50 epic photos from Oktoberfest prove it's one of the most misunderstood celebrations in the world

Alexandra Beier / Stringer / Getty Images EuropeThere’s a whole lot more to the festive celebration than you might think.
  • The 185th Oktoberfest celebration starts Saturday and runs through October 7.
  • The tradition started as an annual way to celebrate the marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The pair were married in 1810.
  • Thousands of people gather at Theresienwiese every year to drink beer and honour traditional Bavarian culture.

When you think of Oktoberfest, you’re probably thinking about three things: Germany, lederhosen, and beer.

Whether you’ve actually been in Munich for the festivities or taken part elsewhere around the world, you know it’s essentially one giant party.

It’s also been commercialized over the years with lederhosen and dirndl Halloween costumes and Oktoberfest-inspired craft beers.

But there’s a whole lot more to the festive celebration than you might think. These epic photos will show you just what we’re talking about.


In 1810, Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig — he would later go on to become King Ludwig I of Bavaria — married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen.

Joerge Koch/Getty ImagesTheresienwiese, named after Princess Therese, serves as the official ground of the Munich Oktoberfest.

Source: Business Insider


The Bavarian royalty threw an epic wedding celebration on the fields in front of the city gates and invited the citizens of Munich to join them.

ShutterstockEntrance to Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany.

Source: History


Those who weren’t in Munich were celebrating the wedding all across Bavaria.

Source: History


The public fields were named Theresienwiese, or “Therese’s fields,” to honour the crown princess.

Joerg Koch / Stringer / Getty Images EuropeVisitors at the first day of the 2017 Oktoberfest.

Source: History


And the wedding festivities ended with horse races.

clu/Getty ImagesAn illustration of horse-drawn sleigh races on the Theresienwiese, Munich, in the 1800s.

Source: History


The royal family decided to repeat the celebration one year later, which sparked the annual tradition now dubbed Oktoberfest. This year will be the 185th celebration.

Johannes Simon / Stringer / Getty Images EuropeOktoberfest revelers cheers — or prost.

Source: History


There have only been a few times — during war, cholera epidemics, or hyperinflation — when the country skipped the celebrations.

Source: Time


From the beer to the costumes to the food, there are tons of traditions spread out across all aspects of the festival.

Johannes Simon / Stringer / Getty Images EuropeDecorated horse coaches arrive for the kick off of the 2016 Oktoberfest.

At the start of the festivities, more than 7,000 people join musicians and farm animals — predominantly horses and oxen — in the streets.

Joerg Koch / Stringer / Getty Images EuropePerformers in traditional Bavarian costumes passing Munich’s Theatiner church during the traditional Costume and Riflemen’s Procession at the 2017 Oktoberfest.

Source: Business Insider


If you’ve never been to Munich for the festival, you probably didn’t know there’s an opening ceremony.

Philipp Guelland / Stringer / Getty Images EuropeMembers of a band in traditional dress marching at Oktoberfest 2017.

Source: Business Insider


It’s complete with a parade of horse-drawn floats.

Philipp Guelland / Stringer / Getty Images EuropeA horse-drawn beer wagon taking part in the traditional costume parade during the 2017 Oktoberfest.

Source: Business Insider


You’ll also witness Bavarian bands playing traditional music.

Philipp Guelland / Stringer / Getty Images EuropeMembers of a band in traditional dress at the costume parade at the 2017 Oktoberfest.

Source: Business Insider


The festival doesn’t officially start, though, until the mayor of Munich taps the first keg of beer and yells “O’zapft is!” (“It’s tapped!”) He serves the first glass of Oktoberfest to Bavaria’s minister president.

Alexander Hassenstein/Getty ImagesMayor Dieter Reiter of Munich pounding a tap into the first Oktoberfest beer barrel on the opening day of the 2016 Oktoberfest.

Source: USA Today


Before the mayor taps the keg, there’s also a traditional 12-gun salute.

Johannes Simon / Stringer / Getty Images EuropeBavarian riflemen of the Munich Salute Gun Regiment waiting to fire their traditional salute with one-shot guns during Octoberfest 2014.

