On the 12th October 1810, the first Oktoberfest took place in Munich. First established to celebrate the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, the most important part of the festivities was a horse race held on the final day. The decision to repeat the race the following year led to the establishment of the annual festival, at which beer halls and carnival stalls soon began to dominate although certain elements – such as the procession from Maximilian Strasse to the festival ground – continue to be important parts of the event. Amazingly, since its foundation, the festival has only not taken place 24 times in over 200 years.
The fairground on which the Oktoberfest is held also takes its name from the original event. Known as Theresienwiese or “Theresa’s meadow” in honour of Ludwig’s wife, the land used to lie outside the city gates but is now such an important part of the city that it even has its own station on the U-Bahn. Covering an area of 420,000 square metres and now housing 14 large tents and 20 smaller beer tents in addition to a huge fairground, the site hosts in excess of 6 million people a year.
These visitors invariably travel to enjoy the Oktoberfest beer, a special brew that is 2% stronger than conventional beer, and that must be brewed within the city limits of Munich according to the Reinheitsgebot or German Beer Purity Law decreed by Duke William IV in 1516.
Incidentally, the last horse race – the event that kick-started Oktoberfest as an annual celebration – took place in 1960.