13 Oktoberfest Fun Facts
Think you can handle the world’s biggest beer and bratwurst party? Get in the Bavarian spirit with this surprising look at the world’s most famous beer festival.
Oktoberfest Began as a Marriage Feast
The first Oktoberfest was held in 1810, as a wedding feast honouring the union of Bavarian King Ludwig I and Maria Theresia of Saxonia. The royal shindig took place at the Theresienwiese (Theresia meadow) where it continues to be held today.
By 1819, festive horse races were replaced by beer carts and a new edict: that the party return each fall. Since then, the festivities have been cancelled only two dozen times-once in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian war, twice due to cholera epidemics, and later in the hyperinflation of the 1920s and in the years during and after the two world wars.
You’ll Have to Reveal Your Mug
Every year, festival-goers and patrons itching for free memorabilia attempt to make off with official Oktoberfest beer mugs. The one-litre glasses, or Masskrugs, while fantastic souvenirs, are actually the property of the beerhall or tent landlords. Security guards are specially positioned near marquee entrances, and told to look out for mugs leaving the tents. Last year, 226,000 glasses were recovered by security staff before patrons could sneak off with them.
The penalty for treating yourself to a Bavarian piece of hardware? A likely charge of theft. For those less keen on incurring a criminal offence, these same steins are available for purchase on the Oktoberfest grounds.
It Actually Starts in September
Despite a name that clearly evokes October, the original Munich Oktoberfest actually begins in September. Authorities opted to move the festival start date forward in order to benefit from the warmer early-fall weather-and the resulting increase in crowds. The event now begins the first Saturday after September 15, and lasts between 16 and 18 days. The name, however, has remained the same, and the festival always ends in October.
The Prices Are Enough to Make You Sway
With all the great beer made in and around Germany, which do you serve? Only beer brewed within the Munich city limits, for starters!
Last year, visitors drank a whopping 7.5 million litres of Munich brew. The cost to fill up your stein continually rises each year, with the average price of a litre of beer at $12, compared with roughly $8.50 just ten years before.
Still, with many of the brews boasting from 7.5 to 8 per cent alcohol, and the price of a bottle of water coming in around $9, it’s hard not to get carried away. Locals have an affectionate name for those over-consumers passed out on the beerfest grounds: Bierleichen, or “beer corpses.”
It’s a Proper Barvarian Pig-Out
Think giant soft pretzels, dumplings, cheese noodles, sausages and roast chicken-and lots of them. Every year, Oktoberfest revellers eat over 500,000 roast chicken and roughly 120,000 pairs of pork sausages. Last year, in just 17 days, 118 oxen and 53 calves were consumed.
But the Munich party isn’t the only Oktoberfest big on food. In Cincinnati, Ohio, at the largest Oktoberfest in the United States, organizers hold a yearly Bratwurst Eating Championship. The 2011 winner gobbled down 35 brats in 10 minutes for a $2,000 cash prize.
You Can’t Start Drinking Till the Mayor Says So
Since 1950, the festivities only begin when, at noon, 12 guns sound a salute and the mayor cracks open the first beer barrel, yelling “O’ zapft is!” (“It’s tapped!” in the Austro-Bavarian language). The mayor then hands the first beer to the Minister-President of the State of Bavaria.
Also, don’t be surprised to find yourself sharing a toast (or “Prost!”) with a few fresh-faced school kids. The legal drinking age for beer and wine in Germany is 16 years old, and just 14 if you’re accompanied by an adult.
People Lose the Weirdest Things
All that beer can leave your vision blurry and mind just a little foggy. Not surprisingly, the Oktoberfest Lost and Found turns up some pretty memorable forgotten items-roughly 4,000 of them per year.
In years past, lost items included 350 cell phones, 520 un-reclaimed wallets, over 1,000 passports, 370 pairs of glasses, 425 sets of keys, 1300 items of clothing, and at least one set of dentures. Even 48 children were lost, then found. Add to that a lost Viking helmet, crutches and electric wheelchair, and you have a very telling Oktoberfest collection.
