Oktoberfest: The Where, When and Why

Oktoberfest is fast approaching and people all over the world are dusting off their beer steins in preparation for the festivities. We all love the bratwurst, the pretzels, the chicken dance… But why?

Exactly what is Oktoberfest and why do we celebrate it every year? 

20121006 0594 Oktoberfest at Reston Town Center

I consulted the official website of the city of Munich for the answers:

The History of the Oktoberfest
Crown Prince Ludwig, later to become King Ludwig I, was married to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen on 12th October 1810. The citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities held on the fields in front of the city gates to celebrate the happy royal event. The fields have been named Theresienwiese (“Theresa’s fields”) in honor of the Crown Princess ever since, although the locals have since abbreviated the name simply to the “Wies’n”.

Horse races in the presence of the Royal Family marked the close of the event that was celebrated as a festival for the whole of Bavaria. The decision to repeat the horse races in the subsequent year gave rise to the tradition of the Oktoberfest.

The Oktoberfest continues in 1811
In 1811 an added feature to the horse races was the first Agricultural Show, designed to boost Bavarian agriculture. The horse races, which were the oldest and – at one time – the most popular event of the festival are no longer held today. But the Agricultural Show is still held every three years during the Oktoberfest on the southern part of the festival grounds.

In the first few decades the choice of amusements was sparse. The first carousel and two swings were set up in 1818. Visitors were able to quench their thirst at small beer stands which grew rapidly in number. In 1896 the beer stands were replaced by the first beer tents and halls set up by enterprising landlords with the backing of the breweries.

The remainder of the festival site was taken up by a fun-fair. The range of carousels etc. on offer was already increasing rapidly in the 1870s as the fairground trade continued to grow and develop in Germany.

181st Octoberfest 2014
Today, the Oktoberfest is the largest festival in the world, with an international flavor characteristic of the 21th century: some 6 million visitors from all around the world converge on the Oktoberfest each year.

And since the Oktoberfest is still held on the Theresienwiese, the locals still refer to the event simply as the “Wies’n”. So “welcome to the Wies’n” means nothing other than “welcome to the Oktoberfest”!

There you have it. Now we can all party a little smarter!

Modern Reston compiled a list of local Oktoberfests that promise an authentic Bavarian good time and something for everyone.

Lovettsville Oktoberfest, Lovettsville, VA September 27
A celebration of Lovettsville’s German heritage with beer, food, fun, family and…lederhosen.

Das Best Oktoberfest, DC Armory, Washington, D.C. September 27
Authentic oompah and polka bands, German food and all-you-care-to-taste privileges of the beer, wine, & spirits available onsite. And The Best Beer Belly AND The Miss Oktoberfest Competitions.

JamBrew Oktoberfest, Herndon, VA September 27
An all-day music festival featuring fun fall festivities.

Fort Belvoir Oktoberfest, Fort Belvoir, VA Freemont Field October 2-5
Fort Belvoir’s 19th Annual Oktoberfest. A four-day festival, highlighting authentic German food, beverages, music and dancing. Enjoy an exciting carnival, the Krazy Krieger 5K challenge, the Volksmarch 10K Walk, kinder korner activities, prize raffles at sponsor tables and more.

Capitol City Brewing Company Oktoberfest, Shirlington, VA October 4
Capitol City’s 15th annual Mid-Atlantic Oktoberfest. 60+ breweries, local food vendors, an authentic German band and authentic Oktoberfest food.


Reston Oktoberfest, Reston Town Center October 11-12
Oktoberfest Reston is produced by the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce and is Northern Virginia’s largest fall festival at Reston Town Center featuring the best in autumn brews with delicious traditional Oktoberfest fare from area restaurants. Enjoy food, wine, beer, live entertainment, and a carnival.

Where do you celebrate Oktoberfest in the area?


Photos by Charlotte Geary.