The meaning of the annual celebration, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog
It seems every community wants to have an Oktoberfest. It doesn’t matter if they have any idea what the Oktoberfest actually is. They just want to have one. Perhaps some think if they have enough music and beer, then they have a Fest. Our community is no exception. Chicago’s largest ethnic group is German-American so we think we know how to have a Fest. As street festivals go, it is pretty good. It is not an Oktoberfest like you would find in Germany.
Some of my friends have the Oktoberfest in Munich on their Bucket List. They think I should want to be a party to this too. The older I get, the worse this idea actually sounds. For those who don’t know, around six million visitors show up for the 17 to 19 day festival. If you do not have a reservation in advance, you are not likely to get into one of the crowded beer halls. In fact, huge crowds of beer drinkers can get rather unhappy if you run out of beer, as happened at the 200th anniversary in 2010.
The Bavarian festival began in October 1810 when Crown Prince Ludwig got married and invited the people of Bavaria to join in the celebration on the field in front of the city gate at Munich. The celebration was held somewhat annually and eventually lengthened. It’s beginning was moved into September and ended with the first weekend in October. So in many ways this “Volksfest” is more of a September event. If the 3rd (German Unity Day) falls on a Monday or Tuesday, the event gets extended to include that date.
Contrary to what many may now think, the event was not always held. Twenty four fall seasons saw no festival because of cholera, or war, or hard economic times. But most years the autumnal celebrations go on around Germany and tourists flock to the carnival like events. For those who like to wander the grounds or can not get into a hall, the outside areas now include carnival rides, food booths and beer booths. You might find a seat outside, but the fall weather is not always accommodating.
In 2010 a friend who lives in France tried to organize a trip to Oktoberfest, but the reality is you must plan a year in advance in order to get in. So we made the best decision we could have made. Together we went to the second largest German Fest which is held in Stuttgart, Cannstatter Volksfest. Yes, it was crowded and the weather was not the best, but we got into beer halls, drank and ate with people from around the world, stood on our benches and sang songs we barely knew. It could not have been better. Perhaps the best part was sharing in the fun with one of my best friends. Yes, we seem to have fun wherever our adventures take us, but we would not have found an atmosphere quite like that anywhere else in the world.
Note: Click on the Stuttgart picture for a larger version of the fair grounds. We did walk around in the rain, just like everyone else.