6 Surprising Facts About Oktoberfest

Before the beer tent got crowded at Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany.
Before the beer tent got crowded at Oktoberfest.

Oktoberfest is the world’s largest beer festival, where millions of people flock to Munich every fall to indulge in giant steins of beer while wearing lederhosen. Of course you already knew that. But there’s probably some parts of the famous festival that you haven’t heard before.

6 Surprising Facts About Oktoberfest:

Stein of beer at Okoberfest in Munich, Germany.
Oktoberfest is more about just beer (even if that’s the best part!).

1. Oktoberfest doesn’t take place in October.

Oktoberfest is actually held in September. Traditionally the festival starts the third weekend in September and ends on the last Sunday in October. Yeah, I know: the name is incredibly misleading.

So why isn’t it in October? The reason is something we all know too well: weather. The first festival was actually the wedding celebration of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese on October 12, 1810. It had horse races, carousel rides and only a few beer stands. It was so successful the celebration was repeated the following year, then the year after that (and obviously continued). Later the festival was extended and moved into September for better weather. It wasn’t until 1896 that the beer stands were replaced with brewery tents, turning the focus of the festival to beer.

And yes, this means that every beer bar that’s ever held Oktoberfest parties in October is wrong.

 

The Oktoberfest parade in Munich, Germany.
The Oktoberfest parade officially starts off the festival.

2. Oktoberfest starts off with a literal parade of beer.

Oktoberfest officially begins with a parade of breweries hauling beer kegs to the Theresienwiese fairgrounds accompanied by a costume parade of beer-tent waitresses and staff, brass bands, traditional costume and rifle clubs, city administrators, and decorated floats. The beer kegs are elaborately decorated and pulled by equally adorned horses.

The Traditional Costume Parade is a nod to one that took place at the original marriage celebration in 1810 and has been a tradition since 1850. The breweries have participated since 1935 and now 8,000 people march in traditional clothing through the city, making it one of the largest costume parades in the world.

The parade takes place every year on the morning of the first Sunday of Oktoberfest. (Luckily I landed in Munich just in time for it!) The parade ends at the festival grounds where the mayor opens the first beer keg at the Schottenhammel tent at exactly noon. Twelve gunshots are fired and Oktoberfest is officially open.

 

Food at the Marstall tent at Oktoberfest in Munich.
Our first round of food at the Marstall tent at Oktoberfest.

3. It’s an actual festival with amusement rides and food.

Yes, there are amusement rides and games spread throughout the huge festival. I don’t know why anyone would want to drink beer and get on a whirling roller coaster, but people were doing it and apparently not barfing.

Like any festival worth its weight, there’s tons of food — and it’s surprisingly good. Each tent serves traditional German dishes like weiss wurst, schnitzl and roasted pork, while pretzels, pastries and other specialty foods (like roasted trout on a stick) were sold in stalls outside the beer tents. Just like with the type of atmosphere, each tent puts its own twist on food, so check out the list of tents before going. (There’s even an entire tent for pastries, which I didn’t discover until after I got home! *tear*)

 

A child drinking beer at Oktoberfest in Munich.
Cheers little buddy!

4. It’s totally family friendly.

Oktoberfest is meant to be a family-friendly event. Well, at least until 8 pm, when children under 6 years old have to leave. Drinking is only allowed inside the tents (and you must have a seat to be served) and I even saw some kids partaking in beer – although I assume they were drinking the alcohol-free stuff. And it probably doesn’t hurt to mention that the legal drinking age for beer and wine in Germany is 16. (It’s 18 for liquor.)

 

Weinzelt wine tent at Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany.
Yes, there’s an entire tent dedicated to wine at Oktoberfest.

5. There’s more to drink than just beer.

There’s an entire tent dedicated to wine at Oktoberfest for those who don’t like beer or — in my case — decide that after three giant steins of beer, why not add some sekt (sparkling wine) to the mix? The Weinzelt tent serves 15 different types of wine, plus sparkling wine and champagne. If I remember correctly, many beer tents also serve wine and lemonade.

 

Beers upon beers at Oktoberfest in Munich.
Beers upon beers at Oktoberfest.

6. But a lot of beer is consumed.

Ok, so this is definitely not surprising, but the actual amount of beer that’s consumed is: over the course of Oktoberfest’s 16 days, about 6.9 million liters of beer is consumed by nearly 6 million people. That’s a lot of beer!

Some other fun numbers: those giant beer steins weigh 5 pounds each when full, yet the waitresses carry several at a time. (The world record for most full steins carried by a woman is 19 at once!) As for food, around 109 oxen and 58 calves were consumed in 2016’s Oktoberfest (a 12% drop in consumption from last year).

And some more fun numbers for items lost at Oktoberfest: the official website says 2,915 items showed up at the lost and found, including 680 pieces of clothing, 660 wallets, 580 passports, 410 phones, 250 glasses, 220 keys, 90 bags, 55 umbrellas and 15 cameras. Notable items include black trousers, two GoPros, a doctor’s certificate for work disability for the duration of the Oktoberfest, and — this is seriously on the website — “One gentleman claimed to have lost his “old lady,” but could not be helped at the lost and found office.” :)

Stayed tuned for posts on the Munich opera house and an incredibly personal post about love in Zurich.

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