It seems to me that on the list of festivals that have been canceled or otherwise crippled, the original Oktoberfest, to use the German spelling, must take top billing.
This celebration originated when Crown Prince of Bavaria, Ludwig, married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen on Oct. 12, 1810. The citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities held on the fields in front of the city gates to celebrate the royal event with all kinds of revelries including horse racing, and of course, plenty of food and beer.
Well, the fun-loving Bavarians figured this was a good idea and have continued the celebration annually — with a few exceptions — for more than 200 years and the Oktoberfest grew to became the world’s largest folk festival. Held annually in Munich, Bavaria, Germany, this 16- to 18-day revel runs from mid or late September to the first Sunday in October.
More than six million people from around the world attend the event every year with immense, specially designed tents holding thousands of revelers each being erected at the Oktoberfest site. Unique beer mugs for each year provide mementos of the celebrations.
One of the biggest features of the festivities, along with the music, those wonderful German sausages, and other fine foods is the special extra potent Oktoberfest beer brewed only for the celebration. During the multi-day festival, beer consumption is reported to be upwards of about two million gallons. Betcha that sure helps induce the sense of “gemütlichkeit,” the Oxford dictionary describes as, “the typical Bavarian ‘take it easy and let the world pass on by’ attitude that means people in Bavaria are usually not quick to get upset over anything except their beer not being cold enough.” A great party attitude, don’t ya’ think?
The Oktoberfest celebration spread to other German cities each with their own version of the festivities. We were fortunate to have spent two tours of military service in Germany and thus had the opportunity, as did untold thousands of other GIs and their families, in experiencing Oktoberfest not only with the local population, but with on-base celebrations. As a result of these experiences, Oktoberfest fetes became established with some military units here at home.
For a number of years we attended an annual Oktoberfest party sponsored by a military unit on a nearby Air Force base. These festivities, attended by hundreds of military and civilians, were complete with a costumed German band playing “oompah” music, German food specialties, dancing, singing German beer-drinking songs — and, of course, consumptionof beer drunk from specially designed beer mugs. All in all, they were a pretty good replicas of the Oktoberfest festivities.
These transplanted military-associated galas are not the only venues where Oktoberfest celebrations have taken root. A quick search of Wikipedia revealed the top 10 world-wide locations for these festivities. As to be expected, Munich topped the list, however, this original site was followed by: Fredericksburg, Texas; Blumenau, Brazil; Kitchener-Waterloo, Canada; La Crosse, Wis.; Brisbane, Australia; Villa General Belgrano, Argentina; and Hong Kong, rounding out the slate. Most of these are known for large German populations, but who would have thought Hong Kong?
Frankly, I was surprised to see Cincinnati wasn’t on the list with its Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, which has taken place since 1974 with some half-million people attending the festival. The original Oktoberfest featured horse racing but, according to its web site, this fete begins with the annual Running of the Wieners that sees 100 dachshunds dressed as hot dogs, racing to the finish.
I suppose there are those folks who are just as glad Oktoberfest celebrations have fallen victim to this vicious virus. After all, these festivals are nothing more than an excuse for eating unhealthy food and drinking beer so we’re better off without them, right? Well, we’re likely to eat unhealthy food anyway and as for the beer drinking, I would default to Martin Luther, the great German theologian.
He proclaimed, “Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer!” I kind of figure I’m not one to argue this theological point so I’ll accept his position.
Anyway, plans are already underway for next year’s Munich Oktoberfest and I imagine the same is true for others around the world that have been canceled. Nope, you can’t keep a great festival down.
At least that’s how it seems to me.
Bill Taylor, a regular contributing columnist and local area resident, may be contacted at [email protected]