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Oktoberfest – prost to the most and cheers to the beers

It is October and although the Southern Hemisphere is exchanging a winter wardrobe for a summer one, things are cooling down in the North. What is hot in the North this time of year however, is the Oktoberfest, the world’s largest Volksfest (or travelling carnival).

An important part of Bavarian cultural heritage having been held since 1810, this festival has become a world-wide phenomenon with cities across the world also hosting spectacles modelled after the original Munich event.

Visitors flock to this international event annually, mostly for the beer, but also for numerous other attractions, rides, stalls, games, traditional foods and of course the colourful parades that kick off each festival.

The precise origins of the festival remain controversial, although it is widely accepted that the festival was initially held to celebrate the wedding of Kroonprinz Ludwig (later King Ludwig 1) to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen in October 1810. Citizens of Munich were invited to attend festivities held on the fields (named Theresienwiese or “Theresa’s Meadow”) in front of the city gates where horse races were held to honour the couple.

Traditionally, the festival opens at noon with a 12-gun salute followed by the tapping of the first keg of beer by the Mayor of Munich with the proclamation “O’zapft is” or “it’s tapped”. He then gives the first litre of beer to the Minister of the state of Bavaria. Before it officially starts, parades are held with the traditional marksmen’s clubs, beer tent waitresses and participating landlords, ending at the festival grounds at Theresienwiese. Locals don Bavarian hats (Tirolerhüte) containing a tuft of chamois hair, historically highly valued as the tufts were a representation of wealth.

One of the biggest regulations surrounding the Oktoberfest is that all beer must be brewed in conformance to the Reinheitsgebot or German Beer Purity Law, a series of regulations limiting the ingredients in the beer to water, barley and hops. It remains the most famous law regulating the brewing of beer, not only in Germany, but all over the world.

Even though only beer conforming to the Reinheitsgebot and brewed within the city limits of Munich can be served at the Munich event, the 16-18 day festival sees millions of litres of beer consumed. In 2013, a whopping 7.7 million litres of beer was served.

Personally, I think the world needs festivals like these to celebrate the coming together of nations and nationalities and races and creeds. We have all had enough of the ‘tearing apart’, so ladies and gentlemen don your lederhosen, snap on those suspenders, stuff your hat with a tuft of chamois hair and celebrate unity with a pint and a toast! Prost!