Octoberfest got its start more than 200 years ago in Munich, Germany. Everyone knows that Germans love their beer, so it makes sense that they would have a festival devoted to beer. But is this the real reason for the existence of Octoberfest? One day a bunch of Germans got together and decided to celebrate their beer with a holiday dedicated to it? Yes and no.
The first Octoberfest was held in October of 1810 to celebrate the marriage of Prince Ludwig of Bavaria to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The nobles invited the public to celebrate the marriage with them, which at the time was very unusual. In any event, 40,000 Bavarians showed up on a Munich meadow to celebrate. Copious amounts of beer were consumed, but the main attractions of the event were a horse race and agricultural show, the latter of which still is part of the festival. The meadow is now named Theresienwiese (Teresa’s Meadow in English) or Wiesn, for short. The modern festival begins in mid-September and runs until the first Sunday in October for a total of 16 days. Up to 6 million people attend the event and consume more than 5 million liters of beer every year.
While the marriage was ostensibly a reason to celebrate, the other reason the Germans (then known as Bavarians, as Germany didn’t exist yet) were also celebrating was because their favorite brew was back for the season. Just before the turn of the 19th century, Bavarians figured out how to brew with bottom fermenting yeasts, as opposed to top fermenting yeasts. Technically, instead of beer, this produces a lager. However, bottom fermenting yeasts could only be brewed in cold conditions, which meant they couldn’t be brewed in the warm summers. Once the autumn came around again, lagers could be brewed, and everyone celebrated by drinking lager. It just so happened that in 1810 the prince and princess invited everyone to celebrate their wedding right as everyone was gearing up for their new autumn brews. Bavarians brought their lagers to the party, and Octoberfest was born.
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