Rituals of the World – Oktoberfest

Festivals – a sense of identity

The opening parade of the Oktoberfest.
The opening parade of the Oktoberfest.

The Munich Oktoberfest is a ritual of superlatives and probably the most famous public festival in the world, with ever-new records in terms of visitor numbers and beer sales. It is also the only German festival that gets mentioned in the national press every year in advance, where exorbitant room prices, security measures, and the vast numbers of visitors from abroad are always points of avid discussion. As soon as the festival has begun, the yellow press turns its attention to the celebrities who make their appearances in the various beer tents on the “Theresienwiese.”

Of course, this must not be missing - traditional Wiesn look.
Of course, this must not be missing – traditional Wiesn look.

Lederhosen and gamsbart

This is one of the more recent domestic rituals that the Oktoberfest has produced. Others, such as the parade of the beer tent publicans as they enter the Oktoberfest grounds and the tapping of the first barrel of beer by the Lord Mayor of Munich, arose in the first half of the 20th century. Not only much older, but of very special significance is the grand procession of traditional costumes and marksmen. It has been held since 1835, always on the first Sunday of the Oktoberfest, with thousands of participants wearing their festive traditional costumes. However, the festival is not only the focus, but also the origin of these garments. In fact, the lederhosen look and gamsbart (chamois beard) hats by no means reflect the traditional lifestyle of Bavaria’s rural population. Actually, much of it was invented, combined and arranged in order to make the first parade of the various ethnic groups of the still young Bavarian kingdom, i.e. Franconians, Swabians, Palatines and Bavarians, the typically attractive sight it is today. The royal house boasted of its introduction and promotion of traditional costumes as a way of raising national awareness.

A classic in traditional costume look - MeisterSinger N° 03 - 40 mm with embroidered leather strap.
A classic in traditional costume look – MeisterSinger N° 03 – 40 mm with embroidered leather strap.

Tradition and craftsmanship

The success of the event was indeed tremendous, as no other German region is so clearly associated with supposedly folkloristic clothing as Bavaria. And many traditional costume enthusiasts may still refuse to believe that deerskin trousers were a kind of marketing measure and that the dirndl in its present form was only introduced towards the end of the 19th century as evocative “rural clothing” for Prussian summer holidaymakers. In fact, traditional costumes (and of course this does not mean the cheap, carnivalesque travesty worn by many foreign visitors) are an expression of local patriotism, which is by no means stuck in the past. Every year, the development of stylistic refinements and accessories is discussed quite seriously in the South German press. Genuine traditional costumes often involve a great deal of manual skill and keep alive working techniques and occupations that might otherwise have died out a long time ago.

For example, if a traditional costume enthusiast orders a new pair of deerskin trousers made to measure with individual embroidery from the “Säckler,” i.e. the lederhosen maker, he sometimes has to wait a whole year for them, just in time for the next Oktoberfest.

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