Source: Business Insider


And at the closing ceremony, there’s another salute on the steps of the Bavarian monument.

Johannes Simon / Stringer / Getty Images EuropeBavarian riflemen of the Munich Salute Gun Regiment firing their traditional salute with one-shot guns during Oktoberfest 2014.

Source: Business Insider


What says “family-friendly” more than a Costume and Rifleman’s parade?

Joerg Koch/Getty ImagesPerformers in traditional Bavarian costumes marching over Munich’s Ludwigstrasse during the traditional Costume and Riflemen’s Procession.

If you’re doing Oktoberfest right, you won’t just be drinking any old beer. And you can forget about ordering a Guinness.

Philipp Guelland / Stringer / Getty Images EuropeA waiter with mugs of beer in the Hacker-Pschorr tent.

Source: Food & Wine


In 1810, Dunkel — a dark lager — was the reigning beer of Munich.

Leonid Dushin/ShutterstockDunkel beer used to be the standard beer of Munich.

Source: Mike Siegel via Food & Wine


But by the late 1800s, Oktoberfest revelers were introduced to a lighter beer, called Märzen or Märzenbier. These beers are more reddish in colour and slightly sweet to taste, and they’re similar to the Oktoberfest beers we tend to brew stateside.

Mike Pont / Stringer / Getty ImagesA beer on display at OctFest 2018 in New York City in 2018.

Source: Mike Siegel via Food & Wine


Throughout the years, the festival beer has grown lighter in colour. Now, typical Oktoberfest beer has more of a golden hue.

Johannes Simon/Getty ImagesRevelers long for the first tapped beer on the opening day of Oktoberfest.

Source: Mike Siegel via Food & Wine


Today’s Oktoberfest beers also have a higher alcohol content than they used to as a result of the brewing process.

Phillipp Gueland/Getty ImagesRevelers at the Hofbräu tent.

Source: Mike Siegel via Food & Wine


The beer is served in a giant mug dubbed a “mass,” which is German for “measure.” Each mass holds up to 1 litre of beer.

Philipp Guelland / Stringer / Getty Images EuropeTwo female revelers engage in a beer-drinking contest in the Hacker-Pschorr tent.

Source: Business Insider


If you’re in Munich for the on-site celebration, you’ll find beers from only six local breweries:

Source: Mike Siegel via Food & Wine


Augustiner-Bräu …

Joerg Koch / Stringer / Getty Images EuropeThe Augustiner-Bräu tent at Oktoberfest 2017.

… Hacker-Pschorr …

Joerg Koch / Stringer / Getty Images EuropeThe Hacker-Pschorr tent at Oktoberfest 2017.

… Hofbräu München …

Johannes Simon / Stringer / Getty Images EuropeHofbräuhaus beer tent at Oktoberfest 2016.

… Löwenbräu …

Johannes Simon / Stringer / Getty Images EuropeThe Löwenbräu beer tent at Oktoberfest 2012.

… Paulaner …

Johannes Simon / Stringer / Getty Images EuropeThe Paulaner marquee Winzerer Faehndl at Oktoberfest 2016.

… and Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu.

Sean Gallup / Staff / Getty Images EuropeThe Spaten tent at Oktoberfest 2003.

Each of these breweries sponsors a tented beer hall, for which you should probably make a reservation if you plan on attending. They set the model for all the local beer gardens you love to visit on Saturdays with your friends year-round.

Joerg Koch / Stringer / Getty Images EuropeBeer tents get crowded, and many visitors book tables a year in advance.

Source: USA Today


These giant sponsored tents we know today replaced smaller stands in 1896, which were there so festival-goers could quench their thirst.

Johannes Simon / Stringer / Getty Images EuropeOktoberfest 2016.

Source: USA Today and The History of Oktoberfest


While the beer tents are where you’d go to grab your drinks, they also play traditional Bavarian music.

Johannes Simon / Stringer / Getty Images EuropeA traditionally Bavarian dressed brass band at Oktoberfest 2009.

Source: Time


You’d be hard-pressed to find someone dressed in anything other than lederhosen and dirndl at Oktoberfest. But these are more than just festival costumes.

