"O'zapft is!" is the cry beer drinkers across Bavaria are all clamouring for. When the new mayor of Munich Dieter Reiter utters the phrase at noon in the Schottenhamel tent, it signals the fact that the first keg has been tapped and Munich's annual Oktoberfest is officially under way.
Now the world's largest funfair, Oktoberfest enjoyed royal beginnings in 1810 when the then Crown Prince Ludwig married Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. When the horse races held to commemorate the occasion were repeated the following year, it kicked off the tradition of hosting an annual Oktoberfest on the Theresienwiese ('Theresa's meadow') fairgrounds each autumn.
It may be called Oktoberfest, but since the late 1800s the festival has kicked off in September owing to the warmer early autumn weather. Traditionally a 16-day event, Oktoberfest usually finishes on the first Sunday in October. However, in years in which the 16th day falls before October 3rd – the Day of German Unity – the festival's finish date is extended to coincide with the public holiday.
Oktoberfest's first day is usually its busiest, with beer tents packed to the brim and few empty seats to be found. Tents are closed when filled to capacity, so the keenest of revellers often arrive at 9am to secure a seat at one of the communal benches. Official reservations for large groups are common, but as they are often secured months in advance by local companies, most visitors simply turn up on the day and await their chance to sit down.
More Than A Party
Only beers brewed within Munich's city limits can be served at Oktoberfest and naturally they conform to Germany's famous beer purity laws. The city's six traditional breweries are all represented, with one Maß – or mug – filled with precisely one litre of beer. And with thousands of merrymakers all contributing to the jovial atmosphere inside the 14 major and 21 smaller tents, it's easy to see why Oktoberfest is renowned for its party atmosphere.
However, there's more to Oktoberfest than simply knocking back beers. In fact, the fairgrounds are home to some of Munich's most beloved funfair rides, including the 48-metre Riesenrad (Ferris Wheel) which offers bird's-eye views of the festival below. Another of the festival's most famous fairground rides is the Krinoline – a traditional 19th Century merry-go-round which rotates to the strains of a Bavarian brass band.
Colourful Costumes, Local Cuisine
It's not Oktoberfest without lederhosen, right? While plenty of visitors wear traditional costumes, they're usually Bavarian residents to begin with. That shouldn't stop you from slipping into some leather breeches or a tailored dirndl should you so desire, although you'll be marked out as a tourist the second you don one of the numerous novelty hats on sale across the fairgrounds.
When it comes to soaking up the beer, it's a simple task of selecting one of the traditional Bavarian dishes on offer. Tender roast chicken, crispy pork knuckle, oversized pretzels and smoked freshwater fish are all festival favourites, as are the ubiquitous sausages and schnitzel on offer throughout. Portions are commensurate with the need to soak up the alcohol, so get ready to loosen your belt!
A Global Institution
While Oktoberfest's Bavarian roots are plain for all to see, what was once a local tradition is now a global institution. Not only does the festival attract millions of visitors each year – many of them from overseas – but there are now hundreds of similar Oktoberfest celebrations held in cities across the globe, all aiming to replicate the atmosphere of the original.
It's hard to beat the real thing though, and as Oktoberfest 2014 gets underway in Munich, it does so safe in the knowledge that it grows ever more popular by the year. And with next year's event falling on the 205th anniversary of the first Oktoberfest, there's no better time to start making plans for your own trip to Germany's most popular annual tourist event.