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The History of Oktoberfest & Where to Celebrate Locally

Oct 13, 2021 03:33PM ● By Virginia Dean

With its origins in Germany in 1810, Oktoberfest is an annual festival in Munich, held over a two-week period and ending on the first Sunday in October. The festival began as a celebration of the marriage of the crown prince of Bavaria, who later became King Ludwig I, to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen on October 12. The citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities held on the fields in front of the city gates to celebrate the happy, royal event. The fields were then named Theresienwiese (Theresa’s fields) in honor of the Crown Princess. Horse races in the presence of the rohal family marked to close of the event that was celebrated as a festival for the whole of Bavaria.

The decision to repeat the horse races in the following year gave rise to the tradition of the Oktoberfest. An added feature to the horse racing was the first agricultural show designed to boost Bavarian agriculture. The horse races, which were the oldest and at one time most popular event of the festival, are no longer held today. But the agricultural show is still held every three years during the Oktoberfest on the southern part of the festival grounds.

By 1818, the first carousel and two swings were set up. Visitors were able to quench their thirst at small beer stands, which grew rapidly in number. In 1896, the beer stands were replaced by the first beer tents and halls, which enterprising landlords set up with the backing of breweries. The rest of the festival site was taken up by a funfair. The range of carousels and fun rides started increasing rapidly in the 1870s as Germany's fairground trade continued to grow and develop.

By the late 20th century, the booths originally set up to serve food and drink at a combined state agricultural fair had developed into large beer halls made of plywood with interior balconies and bandstands. Today, each of the Munich brewers sets up one of the temporary structures, and the mayor of Munich taps the first keg to open the festival, which began on September 18 and ended on October 2, 2021. The breweries are also represented in parades that featured beer wagons and floats along with people in folk costumes. Other entertainment included games, amusement rides, music, and dancing.

[Please Note: This year’s Oktoberfest was canceled to help prevent the spread of COVID. The Oktoberfest 2022 is scheduled from September 17 to October 3, 2022. This will be the 187th Oktoberfest in Germany.]

Modeled on the original in Munich, many cities and towns in the U.S. hold Oktoberfests featuring German beer and food. They are an attempt to reproduce the Bavarian sense of gemutlichkeit or cordiality.

For example, in Woodstock, VT, the name has been changed to Oktoberfest to celebrate the season of riding with the Woodstock Inn & Resort from October 12-13. With a Downhill Race on the 12th at the Suicide Six Bike Park and an Enduro Event featuring timed sections on the 13th at the Mt. Peg Network, this event had something for everyone. Awards and food followed at the Suicide Six Bike Park on Saturday and Sunday. 

At Mt. Snow in VT, the event was not just for the adults. With kid games, pumpkin painting, and the famous “schnitzel toss,” it was for everyone. Located in West Dover, the Mount Snow Oktoberfest had plenty of beer, schnitzel, and Oom-pah music and two days of fun for the whole family. A Columbus Day weekend tradition since 1997, this Oktoberfest is one of Mt. Snow’s signature festivals and was named a 2016 Top 10 Fall Event by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce.

There are approximately 100,000 people with German heritage in New Hampshire. Closest to the Upper Valley on the NH side, a taste of the Bavarian Alps at Loon Mountain during White Mountain Oktoberfest is available with the region’s largest celebration of German food, drink, and music. The two-day festival, which took place this past weekend. An Oompah band provided the soundtrack to a stein-hoisting contest, keg toss, and children’s activities. 

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