Munich's Oktoberfest: Tapping into Tradition

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Beer and skittles Rides are part of the fun

Copious amounts of beer and cultural edification don't often go hand in hand, but happily for the tipplers among you the Munich Stadtmuseum, tel: (49-89) 2332 2370, is making an exception. To mark the 200th anniversary of the Oktoberfest, it is staging The Oktoberfest 1810-2010 — showcasing some 800 artifacts that document the history of the world's best-loved and biggest beer festival.

The party itself began on Sept. 18 and lasts until Oct. 4, continuing a tradition established in 1810, when the first Oktoberfest was held as a wedding celebration. The marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen was the occasion for several days of public drinking and feasting, which incidentally helped to promote the unity of a kingdom that at the time was just four years old.

There's nothing like beer when it comes to bringing subjects together in a cohesive whole, of course. As the 1,500-sq-m exhibition so cheerfully depicts, the initial event was so popular that Bavarians (joined today by visitors from all over the world) have gathered to slosh and sing every year since, with the exception of times of war, cholera epidemics (1854, 1873) and hyperinflation (1923, 1924).

When you've boned up on the history, make for the beer tents. You'll immediately notice how Oktoberfest has avoided becoming a globalized marketing event and instead retained its essential Bavarian character. Six Munich breweries (the oldest dating from 1328) still provide the beer. Thousands of Bavarians of all ages wear traditional dress not only during the opening-day parade but also on other festival days, with the revival of dirndls and lederhosen being a real feature of recent years. Entertainments dear to Munich tradition include Schichtl's variety show and a carousel from 1924. Gingerbread hearts iced with greetings in the Bavarian dialect are a favorite souvenir. And only traditional Bavarian music is allowed in the beer tents before 6 p.m. In other words, while Oktoberfest makes a fine subject for museum displays, it's also a living, breathing, thriving celebration.

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