In Funober Month

by Robyn Wyman-Dill

October is kind of a rich, toasty, full-bodied, coppered-colored month for many people around the world. Largely because it is loaded with Oktoberfests from start to finish. The Bavarian-style merriment gets re-created in places like – Argentina, Australia, Sri Lanka, Palestine, South Africa and hundreds of cities throughout Canada and the US – every year.  In celebration of German beer. 

October 12, marked the 204th birthday of the original Oktoberfest in Bavaria. In honor, the German Brewery, Spatan München, sponsored Dana Point’s Oktoberfest in Sea Terrace Park over the weekend. Spaten Brewery is credited with being the creator of Oktoberfest beer and was introduced to popular culture at the Munich Oktoberfest in 1871.

Imagine an open space occupied by a kiosk village of white tents with buxom girls in Dirndls and lots of lederhosen wandering around the grounds.  Bratwurst cooking on vendor grills and a side dish of red cabbage. Goulash. Sauerkraut. The Bavarian Beer Garden Band playing the Chicken Dance Song, while rotisserie chickens spin in a circle.  Add some alpine hats, dogs looking silly in Bavarian wear, gigantic pretzels and plenty of Oktoberfest beer. Everybody is wilkommen.

California has the largest population claiming German heritage in the nation. (It is estimated at over 5 million peoples) and so there are 50 or more Oktoberfests taking place in some part of the state during the months of September and October.

I made a trip to the very town where Oktoberfests began – when I was just eleven.

By then, the Oktoberfest had achieved world-class status for being a culturally fun thing to do – like Mardi Gras and Carnival – so the city was full of party energy.  Dancing and singing from one beer tent to the next.  All in the spirit of fun.

Even from the beginning, the genesis of Oktoberfest was one big happy occasion.

The festival would make its debut at the marriage of King Ludwig I to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810.  All of Bavaria was invited to attend the celebrations in front of Munich’s city gates. So Bavarians came and partied hardy on Theresienwiesn fields(named in honor of the new Crown Princess) enjoying themselves so much that the founding citizens of Munich decided to make Oktoberfest an annual event.

Now, the world’s largest fair – coined, Disneyland for Adults – has a giant carousel and amusement rides. The 16 day affair had an estimated six million people making the pilgrimage to Theresienwiesn field this year.

Whe the beer breweries and Oktoberfests decided to join together in 1887, only beers brewed within the city limits of Munich that met the criteria of an Oktoberfest Beer were served.  Augustiner-Brau, Hacker-Pschorr-Brau, Lowenbrau, Paulaner, Spatenbrau and Staatliches Hofbrau-Munchen made the cut.

Traditionally, in the late spring and early summer, brewmeisters start to release March-harvested Oktoberfest biers that have aged in casks several months earlier. By the time October rolled around, the remaining beer was at its best.  So local folks were encouraged to drink up the remaining brew so that the October harvest could occupy the casks next.

March harvests that matured into a delicious beer at Oktoberfest time, produced a deep amber, thirst-quenching beer with a 5 to 6.2% alcohol content. The March or Märzen alcohol and hop content also serves the beer well as preservatives – and helps to mature and improve the flavor over time.

Whereas the Weisn(which is German name for Munich’s Oktoberfest grounds) had to be canceled 24 times – due to war, inflation and cholera, Hofbräuhaus am Platzl – owned by Staatliches Hofbräuhaus Brewery –  stayed open. (It was bombed heavily in 1944, and almost completely destroyed, however) Staatliches Hofbräuhaus also hosts one of the largest beer tent at Theresienwiesn every year.

Founded in 1589, the Royal Brewery produces beers using original recipes handed down by Wilhelm V, the Duke of Bavaria. The Hofbräuhaus beers proved to be so good that 600,000 barrels of the amber stuff was given to King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden to prevent him from sacking and burning the city – after he invaded Bavaria in 1632.  (Adolphus gladly accepted the gift and consented.)

After World War II, The Hofbräuhaus would become Munich’s number one tourist attraction.

While I never made it to the Oktoberfest held at Theresienwiese(age being a limiting factor), my parents took us to dinner at the Hofbräuhaus am Platzl where I marveled at the people and ceilings murals.

The Hofbräuhaus empire has since set up franchises in the United States and opened restaurants in Las Vegas, Nevada; Chicago, Illinois; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and West Springfield, Massachusetts. The Hofbräuhaus Las Vegas is actually the first full-scale replica of the main beer hall anywhere in the world.

A chain of Hofbräu Beer Gardens also made their way into Miami and Panama City Beach, Florida; New York, New York; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Not to be outdone, The Marriott International in Dubai licensed the brand and opened the restaurant in their hotel. While Genova, Stockholm, Seoul and Melbourne, Australia remain calm and carry on, growing the Hofbräuhaus brand in their own countries.

I’d like to raise my HB beer stein from Hofbräuhaus am Platzl and drink to all things Oktoberfest. For it has served the people well for centuries.

Stay tuned for more funober things to come shortly. Meanwhile, you can reserve your 2015 beer hall table at the Munich Oktoberfest online today.

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