2 million gallons of beer in a two-week span.
After a couple of frothy mugs of Spatenbräu, we stood on benches to clink glasses and “Prost!” new friends, then sang along to corny songs led by the brass bands — songs like John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” or German ditties we learned on the spot. With that much beer, there were no inhibitions.
Beer is synonymous with Oktoberfest for reasons beyond an excuse to party. In the years before refrigeration and pasteurization, citizens were doing their duty by drinking the remainder of beer brewed during the last brewing cycle in March. Today, these brews are called Oktoberfest brews or Märzen-style beers. But the true origin of the festival can be traced back to a man trying to impress a lady. It happened in 1810, when Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildberghausen (Bavaria) and threw a party to celebrate in October. That single day wasn’t enough for revelers, who dubbed it Oktoberfest and extended the celebration.
Even with all this beer, we found plenty of places less rowdy than the big beer tents, from the bakery tent that specializes in chocolate cake, to the Zur Bratwurst tent, a destination for the best sausage at the festival. Other tents attract festivalgoers with pork shank, suckling pig, oxen and roast duck. We realized knowing where to find the best food was essential, since it’s best to eat your way through the festival in an attempt to ward off a terrible hangover. As you’d expect, our efforts were futile.