For the German beer enthusiast, there's nothing else quite like it anywhere -- the Munich Oktoberfest. And once the kegs are officially tapped, the brew begins to flow.
In Munich no one goes home thirsty
Let the festivities begin! This weekend hordes of tourists and thirsty beer drinkers descend on Munich for the opening of the 169th Oktoberfest. For two weeks the Bavarian city stands completely in the shadow of the giant tents on the Theresienwiese, where an estimated six million visitors gather to feast on beer and sausage, and revel to traditional folk music by dancing on tables.
It’s reputed to be the biggest public bash in the world. In just 14 days, visitors consume some five million litres of beer and over 200,000 pairs of pork sausages. There are 14 specially constructed giant 'beer tents' put up by Munich breweries, so no matter the weather, the party will always go on.
Oktoberfest's official opening begins at midday on the 21st and is marked by the tapping of the first keg in the Shottenhammel tent. The keg tapping is an old tradition, in which the mayor of Munich personally 'taps' the first barrel of Oktoberfest beer and shouts "O'zapft is'!" (which means the keg has been tapped).
While the adults make hay, the children play
All the fun of the fair...and brass bands too!
While the children play happily on the carousels, roller coasters and other 'all the fun of the fair' attractions at the foot of the Bavaria statue, the huge Oktoberfest grounds swell with people from all over the world, intent on sampling the finest in traditional German beer and cuisine.
Lest one think it's only about food and drink, the festival organizers offer a wide variety of cultural activities including the Grand Entry of the Oktoberfest Landlords and Breweries, the Costume and Riflemen's Procession, and a concert involving all the brass bands represented at the 'Fest'.
These bands make up only a sample of the different musical attractions that keep the enthusiastic punters entertained in the cavernous beer halls throughout the festival fortnight.
The beer tents vibrate with laughter, music and dancing
Once the formalities are concluded on opening day, most people then take their seats in the tents for assorted revelry at the huge banquette tables that groan under the weight of seemingly bottomless glasses of Weissbier and impromptu dancing.
These sessions can last all day from the moment the halls open at nine o'clock in the morning until last orders at 11 at night, although some stay open until the early hours of the next day. Of course the fields surrounding the tents are often littered with late-night party-goers camping out until the first brew is served the next morning.
Why is it an October-fest when it starts in September?
The more sober visitors may realise that the festivities are beginning some nine days before the start of the month that gives the festival its name. So why is the Oktoberfest called the "October-Fest" when it starts in September?
The September weather in Munich benefits the outdoor pursuits.
Mainly the weather’s to blame. In Munich, September is generally nicer and warmer than October and guests can enjoy strolling around the fair grounds or sitting at the adjoining areas outside the tents without freezing.
But the reason for its name also has historical origins. It all began with the wedding of the Bavarian crown prince Ludwig (later known as King Ludwig the first) to Princess Therese from the German kingdom of Saxony-Hildburghausen, who have her name to the Theresienwiese or Therese's green, on October 12, 1810.
Five days later, the National Guard organised a large public horse race to ensure that the Bavarian folk could also partake in the wedding celebration. It was decided then that the festival should be repeated at the same time the following year, which marked the birth of the "October-Festivals".
These fairs went on for a much shorter period of time, and only took place during October, ending on the first weekend of the month. In later years, as the festival grew in popularity, it was given an earlier start date to provide more time for merriment.
A long tradition that attracts a worldwide following
These days, despite declining numbers of visitors in recent times, the Oktoberfest is still a major event on the German calendar. And it’s a must for those from all over the world who are drawn to the traditions, entertainment and cultural stereotypes that make the festival synonymous with the German art of celebration.