Do we need an excuse to drink imported beer, sing loudly and wear silly hats? For some of us, these might be everyday occurrences, but for the rest of population, there’s Oktoberfest.
The tradition supposedly started in 1810 with the celebration of a royal wedding in Munich, which was then capital of the independent kingdom of Bavaria (now part of modern Germany).
However, some argue that the tradition is a bit older than that and has to do with innovations in brewing beer. Brewers developed a new bottom-fermented beer called lager in the late 18th century, but this beer could only be brewed in cool weather. So, according to this argument, the tradition of drinking mass quantities of beer in October was not done to celebrate the royal wedding, but to celebrate the fact that “good beer” was back in season. Regardless of the reason, Oktoberfest remains a tradition in Bavaria that has spread throughout the world. However, while the rest of world celebrates Oktoberfest in October, in Bavaria they now hold the festival in September because the weather is better. Go figure.
We attended the first “annual” Oktoberfest in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia complete with a live polka band featuring two (2) accordions, with all musicians outfitted in polyester dirndls and lederhosen. I thought the whole thing looked a little dorky when we walked in, but within minutes, we were singing along with songs we didn’t know, spinning in circles on the dance floor and swaying back and forth with our tankards of beer held high in tribute. And this was all before we’d finished the first beer, mind you. It was the contagious enthusiasm of other Oktoberfesters that got us immersed in the craziness, not the alcoholic content of the beer.
Not that we minded the beer. Traditional Oktoberfest beer is an amber Märzen brewed within the city of Munich. By the way, according to the German beer institute,Märzen is a strong beer brewed in the spring and aged over the summer. Since fall was the time to make beer with the freshly harvested grain and hops, the casks had to be emptied, so October was a good time to drink up the beer from the previous spring. Hmmn, sounds to me like that could be another origin of Oktoberfest.
Regardless of whether the festival started as a way to drink up the old beer, celebrate the new beer, or party for a prince’s wedding, Oktoberfest can be a lot of fun. Where else can you see a grown man in lederhosen singing Billy Ray Cyrus songs while women in Bavarian costumes pass out Mardi Gras beads imprinted with German beer logos? (This being West Virginia and not New Orleans, we heard no cries of “show us your ____” although we did make a few suggestions.) So while there’s still time, run, don’t walk, to your nearest beer garden.
I’ve got a few extra sets of beads if you need them.
The characters in my colonial historical novels Restitution, Avery’s Treasure, and Langley’s Choice do a fair amount of drinking, but they really never discuss beer. This oversight will need to be corrected in a future book.
The characters in the Moravian community of Graceham, depicted in Restitution, might have celebrated Oktoberfest from the traditional beer brewing tradition, but the story is set before the royal wedding that supposedly sparked the official holiday, so you won’t find any wild Oktoberfest scenes in that book. There are some funny hats, though….