Oktoberfest: A Celebration of Beer and Tradition

The World’s greatest Folk Festival — a unique masterpiece of true Bavarian culture.

By Mallory Ambrose | September 21, 2023

Photo by RAW, Exithamster

Prost! The 188th Munich Oktoberfest has commenced!

Notably the world’s largest beer festival, Oktoberfest is an annual 2-week long worldwide celebration steeped in the lived traditions and social fabric of Bavarian culture.

Centuries past, Oktoberfest continues to maintain its famed celebratory tradition drawing millions of beer enthusiasts and revelers from around the world to Munich for an annual rendezvous of overflowing mugs of beer, mustard-dipped sausage, and vibrant Bavarian customs.

The Augustiner festival tent with its striking tower | Photo by Sebastian Lehner

Aloisius watches over the Hofbräu festival tent | Photo by Sebastian Lehner

The Origin of Oktoberfest

Oktoberfest’s roots trace back to October 12, 1810, when Bavaria’s Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The wedding took place a year after a quelled rebellion in a neighboring county. In an effort to establish a sense of unity across the Bavarian state, the royal family invited 40,000 citizens to join the festivities held just outside the Munich city gates. The celebration lasted several days, but eventually concluded on October 17 with horse races, a grand feast, and, of course, plenty of beer.

The following year, citizens held the festival in the same field location just outside of the city gates and in honor of the princess called the celebration ‘Theresienwiese.’ The tradition continued in the following years and has since evolved into the global phenomenon that is Oktoberfest.

Festival Celebrations

The Oktoberfest grounds span across 100-acre grounds to the west of Munich, where the original 1810 wedding celebration ignited 188 years of global celebration. Every year millions travel to patronize the 38 beer tents packed into the festival grounds. The annual celebration kicks off with a gun salute and a ceremonial keg tapping by the Mayor of Munich who then proclaims “O’zapft is!” (“It is tapped!”) and the world’s largest beer party comes to life.

The ceremonial keg tapping by Munich's Lord Mayor Dieter Reiter in the Schottenhamel festival tent. | Photo by LHM Nagy

The ceremonial keg tapping by Munich's Lord Mayor Dieter Reiter in the Schottenhamel festival tent. | Photo by LHM Nagy

The ceremonial keg tapping by Munich's Lord Mayor Dieter Reiter in the Schottenhamel festival tent. | Photo by LHM Nagy

A colorful parade full of horse-drawn beer wagons, locals donning lederhosen and dirndls, the traditional Bavarian celebration attire, and live music, kicks off the start of the two-week celebrations to follow.

While beer is undeniably the star of Oktoberfest, the festival offers much more than just flavorful brews. Those who travel to Munich for the festivities are sure to enjoy traditional Bavarian music and folk dancing surrounded by a vibrant carnival atmosphere. Visitors will find classic carnival games and rides, including carousels and ferris wheels scattered across the festival grounds. Oktoberfest fosters a beautifully strong sense of community amongst both locals and visitors as they come together to celebrate lived traditions the 188th year.

A festive start to the opening of 2023 Oktoberfest | Photo by Siggi Müller

Photo by ode

Locals donning lederhosen and dirndls, the traditional Bavarian celebration attire | Photo by ode

The Willenborg Ferris wheel has been at the Munich Oktoberfest since 1979 and is considered a symbol of the festival | Photo by Sebastian Lehner

Oktoberfest features a wide array of Bavarian culinary delights that are sure to complement a cold mug of beer. From pretzels the size of your head to sausages, sauerkraut, and roast chicken, there’s no shortage of hearty fare to pair with your beer. Revelers will find venison, pastries, brats, cheese, and dumplings across Oktoberfest menus. The famous Schweinshaxe (crispy pork knuckle) or Brezn (pretzels) will provide everyone with an authentic taste of Bavaria.

Munich Oktoberfest Beers

If you look into the heart of Oktoberfest, with little to no wonder you will find, of course, beer. Brewed in strict accordance with the Reinheitsgebot (German Beer Purity Law), only beer from Munich brewers may be served at Oktoberfest.

Photo by Anette Göttlicher

Since 2022, Oktoberfest beer has held the European Union’s “Protected Geographical Indication” seal of origin. This guarantees that Oktoberfest beer is brewed exclusively in Munich and is the only beer that will be served at the annual Munich Oktoberfest. This provides both confirmation and protection across the EU and symbolizes the ideology that Munich Breweries Association has remained committed to preserving: “Oktoberfest beer is the result of a unique interplay of local brewing and festival culture that can only exist in Munich. Wherever you enjoy your Oktoberfest beer – you can be sure that it is the original from the Oktoberfest.”

Oktoberfest beers fall under one of two styles; historically a maltier Bavarian amber lager called Märzen, and a lighter brew originating in the 1970’s called Festbier. The Märzen-style lager is known and loved by many for its rich, amber color, balanced maltiness, and crisp finish. On the lighter side of Munich brews, a Festbier is a bit crisper featuring a less heavy profile with a sweet bready quality and touch of hops.

Oktoberfest atmosphere in the Paulaner Festival Tent. | Photo by Sebastian Lehner

Photo by Sebastian Lehner

Weeks before the starting signal for Oktoberfest, the breweries present their exclusive newly brewed Oktoberfest beer, increasing the long-awaited anticipation of the city’s event of the year. As custom dictates, only the six breweries of the state capital are allowed to fill the beer mugs of the Oktoberfest: Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner and Spaten.

Hailing from Munich-based breweries, the six brewmasters who crafted the 2023 Munich Oktoberfest Beers are Andreas Brunner (Augustiner), Rainer Kansy (Hacker-Pschorr), Rolf Dummert (Hofbräu), Bernd Kräußel (Löwenbräu), Christian Dahncke (Paulaner) and Friedrich Geiger (Spaten).

The six brewmasters Andreas Brunner (Augustiner), Rainer Kansy (Hacker-Pschorr), Rolf Dummert (Hofbräu), Bernd Kräußel (Löwenbräu), Christian Dahncke (Paulaner) and Friedrich Geiger (Spaten) are the makers of Munich Oktoberfest Beers 2023. | Photo by Verein Münchener Brauereien e.V.

The living history of Bavarian tradition held in the heart of Oktoberfest continues to be reborn centuries later. The historic festival symbolizes a celebration that shares rich pride and beautifully preserved traditions with millions worldwide. With Oktoberfest celebrations happening all around the globe, this iconic event is a testament to the enduring appeal of beer and the rich cultural tapestry that surrounds it 188 years later.

Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit! (A toast to cheer and good times!)

Munich Oktoberfest 2023 Live Stream: Experience the magic of Oktoberfest 2023 in Munich no matter where you are.