The origins of Oktoberfest can be traced to a wedding that took place in Munich, Germany, on Oct. 12, 1810.
To celebrate the marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, the citizens of Munich were invited to the festivities, which were held on the fields in front of the city gates. The public fields were renamed “Theresienwiese” in honor of the new bride, and that name has withstood the test of time, even though locals now refer to the fields as “Wies’n.”
In honor of the Prince and his newly minted Princess, horse races were held on Oct. 17, and historians are still uncertain as to who initially proposed the idea to include horse races in the festivities. One of the people suspected of proposing the races, Franz Baumgartner, eventually saw his horse end up in the winner’s circle, where the steed was cheered by the roughly 40,000 spectators on hand to witness the events.
The festivities, including the horse race, were repeated a year later, giving birth to the annual tradition of Oktoberfest. While 40,000 spectators might have seemed like a lot of people in 1810, attendance at modern-day Oktoberfest festivities dwarfs that number, as Oktoberfestbeerfestivals.com notes that more than 6 million people attended the festivities in 2013. In 2015, festival workers served 7.3 million liters of beer.
This year, Oktoberfest celebrations in Munich begin Sept. 21 and continue until Oct. 6.