The meaning of the annual celebration, Rich Paschall
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 seventeen-day festival. Sometimes it runs a day or two longer. 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 they 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. Its 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.
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.
Contrary to what many may now think, the event was not always held. Twenty-five fall seasons saw no festival because of cholera, war, pandemic, or just 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 rides, food booths, and beer booths. You might find a seat outside, but the fall weather is not always accommodating.
Again this year, just as last year, the Oktoberfest in Munich has been canceled due to the pandemic. The next one is now scheduled to open on September 17, 2022. Some of my friends again think we should target this trip. I must stress it is their bucket list, not mine. There are still some Oktoberfest-style events going on around Chicago. The official city Oktoberfest organized by the United German-American Societies of Greater Chicago was already held outdoors. The pictures posted to their website show a crowded event, so I guess I am glad I missed it this time.
One year a friend who lives in France tried to organize a trip to the Munich 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.
Like many European cities, the public transportation in Stuttgart is excellent. Although we were not particularly close to the fairgrounds, we took the train and got off right at the entrance to the festival. When we left, we found an old German sitting across from us on the train. Since there are many beer halls featuring a different beer each, my friend asked the gentlemen what is the best beer in Germany. “Frei bier,” he exclaimed. That will remain one of our favorite travel moments. We repeat it often.
Perhaps the best part of the adventure was sharing in the fun with one of my best friends. Yes, we seem to have fun wherever our journeys take us, but we would not have found an atmosphere quite like that Oktoberfest anywhere else in the world.
Note: Click on my friend and me for a larger version of the beerhall. We walked around in the rain, just like everyone else.