Oktoberfest lasts for 16 days. It starts in late September and finishes on the first Sunday of October – unless the 1st Sunday is before 3rd October, in which case the festival is extended so that it lasts until German Unity Day. This prompted me to ask yesterday, “Why does a nation that generally follow the rules so strictly that they won’t even cross the road on a red man, even when there are no cars to be seen, celebrate Oktoberfest in September?” I decided to find out last night, so I’m sharing my findings, just in case anybody else wondered.
Well, for starters it did used to be held in October. The first one was a celebration of the marriage of Prince Ludwig (who later became King Ludwig I) to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The marriage took place on October 1810, and five days later the people of Munich were invited to festivities which were held on the fields outside one of the town gates.
That first year they had a parade and horse races. The horse races proved so popular that the people decided to repeat the event the following year, and so even though horse racing hasn’t been part of the festival for many years, we have them to thank for the event still being held today. In the second year they also had an agricultural show, by 1816 there were a few carnival stalls and by 1818 the beer stalls that the festival is now renowned for had been added.
But back to my original question. Why is it held in September? It seems the answer is “because the weather is better”! It doesn’t matter to the locals – they don’t even call it Oktoberfest. To them it’s known as Die Wies’n. The fields where the festival was first held were (and still are) called Theresienwiesen (Theresa’s Meadows) in honour of the princess. This name has been shortened locally to die wiesen or die wies’n, and if you don’t call your festival after a month I suppose it doesn’t matter when it is held.
While this story behind the festival is interesting, there is another theory about its origins which sounds equally plausible and you’ll find that here.
And there you have it: the story of Oktoberfest.