Monday, September 18, 2006
The Original Beer Festival
I know many of you might think this post is early, it being September and all, but Oktoberfest began on Saturday in Munich, with the ceremonial tapping of the first keg. In Germany the festival is called "die Wiesn", a contraction of "die Wiesen"-the fields. The original Oktoberfest was held on the fields in front of the city gates which were later renamed "Theresienwiese" (Theresa's fields). The original Oktoberfest was held to celebrate a wedding. Prince Ludwig of Bavaria, who was later crowned King Ludwig I, wanted the people of Munich to share in the celebration of his marriage to Princess Therese (of Theresa's fields fame) of Saxony-Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810. He organized a horserace, offered copious amounts of beer and food, invited all the people of Munich and voila! Oktoberfest was born. It was such a success he decided to do it again the next year and a near two-hundred year tradition has ensued.
The modern Oktoberfest involves food, beer and a carnival atmosphere. There are 28-30 tents, six main breweries providing beer, tons of food and about six million visitors consuming about six million litres of German beer. It's a sixteen day festival and the fun flows as freely as the lagers. It begins with the tapping of the first keg by the mayor of Munich. As seen in the first photo above, taken on 9-16-2006, Mayor Christian Ude hollers out "O'zapft is!"-the barrel has been tapped-and the party is on! No, fellas it's the photo on the left...your other left...ahem.
The ladies on the right are wearing the traditional peasant dress, the dirndl. Wear a dirndl or lederhosen, for the men, and you can get in free, I hear. Last year the EU, in its PC frenzy, tried to ban the lowcut tops of the beermaids at Oktoberfest (skin cancer concerns, believe it or not!), creating quite a protest by the men. The edict was largely ignored, though, so no harm no foul. The protests continued until this year, when finally, two weeks ago, the EU parliament rejected the offensive regulation, just in time for Oktoberfest! To top it off, last year there was a group of pickpockets working a con, which involved a buxom, Bavarian maid exposing herself to inebriated men (and there might be one or two around), only to distract him while her cohorts snatched his wallet. Police were on the lookout...
Six Munich breweries, Löwenbräu, Spaten, Augustiner, Hofbräu, Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr, brew a special beer just for the Oktoberfest. The beer, Wiesnbier is slightly darker and stronger than a normal Pils. It is served in a one-liter-tankard, ein Mass. This year the cost for ein Mass is 7.50 euros. If you don't specify a Wiesn, you'll likely get a lighter lager, so you need to know what to order.
I've never been to THE Oktoberfest, but I am planning to go in 2010, for the Zwei-Hundert Anniversary of Ludwig and Theresa's marriage. That should be fun. In the meantime, I'll enjoy some festivals closer to home.