A couple months into my year in Europe, I was with a few friends when one of them blurted out, “Let’s go to Oktoberfest this weekend.” I’d heard about the festival, obviously, but was so enamored and overwhelmed by everything Europe had to offer a group of young travelers at the time that I didn’t really consider it. I let the thought sink in for a bit and decided, “Why not? Let’s do it!”
It was a last minute trip and all the hotels/hostels in Munich were booked, so we had to improvise… a LOT (but that’s another story). Nevertheless, Oktoberfest was an experience I’ll never forget. It’s the largest funfest in the world and is attended by about 6 million people each year. It’s been an integral part of Bavarian culture since its inception in 1810.
Here are some interesting things about Oktoberfest, as well as some fascinating drinking traditions from around world!
- It was originally a celebration for the marriage of Crown King Ludwig and Queen Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen in October of 1810.
- Only Munich beer is allowed! The only 6 breweries allowed to participate in Oktoberfest all brew within the Munich city limits: Hofbräuhaus München, Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu, Paulaner Bräu, Löwenbräu, Hacker-Pschorr Bräu and Augustiner Bräu. Each brewery has a tent where only their beer is served.
- In the early days of Oktoberfest, it was a country fair with horse racing, contests and even freak shows. Horse racing is no longer part of the festivities, but you can still check out the carnival.
- Glass beer steins: it wasn’t until 1892 that beer was served in glass mugs. Traditional beer steins were made of stone, then metal, and finally glass.
- Oktoberfest beer is typically around 6% ABV, far stronger and sweeter than typical German lager. It’s easy to get dehydrated on a warm early fall afternoon, and many people pass out from exhaustion. These people are called Bierleichen – German for “Beer Corpses.”
- While the festival is annual, there were times when current events take over, causing it to be cancelled 24 times due to disease and war. In 1854 and 1873, cholera epidemics forced postponement of the fest. It was also canceled during the years of the Franco-Prussian War, WWI and WWII.
- Believe it or not, parents do bring their children to Oktoberfest with hundreds attending each year. Although, it seems as if some parents had one too many steins – more than 100 children were reported lost in Oktoberfest 2012.
England: “ Toasting” originated in 17th century England. Spiced bread was added to wine to increase flavor and cut through the acidity.
France: The French are dignified drinkers. Ladies are served first, glasses are only ever filled halfway and it’s considered vulgar to pour your own drink.
Spain: In Spain they believe toasting with a glass of water will earn you seven years of bad sex. The last drink of the evening is called the “penultima” drink, and the “ultima” drink is the last of your life.
Italy: Italians only drink water or wine with their meals. Other beverages like beer or soda are considered a big no-no.
Portugal: In order to decant Port without disturbing the sediment and spoiling the wine, the Portuguese invented a theatrical way to open the bottle using red-hot tongs and ice.
Germany: The night before a wedding, groomsmen kidnap the bride-to-be and take her to a bar. The groom must find the group and buy a round of drinks to get his bride back. Additionally, breaking eye contact during a toast will get you seven years of bad sex.
Holland: The Dutch have adopted the “head butt” method for drinking whiskey. The no-hands process involves bending from the waist to take a sip before straightening up and chasing with a beer.
Czech Republic: Toasting is a very serious matter in the Czech Republic. Make eye contact with those you clink glasses with but don’t cross arms or you’ll be cursed with seven years of bad sex (fear of bad sex seems to be a recurring theme here).
Georgia: The toast is very important in Georgian culture. Georgians will give 20-30 toasts at every meal non-Georgian visitors are expected to participate.
Ukraine: At Ukrainian weddings, brides must keep their feet on the ground lest their shoes be stolen. If a shoe is stolen, guests will throw it around and drink wine from it.
Hungary: In 1848, 13 revolutionaries were executed for the leading uprising against Austria. Their deaths were celebrated with the clinking of beer glasses, so Hungarians abstain from doing this.
Iceland: Icelanders love alcohol so much they dedicated two holidays to it. March 1st is Beer Day but Verslunarmannahelgi in August is the drunkest weekend of the year.
Russia: In Russia, it’s common to give long, anecdotal toasts that end with a punch line. Empty bottles and glasses are placed under the table, never on top, and you also shouldn’t put your glass down if it still has alcohol in it.
Kazakhstan: Kumis, made from fermented horse milk, is the national drink of Kazakhstan. Custom dictates that any leftovers are poured back into the kumis jug so none is wasted.
China: During the toast, elders hold their glasses higher than juniors. The first drink is downed in one and glasses upturned on the table to show nothing remains.
Nigeria: Only when both the bride and groom have taken a drink of traditional palm wine are they considered married.
Australia: When drinking with friends in Australia, everyone is expected to buy a round of drinks. It’s considered very bad form if someone neglects to do so.
Sweden: Drinking songs are sung before, during and after each round of aquavit. Swigs of beer usually follow each shot of the spiced spirit.
Peru: In Peru, one beer and one glass is shared among friends. The first person pours a shot of beer and downs it before passing the drink on.
Canada: At the Sourdough Saloon in Yukon, you can be initiated into the Sour Toe Cocktail Club if you finish your drink with a dehydrated human toe in it.
India: Wine has been an important part of Indian mythology and spirituality for thousands of years. Even today, alcohol is used by many to reach a higher level of consciousness.
Japan: It is impolite to pour your own drink. Keep your neighbor’s drink topped up and they will return the favor. Drinkers turn away from the group when taking a sip as a sign of respect.
Moldova: Moldovans make numerous toasts during dinner, at least one before every drink. There is even a toast to avoid toasting, “Hai devai!” which means, “let’s go!”
Thank you to Michelle Chang for helping with this article <3