Oktoberfest Essay


  1. Introduction
  2. The origin of Oktoberfest
  3. The history of Oktoberfest
  4. The celebration of Oktoberfest and its importance for modern German and other societies
  5. Conclusion
  6. Bibliography
  7. Introduction

    Each people has its own traditions, which sometimes overcome national borders and become well-known and popular in many countries of the world. Such traditions are extremely important for national culture as well as for the world culture at large since they provide the sustainable transition of cultural norms from one generation to another and in such a way the national culture keeps progressing on the basis of its old traditions involving larger number of people from different societies.

    At the same time, in the contemporary society it seems to be extremely difficult to keep old traditions, develop and promote them among people. This is why the international recognition of some of national traditions is particularly important since it contributes to the increasing of the role of these traditions as symbols of the nation.

    Unfortunately, many countries have lost many of their traditions and nowadays they represent nations without any particular ethnic symbols, which could distinguish them among all other nations of the world. In fact, such a situation may be very dangerous because it threatens to the national identity at large and the cultural nihilism may lead to the expansion of foreign cultures that can eventually result in the following political and socio-economic expansion.

    Not surprisingly that in the contemporary world many countries face the problem of Americanisation, which is basically the result of American economic, political and cultural expansion on the background of the lost of national cultural traditions.

    In this respect, it is particularly noteworthy that some nations keep their old traditions till the present days. Among these nations may be pointed out

    German, which, being a very conservative nation, still celebrates its traditional festivals known and admirable all over the world, such as Oktoberfest, which originate from the 19th century and nowadays is probably the most popular German festival, which is well-known all over the world and which is a symbol of traditional German culture. This is why, it is extremely important to analyse the situation with this old German tradition as a symbol of the link between different generations of Germans and as a kind of brand of German culture in the world community. This tradition is particularly interesting to research in the context of the contemporary trends of globalization and utilitarian attitude to culture which tends to be simplified and unified into a universal culture where national distinguishes gradually disappear. In terms of this paper, the origin, history, celebration of Oktoberfest will be discussed as well as its importance for German and world culture and its impact on German and other societies.

    The origin of Oktoberfest

    Traditionally, Oktoberfest is considered to be quite an old German festival that has been celebrated regularly throughout its history. Speaking about the origin of this festival, basically it dates back to October 12, 1810, when Bavarian King Max Joseph “gave a big time wedding for Crown Prince Ludwig, later to become King Ludwig I, with the Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen” . This was a really remarkable event not only for the royal family but also for all people in Bavaria since the celebration of this event involved practically all people of this territory. And the first Oktoberfest was actually an integral part of this celebration.

    However, it should be said that initially, it was not a concrete well planned beforehand festival, but it was just a great horse race organised in honour of the wedding, which was named after the Princes Therese von Saachsen-Hildburghausen, and in German it is called ‘Theresienwiese’. Actually, this horse race became a precursor of the future Oktoberfestival and it was so successful that in the following year it “became an annual affair commemorating this grand wedding forevermore”.

    However, this is only the official part of the story of the origin of Oktoberfest but there is also a nice story, which may be not absolutely historically true, but still it exists and seems to be very interesting, especially for the contemporary researchers of this festival. In fact it should be pointed out that in the epoch when the marriage took place horse races lost their past popularity and were gradually disappearing. Consequently, the decision to organize horse races seemed to be quite unusual but according to this story, there was Franz Baumgartner, corporal of the national guard, who was “horse lover and owned a racing horse himself” , and he thought of the revival of horse races as an old tradition that could remain quite popular. In such a situation, the marriage celebration turned to be a very good pretext to revive horse races on the national level. In the German tradition, there was a very interesting story that rather resembles an invented one, or a kind of myth typical for practically all old traditions. Nonetheless, the story tells that on major Andra Dall’Armi “was designated to lead a delegation of officers of the Guard to suggest it to the King” and naturally the King Max Joseph was delighted and accepted this idea.

    Obviously, this story seems to be a bit unrealistic and created in order to make the Oktoberfest more interesting for wide audience. In fact, it is really possible to admit that something like that really took place but, on the other hand, there is still remains some room for doubts because such a situation seems to be too ideal. This is why it is possible to suggest different interpretations of the origin of this horse race. For instance, it is not a secret that royal families are extremely conservative and what could be more conservative than horse races, which lost their popularity at that epoch. At the same time, a great horse race was a great opportunity for the royal family to emphasise its ancient origin, or in other words, the horse race should symbolize that the royal family is as old as this tradition, or even older. In such a way, the Bavarian monarch emphasised that the royal family is a part of the local history and has all legislative and historic rights to remain at power. Moreover, the revival of an old tradition could also symbolize that royal family would never disappear and it would exist forever as horse races did.

