It’s that time of year again! Time to break out the lederhosen and dirndls, turn up the oom-pah band and get ready for the Oktoberfest. But before you head for the beer tent, here’s a little history about the event.

The festival dates back to October 17, 1810 in Munich, Germany, when King Maximillian Josef of Bavaria decided to give a public reception to celebrate the wedding of his son, Crown Prince Ludwig (who later became King Ludwig I) and his bride, Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The original festival was actually a horse race, accompanied by festive beer, food, music and dancing.

That first celebration was such a success that King Maximillian decided to hold one every year in a large meadow which was later named Theresienwiese (Therese’s meadow) after Ludwig’s bride. The festival evolved and grew over the almost 200 years of its existence.

Today’s Oktoberfest draws millions of people from all over the world. It lasts 16 days, beginning on a Saturday in September and ending on the first Sunday in October. The festivities are officially opened at 12 noon on the first day when the Bergermeister (mayor) of Munich taps the first keg of beer and declares Ozapft is! (the keg is tapped).

The second day begins with a big parade in which groups from all over Bavaria march down the streets of Munich in their traditional costumes. At the head of the parade are teams of decorated horses pulling the colorful Bierwagen (beer wagons) representing the major breweries of Munich, followed by brass bands and floats from all over Germany.

The activities in the meadow throughout the festival now include seven huge Festhallen (beer tents), each featuring the special Oktoberfest beer of the famous breweries of Munich, with brass bands playing their traditional Trinklieder (drinking songs) day and night. Many people link arms, singing and swaying to the music at or even on top of the tables! There are also many smaller beer gardens, food stands featuring bratwurst, roast oxen, sausages, sauerkraut, grilled chicken, fish on a stick, and large, soft pretzels. Roller coasters and merry-go-rounds attract the younger crowd.

Immigrants from Germany brought the celebration to the United States, where the largest Oktoberfests can be found in Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Hagerstown, Pennsylvania, and many cities throughout the country.

In Fort Wayne, the Oktoberfest is celebrated this year on Saturday, October 2nd, at Park Edelweiss, 3355 Elmhurst Drive, Waynedale. Doors open at 6:00 p.m. and dinner is served at 7:00 p.m., followed by a concert of the Fort Wayne Maennerchor/Damenchor and dancing to German and popular American music until midnight.

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