Oktoberfest is all about beer, fun and Bavarian traditions
If you mark calendars for fun things to do around the world, then Oktoberfest in Germany is high on the list. This year’s festival in Munich and other cities and towns throughout Germany. It is more than two weeks of carnivals, beer drinking, food, music and dancing, and cultural traditions that have run for hundreds of years.
Oktoberfest has its beginnings in October 1810 when the locals celebrated the wedding of Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Sachsen-Hildburghausen. Today Oktoberfest is an annual affair attracting millions of people from around the world.
You cannot miss it. Huge tents cover the city serving all kinds of regional beer, wine and food. Local favourites include sauerkraut, schlachtplatte (mixed sausages), hassenpfeffer (rabbit stew), schweinshaxe (pork knuckle) and pretzels large enough to hoop around your neck. Traditional costumes, dance and music fill the air.
To most people around the world, Oktoberfest is for beer lovers. It is the annual mecca for good quality German and regional beers that is served endlessly, every single day of the festival. If you can hold down your alcohol, then you’re in for a treat. If you can’t, then save yourself for this epic fest.
German beer is one of the best in the world but you should know what you pay for at the festival. Both assembly line beer and specialty beer are made with the building blocks of malt, water, yeast and hops. The main difference between the two is the standard of brewing. Specialty beer is brewed in smaller lots, with more quality control and quality ingredients, Industrial brews stick to a rigid formula so that there is consistency in the results. Specialty brews allow the ingredients to speak for themselves – and the quality certainly comes through. Industrial brews may use cheap substitutes for malt which includes sugar, corn or rice.
The richness of malt is often a prominent factor in German specialty beers. How much malt is roasted determines the colour and caramelisation of beer. Hops are the flower cones of Humulus lupulus, a vine related to nettles. Lupulin oil is rich in the alpha acids that give hops its bitterness which in turn imparts into the beer. Different hops of different brewing countries have their own unique flavours. Yeast plays its part too. The brewer’s yeast is Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which produces beer that varies with fermentation and temperature. Specialty brews often use many different yeast strains to achieve an excitement of flavours.
There are two basic styles of beer: ale and lager. Ale is the original beer with roots as far back as 5000 years. It is made with top fermenting yeast at higher temperatures to produce a rich, hearty, brothy brew – something you would drink in winter. Ales go well with rich meals like beef pie, lamb stew, steak, roast pork, barbecues and sausages. Ales embrace the likes of stout, pale ale, amber ale, porters and India pale ale.
Lager is clean, light, refreshing and thirst quenching, something you would drink in the tropics. It includes light beer, cold filtered, pilsener, ‘bitter’ beers and modern draught. Lagers are excellent with hot and spicy dishes, seafood, fried chicken, calamari, stir fries and french fries.
Popular German beer at Oktoberfest
Pilsner (German pils) – lighter dishes, seafood, gruyere cheese, bratwurst, ham, fresh salads.
Weizen (wheat beer) – served in a tall, curvaceous weizen glass; light, fruity beer good with light foods, fish, prawn, chicken, cream soups and broths.
Bock (amber lager or oktoberfest style) – pork and chicken sausages, duck, venison, pork knuckles, washed-rind munster cheese, pretzels.
Dunkel (dark lager) – grills, smoked and roast meats, dumplings, all types of wurst, dark bread, beef and game sausages.
The Germans love their sausages, and what better food goes with beer than lovely grilled sausages of all kinds. There are many types of sausages in Germany which are cured, smoked and salted depending on the region they come from. German sausages include würste frankfurters, wieners, bratwürste, rindswürste, knackwürste and Bockwürste.
Cooked sausages – these are made with fresh meat which is then fully cooked. They are either eaten immediately after cooking or must be refrigerated. Examples include hot dogs, braunschweiger and liver sausage.
Cooked smoked sausages – are cooked and then smoked or smoke-cooked. They are eaten hot or cold, but need to be refrigerated. These sausages include kielbasa and mortadella. Some are slow cooked while smoking.
Fresh sausages – are made from fresh, raw meats that have not been previously cured. They must be refrigerated and thoroughly cooked before eating. Examples include chipolata pork sausage, engli siskonmakkara and English breakfast sausage.
Fresh smoked sausages – fresh sausages that are smoked and cured. They do not normally require refrigeration and do not require any further cooking before eating. Examples include mettwurst and teewurst which are meat preparations packed in sausage casing but squeezed out of it, like a meat spread from a tube.
Dry sausages – are cured sausages that are fermented and dried. Some are smoked as well at the beginning of the drying process. They are generally eaten cold and will keep for a long time. These include salami, droë wors, Finnish meetvursti, sucuk, landjäger (smoked).
Lots to see in Leipzig
While exploring the many cities for Oktoberfest visit Leipzig, which is rich in Saxon heritage and has many beautiful landmarks.
This German city’s history goes back a long time. It was endowed with city and market privileges in 1165, and has fundamentally shaped the history of Saxony and of Germany. Leipzig has always been known as a place of commerce. The Leipzig Trade Fair, which began in the middle ages, became an event of international importance.
Attractions include the University of Leipzig, which was founded in 1409, and was where Nobel Prize laureate Werner Heisenberg worked as a physics professor from 1927 to 1942.
The university initiated the city’s development into a centre of German law and the publishing industry, and towards being a location of the Reichsgericht (Supreme Court), and the German National Library, founded in 1912.
Leipzig became a hub of Central-European railroad traffic, with a renowned station building, now the largest passenger train station in Europe. The city expanded rapidly towards one million inhabitants and huge Gründerzeit areas were built, which survived, for the greater part, the War and after war demolitions. Nowadays these areas are unique in modern Germany. The decline of the number of inhabitants however remain a threat to these precious rich decorated remains of once Imperial Germany.
Johann Sebastian Bach worked in Leipzig from 1723 to 1750, at St Thomas Lutheran church. He played the organ there and wrote the St Matthews Passion among other of his famous works. There is a small display of old instruments in the church. Bach concerts and festivals are held regularly at the church, the Bach Museum and other venues throughout Leipzig.
Another famous composer and musician, Richard Wagner, was born in Leipzig in 1813. Visit yet other famous musicians at Schumann House where Robert and Clara started their marriage, and the Mendelssohn house at Goldschmidtstreet 12, where Felix lived and is buried.
The Stasi Museum has a permanent exhibition of ‘Stasi – Power and Banality’ about The dictatorship of the proletariat – the Ministry of State Security´s role as the SED´s instrument of terror. See how people were spied upon in Leipzig during the cold war period.
Leipzig’s main centre is very much a square, with the market square in the centre, pleasantly lined with cafes and things to see. The ring road that circumnavigates the old city replaces the old city walls.
Across the street from the Bach Museum you can relax at the many cafes and enjoy good German coffee and a slice of Sachertorte, Black Forest cake or other delicious eats. If you want to have coffee in style, try Zum Arabischen Coffee Baum and make sure you drop by upstairs to the coffee museum.
If you love ice cream head for the cafes along Grimmaische Street where you’ll find hundreds of ice cream cafes and all kinds of irresistible flavours.
Visit the Germany Tourism website at www.germany-tourism.de Photographs courtesy of the German Tourist Office.