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A History of Munich and Oktoberfest

Updated on September 27, 2012

Oktoberfest in Munich

Oktoberfest 2007 in Munich
Oktoberfest 2007 in Munich | Source

Humble Beginnings

At first, the Isar River valley, where present-day Munich is located was sparsely inhabited by small bands of peasants and farmers. Then somewhere near the beginning of the eighth century, a small band of Benedictine monks from Tegernsee, left the monastery, and began a small outpost near what is now "downtown Munich". From this humble beginning grew the modern city of Munich, third largest in all of Germany.

A Little Etymology

After the Benedictine Monks settled along the Isar, that place became known as Apud Munichen or by the monks. Eventually the growing town became known as Munichen. Germans today still use a form of that word, Munchen, to describe their fair city. Munich is simply the English equivalent.

An Important Industry

One of the first things that the newly-arrived monks did was to make and sell beer to valley residents. This lead to the creation of what is believed to be the world's first beer brewery, which was located in Fohring very near to Munich. In those days beer brewing was a church-sponsored activity, for the monks did much of the work with most of the profit going to the church. Many monks received a daily ration of beer for working in the brewery and free beer was usually given to those who attended mass regularly. Even children were given a liter of alcoholic brew after they had completed their first communion.

Munich Founded

Munich officially became a municipality on June 14th, 1158, when the German Emperor granted the local Duke (named Henry the Lion) permission to operate a bridge over the River Isar. 17 years later the first wall was built, as the small settlement approached a population of 2,500. During the following years and centuries, Munich grew to become the most important city in the German kingdom of Bavaria and so the place became home to Bavarian royalty.

Napoleon Takes Control

Napoleon took control of Germany, including Bavarian, in 1803. For the southeastern kingdom, this occupation lasted ten years and only came to an end when Napoleon launched his ill-fated invasion of Russia. In 1813 Bavaria made an alliance with Austria, thus ending its French occupation. During this period the wedding of Prince Ludwig of Bavaria to one Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen occurred in 1810. The whole town was invited to an outdoor reception, which included some horse races. In effect, this was the first Oktoberfest.


Since 1810 Oktoberfest has been cancelled more than 20 times due to war, disease or economic depression. This photo records WWII damage to Munich.
Since 1810 Oktoberfest has been cancelled more than 20 times due to war, disease or economic depression. This photo records WWII damage to Munich. | Source

The Celebration Continues

In the year following the royal wedding, the popular horse races were repeated and a agricultural show was added. Over the years these activities became the centerpiece of the annual celebration. Beer was sold at these events, but up until 1896, beer vendors operated from wooden stands instead of tents. A fun fair featuring carousels and Ferris wheels was always a major part of the festivities. Only in the 20th century has the beer consumption become such a major factor.


Oktoberfest at Night
Oktoberfest at Night

Oktoberfest Today

Today Oktoberfest is huge. Not only has the Munich festival grown dramatically in size, but also smaller spin offs can be found around the world. Among the outlying parties, beer drinking is the central theme of most celebrations. And the Munich Oktoberfest has a very large fun fair to go along with the beer tents and every third year an agricultural fair is added, similar to the one in 1811.

German Beer

German beer
German beer


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    • darknezz111 profile image

      Daniel Durand 5 years ago from Southern Idaho

      Fantastic article! I found the narrative to be light and easy to read, while not losing any informational capacity. It was entertaining and answered a lot of questions I had. Good work!

    • eHealer profile image

      Deborah 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      Great hub and the Beer is the best part! Interesting hub with great photos. You are voted up!