All across America, people are getting their “German on” with local Octoberfests as we roll into fall. It has become a national tradition to celebrate the food and libations of Germany in October. But where and why did this tradition start? Well, obviously, in Germany, there is some fascinating history behind the origins of the Octoberfest.
Oktoberfest had its humble beginning on October 12, 1810, when the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The party started with the wedding festivities and ended with a horse race on October 17, which was held in an open area later named Theresienwiese (“Therese’s green”). I think if we all had a five-day wedding, we would be exhausted by the end of that party. Still, the Crown Prince and his new bride set the tone for what would become a tradition for Germans, German Americans, and folks who just like to have a good excuse to enjoy German fare. Some of the favorites served at restaurants and Octoberfests during this season usually include bratwurst and sauerkraut, spätzle, a sort of twisted al dente pasta, potato pancakes, Kartoffelknödel which is a fancy name for potato dumplings, and a host of other German favorites. But let us not forget the all-important libation of the celebration … Beer!
In Munich, Germany, the annual Oktoberfest is held over a two-week period that actually starts in September and ends on the first Sunday in October. After the famous wedding that kicked off this beloved tradition, the horse race was combined with a state agricultural fair. A few years later, in 1818, the event added food and drink booths. Those eventually morphed into the large wooden beer halls with the bandstands, long tables, and benches people now associate with Octoberfest.
Today, each of the Munich brewers builds one of these temporary structures where thousands of people flock to enjoy the food, beer, and music. Tradition allows for the mayor of Munich to have the honor of tapping the first keg to open the festival. A whopping 2 million gallons of beer are typically consumed during the two weeks. Parades featuring beer wagons and floats representing the breweries and people marching along in folk costumes delight the participants. There are games, amusement rides for the kids, music, and dancing galore for the more than six million people who attend each year, many of whom are tourists.
Many American cities, particularly those with large German American populations, take great pride in holding Oktoberfests, from simple beer gardens at the local bars to elaborate events with a line-up of German bands, parades, and vendors in an effort to mirror the big event of Munich. German’s have a word gemütlichkeit which means cordiality. All of these events, big and small, offer a sense of community, fellowship, fun, and that sense of goodwill, something we know a lot about here in Marshall.
The internet is filled with great recipes for German food. So, as the Octoberfest in Munich winds down, think about trying some recipes at home and make your own October feast. Try something new for dinner. Brats, red cabbage, potato pancakes with apple sauce, and even German-style potato salad will delight the family for a great change of pace.
If you are a beer drinker, honor the Octoberfest vibe with a Heineken or Becks when out with friends, or ask what other interesting German beers are available at the bar or liquor store you favor. Germany makes excellent wines too. One of the most common German wines in America is the Riesling, a white wine typically on the sweet side. It is made from a white grape variety grown in the Rhine region of Germany, and the grape can also produce dry, semi-sweet, sweet, and sparkling white wines. This wine should be served chilled and can be a great pairing with a pork and sauerkraut dish or any kind of fish.
So, you don’t have to be German to enjoy Octoberfest food and libations. You just have to have a sense of adventure and a love of good food and fellowship.
However, no matter your nationality, if you want to enjoy some good Italian food this month and support a great cause, head over to the Main Street Supper Club on Wednesday, October 12, from 5:00 pm-8:30 pm for their Spaghetti Dinner. Proceeds go to support the Marshall Area Youth Network. Carry-out will be available too.
Happy October, Marshall. Eat, Drink, and be MERRY.