Oktoberfest in Munich Germany:
2017 Dates: September 16th-October 3rd.
Because the first Sunday of October is before the 3rd in 2017, the normally 16 day festival will be extended 2 days until the Tuesday October 3rd.
Average Attendance: Over 6 million people
Who Goes: 70% Bavaria; 15% rest of Germany; and 15% other countries.
Fun Scale: 10 out of 10
Springing out of the celebration from a royal wedding in 1810, Oktoberfest has grown to become the World’s largest festival. Every year over 6 million people get together at the “Wiesn” to dress in traditional Bavarian clothing, play state fair type games, ride roller coasters, dance to oompah music, eat great food, sing with the bands, and of course drink tons of booze. It’s an inviting celebration of life that is so much fun we have planned entire vacations around being able to make it here. Below is our complete Oktoberfest guide including important event dates and parade schedules. If Oktoberfest in Munich isn’t on your bucket list already, add it right now!
2017 Event Schedule & Important Dates:
- January & February: You should have already booked your hotel and need to be look at table reservations as they sell out fast.
- July: An army of workers start building the huge tents and amusement rides in Theresienwiese.
- September 16th (Saturday): At 9am the tent doors open but you’ll need to be in line 4 hours early to get if you don’t have a table reservation since the first day is so busy. Expect no bathroom while you wait and to be smushed through the doors before quickly scrambling to find an unreserved table. We suggest having some snacks with if you plan on getting in line early. The reserved tables start being seated around 11am even though the beer doesn’t start until Noon. The gap from 9am-Noon is a good time to order food in your tent.
At 10am the Landlords & Breweries Parade is led from the edge of Old Town Munich to the Oktoberfest grounds by the Münchner Kindl mascot which is the symbol of Munich. This 45 minute long parade of 1,000 people plus beer wagons dates back to 1887 (Click For Parade Route Map).
At Noon the Mayor taps the first keg in the Schottenhamel Tent and shouts “O’zapft is!” (It’s tapped!), officially opening Oktoberfest. A 12 gun salute at Noon lets all know that the festivities have begun.
- September 17th (Sunday): Doors open at 9am again but you only need to be there 2-3 hours early instead of 4 without a reservation.
Also starting at 9am, the Riflemen and Costume (Tracht) Parade begins to snake through Old Town Munich to the the Oktoberfest like it has since 1835. This 2 hour long parade is much larger than Saturday’s with over 9,000 people including musicians plus oxen and horse drawn wagons. Sunday’s parade is also much longer as the route takes 2 hours before reaching the Oktoberfest grounds at 11am. (Click For Parade Route Map | Parades’ Website).
- September 21st (Thursday): At 10am there is a religious service at the Oktoberfest grounds which has happened since 1957. There are even baptisms and confirmations after the service.
- September 24th (Sunday): At 11am there is an outdoor Brass band concert in front of the Lady of Bavaria Statue. Bands representing all the major tents come to perform with over 300 musicians to ask the Heavens for good weather. This is the easiest of the weekend days to get into a tent without a reservations although you will still need to arrive early.
- October 3rd (Tuesday): At Noon there is a 12 Gun Salute at the Bavaria Statue marking the last day of Oktoberfest. At the end of the night for closing, sparklers are lit by everyone inside the main tents in a beautiful display as “Sierra Madre” plays. Because the first Sunday of October is before the 3rd in 2017, the normally 16 day festival will be extended 2 days until the Tuesday October 3rd. This is because October 3rd is a national holiday called the German Day of Unity.
Historical Overview of Oktoberfest:
The 1st Oktober Volksfest in Bavaria is 100s of years old and was the predecessor to today’s Oktoberfest. This Volksfest (People’s Fair) started because the local beer brewers needed everyone to drink up the remaining beer at the bottom of the barrels in the Fall as the crops were harvested so they could start a new brew season. Because the beer at the barrels sat much longer it was a lot darker, stronger and was referred to as Dunkel. You will also commonly hear it called the last of the Marzen (March) beer which is any of the beer brewed in the Spring traditional first tapped on May Day. As it sits throughout the year is gets darker. With the Dunkel beer drank and the new batches started, the new batches of beer were put underground to ferment until Spring.
The fall festivities really took off when Bavarian crown prince Ludwig I married Theresa of Saxe-Hildburghausen on Friday, October 12th 1810. Ludwig had married Theresa right out from underneath Napoleon so they made sure to make it a grand event. The party lasted for 5 days after the wedding, was attended by 40,000 people, and ended with a large horse race. After the party was over locals started calling the field Theresienwiese (Theresa’s Meadow) in the royal bride’s honor, which locals call Wiesn for short by locals.
The following year 1811 the horse race from the wedding was added to the October Volksfest & Agricultural Show, but the festival remained largely a farmers market event. Although today there are tons of amusement rides including a roller coaster at Oktoberfest, the 1st ride was a 2 swing carousel added in 1818. All of these early rides were operated by man power until 1860 when steam power took over before later being replaced by electric motors.
The first Riflemen and Costume (Tracht) Parade happened in 1835 and has grown to include over 8000 people. The 2 hour long parade continues today snaking through Old Town to Oktoberfest and includes musicians, oxen, horses, riflemen, and even goats all dressed up.
Ludwig I’s son Maximilian II became the King of Bavaria in 1848 and with the people clamoring to bring back the party-style festival from days of his dad’s wedding, Oktoberfest became an official annual event in 1850. As part of the first year a 36 foot statue of Lady Bavaria was built overlooking the festival grounds. 3 years later the open air columned Hall of Fame (Ruhmeshalle) building opened honoring important people in Bavaria with busts.
They quickly extended Oktoberfest and wanted start a couple weeks earlier for weather, but the farmers also needed the field to grow crops so it took decades before the start was moved. Finally in 1872 the current dates were set with a 2 week long Oktoberfest ending on the 1st Sunday of October. The only exception to this end date is when the 3rd of October lands after the 1st Sunday of October then the normally 16 day festival will be extended until the 3rd. The 3rd is significant as it was declared the German Day of Unity to commemorates the anniversary of German reunification in 1990.
As Oktoberfest transformed more into a party it started out with just some booths, small tents, and a market but grew a lot quicker once electric lights were added in 1880. This growth included the first booths selling bratwurst in 1881 and the additional of the opening day Landlords & Breweries Parade in 1887. The parade was the beginning of Munich’s beer being the focus of Oktoberfest and the farmer’s market element began to take a back seat. Today this parade still happens on the 1st Saturday of Oktoberfest, but is now followed by the much larger Tracht (Marksmen) and Costume Parade the 1st Sunday of Oktoberfest.
Beer started to get upgraded as well as the first beers served in glass mugs began in 1892. These mugs called Maß (mass) replaced beer steins which were first stoneware. In 1896 the large tents started to replace the smaller beer stalls, just one year after the Armbrustschützen (Crossbowman) began on the grounds. The tents got huge quick and in 1913 the Bräurosl tent already had seats for 12,000 which is still the most ever at Oktoberfest. The big draws were the oompah band music, the food, and of course the Bavarian beer. 1913 was also the last year of horse racing at Oktoberfest.
In 1950 a new tradition was added as the Mayor of Munich now taps the first keg in the Schottenhamel Tent and shouts “O’zapft is!” (It’s tapped!) officially opening Oktoberfest. Since the modern Oktoberfest started in the 1800’s it has been canceled a total of 24 times for War and Cholera outbreaks, but has still grown to become the World’s biggest festival with over 6 million visitors a year.