    Such interpretation of the symbolic revival of horse races, which were the first traditions of Oktoberfest, is very noteworthy in the historical context of that epoch. Notably, it is necessary to remind that it was the epoch when the ideas of the Great French Revolution were still popular and Napoleon, as one of the symbols of this revolution and promoter of some of its basic ideas, was extremely powerful. Consequently, the Bavarian monarch could naturally be worried about his royal status and this is why he could use any means to improve his position in the society and sustain his power. In this respect, the horse race was a kind of a cultural tool contributing to the promotion of old royalist traditions and preventing the spread of new and revolutionary ideas in Bavarian society.

    Returning to the origin of Oktoberfest, it should be said that it was first held five days after the wedding on October 17, in the meadow that became the basic location of the festival and it is traditionally referred to as ‘d’Wies’n’ that is German for the meadow. It should be pointed out that the festival really became a national event since not only the royal family, the royal court and the city magistrate were present on the festival but also ordinary citizens were invited on the festivities.

    Finally, it should be said that the festival turned to be so successful that it was decided to repeat it the following year and gradually it became one of the most famous German traditional festivals.

    The history of Oktoberfest

    Obviously, Oktoberfest may be considered to be an old German tradition that has been celebrated regularly since the date of its creation. Anyway, it should be pointed out that this festival gradually evolved and changed dramatically to the extent that nowadays it is quite different from its original way of celebration. At least, horse races practically disappeared completely and became only a part of the festival’s history.

    Nonetheless, there remains a strong connection between the origin of the festival and its present form of celebration that sustained the historical roots of Oktoberfest. Obviously in order to better understand all the nuances of Oktoberfest and its significance for German and world culture as well as its impact on German and other societies, it is necessary to trace the history of the development of this festival.

    First of all, it should be said that the first changes were started practically at the first years of the existence of the festival. Notably, in 1811, which is the second year of Oktoberfest, a big agricultural fair was added to the traditional horse races and nowadays Oktoberfest is well-known worldwide as the largest fair in the world.

    However, the existence and the tradition of the celebration of the festival was put under a big threat a couple of years later in the period of the Napoleonic wars. The international political situation was so tense and unstable that in 1813 Oktoberfest “was called off as Bavaria was involved in the Napoleonic war” . In such a situation it was extremely important that the festival was continued as a symbol of the continuation of the national traditions. Fortunately, for the local people and for Oktoberfest, the war ended and the festival kept progressing and developing.

    In 1816, the carnival booths appeared and by 1818 the first performers and beer pub owners participated in the festival . A year later, the town fathers of Munich “took over festival management” . This was very important step in the localization and democratisation of the festival because since that time on it has not been anymore the privileged of the royal family to organize the celebration but it is rather the local community that was responsible for Oktoberfest and its events. It is obvious that the fathers of the town could not act as independently as the royal family did this is probably why the new events were introduced in the program of the celebration of the festival because the local community has its own interests which were not limited by such conservative things as horse races but, in stark contrast, it was more interested in traditional national thongs, dances, food and drinks, etc. As a result, it is possible to estimate that since this epoch Oktoberfest has really started to transform into a real popular festival of ordinary citizens of Bavaria.

    Also it should be pointed out that it was this epoch when the decision to change the date of the festival was taken. The main reason to shift the date and start the festival earlier on Saturday of September was the natural conditions of Bavaria, when the temperature is relatively high and achieves 30 degrees Celsius.

    Naturally the festival progressed and by middle of the century it acquired its own symbols. For instance, one of the most famous symbols of Oktoberfest the statue of Bavaria was created in 1850 by Johan Baptist Stiglmaier and Ferdinand von Miller who executed the statue on the basis of the scetch by Leo von Klenze and its romanticized and Germanized version by Ludwig Michael Schwanthaller . Three years later, another symbol of Oktoberfest was erected, it was the famous

    Bavarian Ruhmeshalle

    Unfortunately, the following year, in 1854, people could not enjoy the festival and its new symbols because the epidemic of Cholera stroke the city of Munich and the festival was cancelled . Actually, this was that rare episode in the history of Oktoberfest when the festival was cancelled. However, this situation repeated more than 20 times in the history of Oktoberfest because of either epidemics, or wars, or some other extreme situations, which made the celebration practically impossible. For instance, it was cancelled in 1866 because of the Austro-Prussian War, in 1870 – because of the Franco-German War, etc.

    Nonetheless, the festival continued to progress and among the most significant innovations that took place in Oktoberfest may be named the government’s approval of sales of beer in 1880 , the following electrification of over 400 booths and tents , booths selling bratwursts were opened in 1881 , in 1892 the beer was first served in glass mugs , and at the end of 1900’s the festival are was enlarged and booths were transformed into beer halls.

