Saturday marked the opening of the 181st Oktoberfest in Munich. Over the next sixteen days, millions of people from across the world will flock to the fairgrounds in their Dirndl and Lederhosen for beer, brezeln and some traditional Bavarian fun. Barring any Louis van Gaal-esque nonsense, the team will be making their appearance at the festival on October 5th, following the home game against Hannover. So, what exactly happens at Oktoberfest and how did the world's biggest party get started?
Oktoberfest began in October of 1810 when residents of Munich were invited to attend the celebrations honoring Prince Ludwig's marriage to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. At this point in time, Bavaria had only been an official kingdom for four years. While the celebration was for the royal family, it helped create a cultural identity for the German state. The festivities were held in front of Sendlinger Tor, one of the city's southern gates, and on surrounding fields renamed Theresienwiese - "Therese's Meadow" - in honor of the new princess. Today, the area is simply referred to as the Wies'n.
The first Oktoberfest lasted for five days, nearly 40,000 people showed up and the main event was a horse race. The party was so successful the royal family decided it should be held every year. In over 200 years, Oktoberfest has only been cancelled 23 times. In 1813, it was called off due to the Napoleonic Wars, and in 1873, it was cancelled because of a cholera outbreak. The festival wasn't held during the First and Second World Wars. Munich hosted a smaller event - Herbstfest - instead.
Oktoberfest became more popular with each passing year and only grew in size. A show, which continues today, was added during the second festival to celebrate and promote Bavarian agriculture. Party-goers participated in tree climbing competitions, goose chases and barrel rolling races. In 1818, swings and carousels were added, turning Oktoberfest in to a carnival. Technological innovation and the increase of industrialization in the latter half of the 19th century paved the way for mechanical rides to be another source of entertainment. By 1908, the fairgrounds became home to Germany's first roller coaster.
The modern festival is bigger than ever before. It is now celebrated over two-and-a-half weeks, instead of the original five days and, despite the name, moved to the end of September due to warmer weather. It opens with the Costume and Riflemen's Procession, a parade featuring over 8000 performers dressed in costumes and uniforms. They march through Munich's city center in carriages and on floats, celebrating the diverse traditions of Bavaria. The mayor of Munich is responsible for tapping the first wooden barrel of beer and shouting, "O'zapft is!" This marks the official opening of the festival and guests are free to explore the 103 acres of fairgrounds, ride the ferris wheel, watch dozens of performers and spend all their time and money in the famous beer tents.
Speaking of beer, it wouldn't be Oktoberfest without it. While there are tents for wine and tents for traditional German food, the beer is the main event of today's festival. Only six breweries are allowed to brew and serve Oktoberfest beer: Augustiner, Hacker Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Spatenbräu and, of course, Paulaner. The beer served is of the Märzen variety, meaning it is darker than traditional beer and contains up to 6% alcohol and before modern technology it was brewed in the spring, hence the name, and allowed to age until early fall, just in time for Oktoberfest. In 2013 alone, nearly seven million liters of beer were served in the tents.
The players and staff of Bayern Munich have been attending the festival for years. Lately, the official visit has fallen on the final weekend. They can be found in the Käferzelt tent, posing for pictures with a King Ludwig impersonator and doing some important team bonding over beer and pretzels. Bayern's connection with the festival doesn't end there. Since 2003 the club has had a strong partnership with Paulaner, one of the official breweries for Oktoberfest. Paulaner provides 100 liters of beer for every goal scored by a Bayern player and invites the team to celebrate in their tent every festival season.
There are Oktoberfest celebrations held just about everywhere but the original Munich festival is the largest fair in the world. More than six million people will be in attendance this year and they will drink enough beer to fill three Olympic sized swimming pools. It's time to get out the Maß, put on the leather pants and celebrate the culture so closely connected to FC Bayern München - or just get drunk in anticipation of the next round of Champions League matches.