Joerg Koch / Stringer / Getty Images EuropeVisitors at the first day of the 2017 Oktoberfest.

Source: Time


Originally, and during the time of the wedding, dirndls were plain, worn exclusively by servant girls, and typically paired with a set of lederhosen.

Jeremy Moeller / Stringer / Getty ImagesVisitor attend Oktoberfest 2017.

Source: InStyle


It’s estimated that about 7 million people take part in Munich’s Oktoberfest each year.

Johannes Simon / Stringer / Getty Images EuropeOktoberfest 2009.

Source: Business Insider


That’s a massive crowd, making it the largest beer festival in the world.

Alexander Hassenstein/Getty ImagesMen in their traditional Bavarian clothing at Oktoberfest 2014.

And a lot of people means a lot of beer consumption. On average, the crowd consumes about 7 million litres of it.

Alexandra Beier / Stringer / Getty Images EuropeVisitors toasting during Oktoberfest 2011.

Source: Business Insider


But, contrary to popular belief, the festival isn’t just for drunk adults. Local families go with their kids and enjoy candy apples and schnitzel sandwiches. They ride roller coasters and take part in all the traditional festivities.

Philipp Guelland / Stringer / Getty Images EuropeRevelers enjoying their ride with a vintage carousel at the ‘Oide Wiesn’ historical Oktoberfest in 2015.

Source: Business Insider


It’s common for families to swing by the fair and enjoy a classic Bavarian lunch of obatzda and brezn (cheese dip and a pretzel). You may be more likely to find us hanging out there than by the beer tents, if we’re being honest.

Alexander Hassenstein/Getty ImagesOktoberfest 2014.

Source: Business Insider


The crossbow competition you’ll find over at the Armbrustschützen tent has been going on since 1895.

Philipp Guelland / Stringer / Getty Images EuropeOktoberfest 2015.

Source: Business Insider


Music is an integral part of the festivities, too. Some tents even host yodeling groups.

Philipp Guelland / Stringer / Getty Images EuropeBoys in traditional Bavarian lederhosen performing a Schuhplattler dance during Oktoberfest 2017.

Source: Business Insider


While others switch it up and showcase some rock and roll.

Hannes Magerstaedt / Stringer / Getty Images EuropeOktoberfest 2017.

Source: Business Insider


Yes, you’ll even get to see the Alphorn blowers — they’re the musicians who play those instruments you’ve seen in any Ricola commercial.


If you’re feeling traditional, you can stop at one of many tents hosting the classic brass bands.

Source: Business Insider


Back in 2010, Oktoberfest celebrated its 200th anniversary. Organisers paid homage to the original festival with a festival called the “Historical Wiesn” that featured classic rides, horse races, and older-style beer.

Miguel Villagran/Getty ImagesA man riding a historical swing boat during the first day of Historical Wiesn in 2010.

Source: Business Insider


Remember the horse race we mentioned? Well, you won’t be able to see one of those at the festival today. But, if you plan it right, you’ll be able to catch the Agricultural Show.

Miguel Villagran / Staff / Getty Images EuropeA dairy farmer named Walter Unkelbach put 36 beer mugs filled with milk on a table to demonstrate that he had to sell 36 litres of milk to buy a litre of beer and half a roast chicken during the 2009 Oktoberfest.

Source: The History of Oktoberfest


The Agricultural Show was introduced to the festival in 1811 as a way to boost the Bavarian agriculture industry, and it now takes place every three years.

Source: The History of Oktoberfest


In being seen as just a giant day-drinking event, Oktoberfest has become somewhat of a destination and meeting place for students studying abroad throughout Europe.

Joerg Koch / Stringer / Getty Images EuropeVisitors from Australia at the first day of the 2017 Oktoberfest.

And when you’ve been tossing back litres of beer all day, it’s hard to take in the culture or learn about the history.

Phillipp Geulland/Getty ImagesA reveler trying to empty his stein in one sitting at Oktoberfest 2015.

So next time you think about pulling on those lederhosen and sloshing a mass of brew with your friends — and a couple of thousand strangers — be sure to make a toast to the happy couple and the royal family that started it all. Prost!

Orbon Alija/Getty Images

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