Traditional tapping of the keg as Oktoberfest begins
This story has been corrected
MUNICH, Germany — “O’zapft is!”
The clarion call of beer lovers everywhere — “It’s tapped!” — rang out from a massive tent festooned with ribbons and garlands in the heart of Munich’s Theresienwiese, a festival grounds devoted to 17 days of drinking and revelry.
Oktoberfest is here again.
The world’s longest wedding celebration has overcome disease and war — it has been canceled 24 times because of wars and cholera — to become an international symbol of Bavaria and its untranslatable ‘gemütlichkeit.’ Today, at the opening day of its 178th incarnation, tradition was in full swing.
The annual fest, open until Oct. 3, marks the 1810 marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig (later King Ludwig I) to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen, which the royals celebrated by throwing a town festival. The party was such a success that it returned the next year. The tradition stuck, and Oktoberfest was born.
Inside colorful tents, fest-goers swilled beer from liter-sized glasses and feasted on roasted meats as oompah bands laid down a Bavarian soundtrack.
Outside, children and adults flocked to stomach-churning carnival rides, including roller coasters and the Ferris wheel that overlooks the grounds.
“It’s better than what we expected,” said Spc. Arturo Perez, 26, 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, who came with his wife, Vanessa, and their two boys. Anticipating something like a state fair, they found a festival closer to Six Flags, they said.
Across the years, much at the festival has remained unchanged. Only six breweries are allowed to produce beer for Oktoberfest, and each brewer maintains its own massive tent, or festival hall, which seats thousands. Other tents are run by families.
Tent owners, or ‘landlords’ still parade into the festival grounds on the first Saturday, and Munich’s Lord Mayor Christian Ude still helps drive the ceremonial tap into Oktoberfest’s first barrel, giving the traditional Bavarian cry —”O’zapft is!”
But much also has changed since the first Oktoberfest: People come from around the world, with foreigners representing nearly a quarter of fest-goers in 2009; smoking is prohibited following a city-wide ban passed last year; and fest-goers can now download Oktoberfest apps for their iPhones, including one that tallies beers consumed and calculates blood-alcohol content.
Fest-goers come foremost for the beer. Organizers estimated 6.4 million attendees consumed 7.1 million liters of beer during the 2009 festival, or about 1.10 liters per person. And not everyone drinks beer. Revelers also consume thousands of liters of wine, coffee and soft drinks.
This year, the price of a mug of beer runs between 8.70 and 9.20 euro (about $12.00 to $12.70).
Of course, beer can be hard to come by for those without a seat in a tent, as no beer is served to anyone not seated. And most seats are reserved ahead of time on the weekend, making open spaces few and far between.
Pfc. Thomas Jones, 19, and Spc. Frank Thompson, 28, both of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, traveled from Vicenza, Italy for the fest. After ducking into one tent, they ducked back out.
“It was too crowded,” Jones said. “We haven’t had a beer yet.”
CorrectionPfc. Thomas Jones, 19, and Spc. Frank Thompson, 28, are both with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. Their unit name has been corrected.