Bier, Bratworst, Lederhosen, Oh My!

OktoberfestCheers/Prost! Oktoberfest is known as a celebration of beer, food, and all things fun in Germany. But, the festival’s roots extend into a more romantic history. What is today’s excused to consume different breweries, German foods, and participate in many activities, started as a way to celebrate the marriage of the Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810. This couple took the concept of an “open bar” wedding to new levels, by having a festival five days later with horse races, performers, and Maerzen beer- an amber-gold lager with 6% alcohol and unique German hops. Over time, the festival has been tweaked and embellished with details like lederhosen and dirndls for the attire, parades, and multiple pubs in participation. More than 7 million people attend the opening ceremonies, and many are entertained from the first Saturday in September to the first Sunday of October.

When you hear Oktoberfest, what do you think? Many individuals go straight to, “beer festival!” But, Oktoberfest is not a beer festival per se. We know… you’re probably experiencing shock and horror. What you are feeling is cognitive dissonance, experiencing a feeling of tension when your beliefs do not align with actions. There is nothing wrong with thinking Oktoberfest is a beer festival. Since Germany’s brand is associated with beer- that assumption is not far off. But as we stated before, this festival was originally to celebrate the marriage of two individuals in the 1800’s and as time went on, the original meaning faded due to tourists and lack of knowledge.  

OktoberfestMovie_Teaser_PosterSo how did Oktoberfest get this brand associated with drinking beer and eating German foods? Besides the stereotype that Germans drink beer heavily, marketing through mass media has played a part in portraying this brand image. Popular movies such as Oktoberfest (2005) and Beerfest (2006) depict the common beliefs, attitudes and habits of what is assumed to occur at the festival in Munich, Germany. Since this event has been successful for the past 182 years, it’s brand engagement has spread internationally. The annual festival has become so large that Canada, Brazil, and Hong Kong are just a few countries that try to replicate it. In Michigan, as an imitation of the horse race they hold a Weiner dog race. The festival cliche does the marketing itself. A huge gathering with access to lots of food, drinks, and exciting activities! Who could turn down this celebration? People get excited about experiencing the brand of Oktoberfest that provides the collaborative culture.

Lucky for us, we don’t have to travel to Munich to have a festival. Germany may have been the first to hold Oktoberfest, but the United States hasn’t missed out on the fun. Here are a few American cities who have taken their own twist on this German tradition.

  • Cincinnati, Ohio: Known for having the world’s second largest Oktoberfest, right behind Munich. Covering six blocks of downtown, the festival holds events which are quite unique:Running of the Weiners- Dachshund Dog race
    • Bratwurst-eating contest
    • Playing of the largest collection of Alpenhorns-Long wooden horn musical instruments.
    • As if the events and size are not enough, party goers can attend this festival for free!oktoberfest_mashup600x422
  • Glendale, Wisconsin has held its own Oktoberfest for more than 60 years. With its German roots dating back to the early 1800s when German immigrants first settled. This festival has a heavy focus on different foods:
    • Bratwurst, Spanferkel (pig roasted over a spit)
    • Pretzels
    • Beininstich (vanilla custard-filled dessert topped with almonds)
    • This festival occurs every Friday and Saturday night in September!
  • Mount Angel, Oregon hosts an Oktoberfest complete with bands, music, and dancing. The streets are lined with food and entertainment booths called Biergarten, Wiengarten, Prostgarden and Alpinegarten  – offering pretzels, German chocolate cake, sausage and wurst. This festival you don’t have to leave the little ones at home! That’s right – the festival has a “Kindergarten” with face painting, pony rides, and a petting zoo. Kids can participate in the Oktoberfest fun, despite being unable to fill their steins with cold brews like their parents.

Revellers salute with beer after the opening of the 179th Oktoberfest in Munich September 22, 2012. Millions of beer drinkers from around the world will come to the Bavarian capital over the next two weeks for the 179th Oktoberfest, which starts today and runs until October 7, 2012. REUTERS/Michael Dalder(GERMANY - Tags: SOCIETY ENTERTAINMENT) ORG XMIT: MDA28

It’s interesting to look at the way words and symbols change over time. If you look through the history of any phrase or word, you will find the meanings behind them are often changed or have evolved over time- often landing far from where they started. This is explained in part by the theory of semiotics of language. Words take on new meanings, sometimes intentionally, most times naturally. In this case, we are applying the theory to an event, which is not its original purpose. You can look back year-by-year as the Oktoberfest transformed from a horse race that celebrated marriage, to an international beer and food festival.

The 2015 Oktoberfest brought in 5.9 million guests from Munich and all over the world! This fall festival is on our bucket list, what’s on yours?

-Jonathan Callahan, Erin Fouhy, Julia George, Joseph Hines, and Sarah Suggs

9 thoughts on “Bier, Bratworst, Lederhosen, Oh My!

  1. I really liked this post. With Oktober Fest underway I had been contemplating the meaning of the phrase. Where did the phrase come from? What does it mean? After reading I liked learning that it is much more than a reason for the public to get drunk during a certain month, it is a celebration of heritage and the trade of brewing beer. Really great post!

  2. This was a very interesting and informative blog. I would’ve never known the roots behind october fest. Probably because, as you mentioned, the media portrays it in a completely different light.

  3. All of these festivals sound so amazing. Although I knew that Oktober fest was not just about beer, I wanted to believe it was anyway. I would love to visit all the festivals in the U.S and also go to the original in Germany just to see how similar or different they are from each other. It would be great to go not just for the beer, but to also learn more about the German culture.

  4. Wow, I really like this post. I’ve never thought about it like that, the fact that others that actually had nothing to do with Oktoberfest contributed to the branding, or miss-branding, of the festival. Like how it’s now thought of completely as a beer festival when that’s not what it really is all about.

  5. Really interesting post about Oktoberfest. I didn’t really know any of this. I just thought Oktoberfest was like a festival in Germany with the aim to just try as much beer as possible. I always love reading history and about how media can affect peoples perception about something.

  6. I like to imagine Oktoberfest as a great celebration of beer and fall approaching. It’s that time of year when you stop thinking about beach-ready bodies and start to instinctively crave fatty sausages and heavy beer. I was surprised to know that the celebration stemmed from a royal wedding. I always assumed the festival was in October because that’s when crop harvest is normally finished. In addition, I am glad this article mentioned the fact that most people only see Oktoberfest as an excuse to drink in excess.

  7. I find the spread of Oktoberfest to be a fascinating thing. It has become a significant part of the season in the United States in such a short span over the past few years, rivaling that of Halloween even. Oktoberfest was hardley even a notion in my eyes ten years ago. I welcome the adoption of fun holidays like this! Bring them on!

    On a side note….Germans drink their beer warm, GROSS!

  8. Oktoberfest in Munich is on the bucket list of things to do in my life. I always thought it was solely an opportunity to drink as much as you can and wear a wild outfit, almost like a Mardi Gras in Germany. I never would have thought that it was originally a wedding reception of sorts. After Oktoberfest the next big thing on my bucket list is going to a FIFA World Cup in another country, going to one in the USA is also on the list but really I can’t think of a better way to experience firsthand the madness that is the world of soccer than in another country surrounded by people from at least 32 different countries.

  9. This was a refreshing piece not only about the massive amounts of beer consumed during this festival but about the history of it all. I spent time in Germany during the SpringFest, a smaller more local version or Oktoberfest, and it was amazing! Cities all over the world have started picking up these traditions and throwing events like this. Even in Wilmington this weekend there is the Beer and Wine Festival!

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