Approximately one month after the Oktoberfest celebrations in Munich began, the Geneseo German Club held its own Oktoberfest festivities—which the moderator, associate professor of German Cynthia Klima, deems as their main event of the year—on Wednesday Oct. 19. Planned and executed by the German Club editorial board, Geneseo’s Oktoberfest showcased not only German culture—as was evident in the food and music—but also opportunities for further connections with the German community and department within the larger context of the school.
When Bavarian Crown Prince Louis married Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen in October of 1810, the Bavarian royalty invoked its citizens to celebrate the festivities on the fields outside of the city gates. Commemorating the crowned princess by designating these public fields Theresienwiese—“Therese’s fields,” simply called “Wies’n” by locals—the royal family closed the event with horse races, which is widely mimicked and adapted throughout Bavaria.
By deciding to hold similar festivities and horse races the following year, the Bavarian royals catalyzed the establishment of the annual Oktoberfest, which now can last up to about 16 days, beginning in September so that visitors and participants can enjoy the warmer weather.
Following the emergence of the closing horse races as an annual tradition, the reoccurring festivities—which evolved into the modern Oktoberfest—retained certain core properties. This includes the Agricultural Show, which is held every three years, as well as other modern advancements. In addition, they introduced carousels and swings, replaced beer stands with covered halls and employed electric lights in tents and booths.
The most revolutionary—and divisive—alteration to Oktoberfest came with a ruling in 2008, which charged the Bavarian celebration with a strict smoking ban. This proved difficult to enforce among the millions of visitors and ultimately came under revision, resulting in a relaxation of policy, which created designated areas for smokers.
Beginning with a parade of bands, landlords, festival workers and horse-drawn floats, the Opening Ceremony for Oktoberfest culminates at noon on the fairgrounds of the original celebration, where the mayor of Munich declares, “O’zapft is!”—which is English for “It’s tapped!”—and offers the Bavarian minister president the first official festival beer.
The Munich office of tourism estimated that, during the multiday celebration—which extends from late September to German Unity Day on Oct. 3—Oktoberfest revelries generate approximately $1.2 billion and provide seasonal employment for more than 10,000 workers.
To anyone familiar with the festival, a mention of Oktoberfest carries connotations of German cultural celebration, primarily encompassing alcohol with the extensive amount of beer tents on the fairgrounds, as well as local cuisine. Originating from six Munich breweries, beer at Oktoberfest comes from the beer tent proprietors who serve each drink in a “mass,” which is a one-liter glass.
Despite the intention of the beer tents to accommodate thousands of visitors, acquiring a table demands that visitors either arrive early in the morning or reserve their territory months in advance. Otherwise, they will have to stand, which offers the benefit of ordering drinks and Brez’n—the popular pretzel that accompanies the beer—directly from the window.
As a string, flute and accordion played traditional waltzes and folk music for Geneseo’s Oktoberfest, members of the editorial board set out customary food—including pretzels and pastries—while the language faculty discussed upcoming opportunities for Germanic studies.
The starkest contrast between Munich and Geneseo’s Oktoberfest celebrations laid in the lack of alcohol at a school-sponsored event, as it occurred on a weekday afternoon. Nevertheless, the cultural vibrancy expressed in the larger-scale celebration seamlessly carried over to our local festival.