    The first half of the 20th century was marked by the festival cancellation because of wars, i.e. World War I and II, and economic crises. Nonetheless, the festival survived and in 1950 a new tradition was implemented concerning the festival opening: “a twelve gun salute and the tapping of the first keg of Oktoberfest beer at 12:00 by the current Mayor of Munich with the cry ‘O’Zapft is!’ [the keg is tapped]” . A decade later, in 1960s Oktoberfest turned to be an international festival visited by many tourists from different countries of the world, including Japan, Australia, and others. Remarkably, only in 1960 the old tradition of horse races ended.

    1980 was marked by the most tragic even in the history of Oktoberfest celebration when Neo-Nazi kamikaze organized a bomb explosion near the entrance which killed himself along with 13 other visitors and injured about 200 more . Fortunately, nowadays the festival is still celebrated and no such terrible accidents have been repeated ever.

    The celebration of Oktoberfest and its importance for modern German and other societies

    Nowadays Oktoberfest is still celebrated regularly as practically two hundreds ago. However, in present days, the festival is celebrated basically in September and lasts for 16 days. As a rule it ends on the first Sunday in October. The main reason for such a shift are naturally conditions since September and early October in Bavaria are characterised by warm weather that contributes to large number of visitors. By the way, it should be pointed out that nowadays, several millions of people visit Oktoberfest regularly each year and they arrive from different parts of the world. This is why it is possible to say that it is a German national festival that gets acquainted many visitors from abroad with traditional German culture.

    In fact, it is probably the largest and the most important cultural event that takes place in Germany and is well-known worldwide. In such a situation, it is very important to underline that German conservatism contributes to the promotion its culture and tradition to people from different countries visiting Oktoberfest. What they may see wile visiting Bavaria during Oktoberfest are traditional German celebration. As a rule, people wear traditional national clothes, such as lederhosen and dirndls that date back to 1887 , people sing national songs and dance national dances, etc. One of the most important attributes of the festival is the local beer that is represented by six major breweries: Hacker-pschorr, Lowenbrau, Spaten, Hofbrauhaus, Augustiner, Paulaner. Naturally, visitors are served by national dishes recognizable all over the world, such as ‘brathendl’ (the grilled chicken) or a ‘Munchner Weisse’ (the veal sausage only found in Bavaria) . Also, there are a lot of music, sideshows, booths and rides.

    Naturally, in the situation when millions of people regularly visit Oktoberfest each year, it is hardly underestimate its value and importance for modern German society as well as for the entire world. In fact in the epoch of globalization it is probably one of the rare opportunities for foreigners to get acquainted with traditional German culture, while for German people it is an excellent opportunity to recall their history, culture, and old traditions.

    Actually, Oktoberfest is nowadays viewed as a symbol of Germany and in the world perception Germans are associated with conservative German burgers that tourists may see during this festival. This is why it is possible to estimate that Oktoberfest plays an extremely important role for German society because it helps to sustain national identity in the constantly changing and unifying world, where national traditions play less important role than ever before, especially compared to the modern lifestyle, increasing influence of pop art, and establishment of primitive values of the consumer society.

    On the other hand, Oktoberfest is not less important for the rest of the world than for German people because the fact that this traditional festival is still celebrated and this tradition has been lasting for centuries indicate at the possibility of the development of national, or ethnic culture as an alternative to a new global culture, which is to a great extent Americanised. In fact, it is a good example for other cultures to follow. At the same time, Oktoberfest promotes German culture worldwide, enriching other cultures and making different nations closer to each other. It is not a secret that the tradition to celebrate Oktoberfest has been spread in many countries of the world, including the US and Canada, and foreigners equal enjoy this festival as German people do.

    Oktoberfest Essay Conclusion

    Thus, in conclusion it is possible to say that Oktoberfest produced a significant impact on the German society as well as on other societies as well. Nowadays, it is hardly possible to imagine the contemporary German, and Europe at large without celebration of Oktoberfest. In fact, this festival has changed German society and attitude of other nations to this people at least in socio-cultural aspect because it has significantly contributed to the integration of German culture into the variety of world national cultures. Moreover, this festival contributes to improvement of relations between different nations. For instance, it is not a secret that historically German and Italian, as well as German and French, had a very complicated and often hostile relations that often resulted in numerous wars that people of all these countries suffered from. In stark contrast, nowadays it is possible to find a German and a French, or a German and an Italian side by side, drinking a glass mug of beer and enjoying traditional German festival that has become internationally celebrated in different countries of the world. This is a uniting power of culture and traditions that have been kept for centuries.


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    2. Burns, Rob (ed.), German Cultural Studies. An Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

    3. Boa, Elizabeth and Rachel Palfreyman, Heimat – A German Dream. Regional Loyalties and National Identity in German Culture 1890-1990. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    4. Fulbrook, Mary (ed.), German history since 1800. London: New Press, 1997.

    5. Geiss, Imanuel, The question of German unification, 1806-1996. New York: New Publishers, 1997.

    6. Jaros, Patrick. Oktoberfest. New York: Taschen America Llc, 1998.

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