The Bastardization of Oktoberfest

Photo by Heribert Pohl
Written by Alex Wilking

By Alex Wilking
BU News Service

Ah, Oktoberfest. The Bavarian tradition of drinking, followed by more drinking. But chances are you didn’t click on this article for a history lesson — you want to see how I scold my own nation on our interpretation of this festival. I’d hate to disappoint.

Here in America, we have a tendency to celebrate Oktoberfest in October. Many even spell it “Octoberfest” like the month. That sounds great on paper, but Oktoberfest actually begins in September. Granted, the very first Oktoberfest was held on Oct. 12, 1810, but Germans soon started the festivities earlier to take advantage of the warmer weather. Only a fraction of the festival carries into October.

Photo by 5chw4r7z (Flickr)

Photo by 5chw4r7z (Flickr)

After a few Bavarian celebrations took place, the US caught a big whiff of their drunken bliss and bratwursts. So per usual, we thought we could do it louder and better, so we added carnivals. EDM music. Whatever. Then we proceeded to drink our weight in beer and shove pretzels into all orifices of our body. Let’s face it, we’ll celebrate anything that involves booze (see St. Patrick’s Day).

Did you know that Oktoberfest celebrations started because of a 19th-century wedding? No? This sort of history is important, but has no correlation with us partying so it’s often ignored. We just get so lost in our own interpretation of Oktoberfest that no one recognizes it’s entire inception. And I take issue with that.

But what irritates me most is what we drink during this time of year. We devour fall-themed “Oktoberfest” beers like we do pumpkin spiced-everything. Our Oktoberfest beers are strictly an American creation. The real beer Bavarians brew for this festival are Marzen-style lagers, which follow a strict German beer purity law (called the Reinheitsgebot). In fact, only six German breweries supply these beers for the majority of Oktoberfest celebrations in Germany.

Clearly every German is also a meteorologist, because the weather plays a role here too. Marzen’s gets their name from “March” in German, since the beer is brewed in March and aged until September/October. Back in the 1800s, it was too hot to brew anything worth drinking during the summer months because everyone lacked refrigeration. A few US breweries make genuine “Oktoberfest” Marzen lagers, including Brooklyn Brewery. But for the most part, our notorious craft beer revolution changed this traditional drink into something malty, strong and kinda pathetic.

Yeah, I’m also an American. And yeah, I like excuses to throw one back too. But the celebration doesn’t irritate me, since that’s the whole point. But it’s only half of the idea – this festival is about the tradition. If we’re going to Americanize an European holiday, can it not be this one? But alas, we’ve bastardized this celebration like we do everything else. I just wish we’d take a second to focus on tradition here. Let’s remember the history and classic cuisines that make this time so prominent across the world.

Much like any angsty writer, I saw no better way to get my point across than to go on a rant about petty cultural differences. So consider this a history-lesson-made-slap-on-the-wrist, America. And if we decide to continue this annual tradition, let’s at least do Germany a solid and rename our version.

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