The Biggest Oktoberfest Outside of Germany
Bring on the bratwurst, sauerkraut and… maple syrup? The biggest Oktoberfest outside of Germany is right here in Canada in the twin cities of Kitchener-Waterloo. Since 1969, the local Bavarian festival has become a massive hit for area residents and tourists alike, drawing between 750,000 and 1,000,000 visitors per year.
But it’s not the only beerfest copycat. Around the world, Oktoberfest imitations are held everywhere from Denver, Blumenau (Brazil) and Lima (Peru), to Hong Kong, Bangalore (India), Hoh-Chi-Minh City (Vietnam) and even in the West Bank town of Taybeh, home of the only Palestinian brewery.
It’s Possible to Carry 19 Steins at Once
In November of 2008, Bavarian waitress Anita Schwartz broke the record for most beer steins carried at once. Schwartz balanced 19 full beer steins-5 in each hand and 9 positioned on top of these-and walked 40 metres without spilling. She even set them down on the table without losing a drop. If the number of steins alone isn’t enough to make you cheer, consider this: each full mug weighs roughly 3.2 kg or 5 pounds. To set this Guinness record, Schwartz carried a total of 45 kg or 90 pounds in her arms alone.
You Can Be Banned
Oktoberfest authorities have not been shy about doling out bans-specifically towards those they say “cheapen” the event.
Case in point: Paris Hilton. In 2006, the socialite heiress arrived at the Oktoberfest grounds clad in a traditional Bavarian dirndl to promote a regional brand of canned wine. (The Oktoberfest grounds do also offer a wine tent.) Locals cried out against the profiting damsel-in-their-dress and Hilton was subsequently banned from the event.
Meanwhile, former Germany goalkeeper Jens Lehmann incurred a penalty of a different sort. The soccer player was seen attending Oktoberfest just hours after his Stuttgart team had lost an embarrassing match to Cologne. Word of the star’s un-cleared outing got around, and Lehmann was subsequently suspended.
There’s an App for That
It may be 202 years old, but stroll the smartphone-spotted grounds and you’ll find this Bavarian party is very new millenium. Within two days of this year’s festival start, the official Oktoberfest app had more than 75,000 downloads and for good reason: users can input their height, weight and the amount of beers they drank to receive an estimate of their blood alcohol content and how long it will take them to sober up.
Those looking to meet someone can connect with nearby singles through the “Wiesn flirt and find” app, then wow their love-interest with a word-for-word knowledge of Oktoberfest beer songs. Should an iMeetup fail, there’s always the simulation game that allows you to run a beerfest tent all on your own.
Even an Authentic Barvarian Festival Is Prone to Counterfeit
In 2004, police uncovered a fake coupon crime ring. The con-men had intended to profit from nearly 30,000 forged coupons, selling them to middlemen at 3 Euro each, who would then resell them to festival-goers at an upped price of 5 Euro. Waiters in two of the three tents eventually alerted authorities and police went on to trace the coupons to the former Yugoslavia, where the tickets had been printed. Authorities estimate that if all of the coupons had been sold, Bavaria’s largest breweries would have lost nearly $500,000.
Don’t Draw Your Weapons
While most festival-goers use the one-litre steins for drinking, some also brandished them as weapons. Last year, 58 Masskrug-brawls were reported to police. Though not all stein-related injuries are attacks (certain drunken revellers launch their steins into the crowd), some turn out to be both intentional and serious. In 2010, an infuriated Munich resident hit a Canadian tourist on the head with his mug. That same day, a less fortunate Australian tourist received a similar blow, and suffered bleeding in the brain.
Munich police take these stein attacks seriously. In the past, Stein-fighters have been charged with assault with a deadly weapon. The penalty, depending on age and severity of injuries, can range from anywhere between 6 months to life in prison.