Best of the 'Fest in Munich (by Mike Baker)
The fall is a special time for those who enjoy the fruits of the harvest, and the celebration of the harvest of barley and hops reaches its full expression in Bavaria’s Oktoberfest, which is held in Munich in late September and early October each year.
Originating from a wedding celebration in 1810, the festival has become synonymous with Bavaria’s culture, which holds to several traditions still celebrated today in the form of dress, food, flag, and of course – beer!
The ubiquitous garb of lederhosen & dirndl can be seen on most Bavarian streets from Munich to Schwangau and Schliersee to Berchtesgaden during the fest period. The heart-shaped gingerbread lebkuchenherzen still remind onlookers that the festival was originally a celebration of love while the staple bretzen (pretzels) that accompany any Maßkrug (stein) of beer is as common as the region’s blue and white lozenge rautenflagge (the flag of Bavaria).
The festival itself is kicked off by a parade of the Big Six breweries that form the core of the festival – Augustiner-Bräu, Hacker-Pschorr-Bräu, Lowenbrau, Paulaner, Spatenbräu, and Hofbräu-Munchen – a sight that greets viewers with horse-drawn wagons full of beer barrels. After the parade, the first barrel is ritualistically tapped with the phrase “O’zapft is!” and the first beers are drawn for visitors.
If you’ve been lucky enough to attend the festival in-person and have tasted the beer for yourself, it’s likely you will agree to its freshness and purity. This is because of the Reinheitsgebot, the strict brewing purity law established by Duke Wilhelm IV in 1516, which stipulated that beer could only be made from three ingredients: malted barley, water, and hops (yeast wasn’t yet recognized for its contribution!)
Another law passed in 1553 forbade the brewing of beer between April 24th and September 28th, which resulted in the iconic Märzen that was brewed in March with more hops and a higher alcohol content that allowed it to last longer during the forbidden period. This is the beer today brewed in March and served at the Oktoberfest.
Augustiner-Bräu is Munich’s oldest independent brewery, renowned for making Munich’s best beer – its Oktoberfestbier (a märzen) is still the only beer served from the traditional wooden barrels, which is why the Augustiner-Festhalle is hailed by locals to be the best tent of all 34 at Oktoberfest. Augustiner’s famous quality is said to derive from the water used in its brewing, which originates from a private well 700’ underground.
Once inside, this tent certainly delivers on all the sights, sounds, and tastes, including endless rounds of “Ein Prosit” (standing or sitting as one prefers), servers selling pretzels, and large portions of chicken, pork knuckle, and dumplings.
Of course, the Augustiner tent is just one of the 14 large tents – one may also book a table at any of the Lowenbrau, Paulaner, or Spaten tents, the last of which has a somewhat quieter atmosphere for families and children during the daytime.
Heading outside into the darkness provides sights and — if one is still lucid enough to enjoy them — all manner of carnival rides for enjoying a bird’s eye view of the festival.
Of course, at the end of such festivities, it’s always important to make sure one has a souvenir to take home – just make sure you don’t try to steal a Maß stein as you head to one of the many U-bahn stops. Once you've returned home, be sure to commemorate your Oktoberfest with a well-deserved art print from our Cheers to Us collection. Prost!