Let’s all raise a pint to Oktoberfest. For one thing, who can’t simply appreciate its improbable staying power? Now a worldwide phenomenon, its origins lie in the celebrations that followed the 1810 wedding of Bavaria’s Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. (You can be sure the ale was plentiful.) Despite those unlikely roots, more than 200 years later, the German festival and its commemoration of Bavarian culture is a global event celebrated by millions (some even in lederhosen).
But did you know Oktoberfest is arguably the world’s most eco-friendly festival? We didn’t think so. Indeed, while most similarly-scaled celebrations are as known for the waste they leave behind — here’s looking at you, Mardi Gras — as the good times had by all, Oktoberfest has emerged as an exemplary example of how a weeks-long celebration can be sustainable and environmentally responsible. So, let’s toast this and other facts about the festival ahead of this year’s September 17 kick-off:
Oktoberfest picks up after itself
A large festival like Oktoberfest — with more than six million visitors — is expected to produce an extreme amount of waste. And that certainly used to be true in Munich, where Oktoberfest occurs at the Theresienwiese fairground. Before 1991, each visitor left behind about two kilograms of garbage — compared to only about 200 grams per visitor now. The reason? Organizers banned beverage cans, plastic tableware, and paper cups at the festival in the early 1990s. That led to a massive reduction of the then-8,100 tons of waste left behind.
In 2014, waste was already reduced to 958 tons — a number that organizers continued to reduce even more dramatically. Waste at Oktoberfest is now separated. So that paper can be recycled, organic waste goes to biogas plants, and new glass is made from used glass. Of course, some garbage can’t be recycled and is therefore incinerated — but at least the organizers try their best. In comparison, the celebrations of Mardi Gras in New Orleans produce about 1,200 tons of waste — with plastic beads tossed in the Mississippi River and waste dumped in landfills.
No beer cans or paper plates
This has become a great tradition. There are no beer cans and paper plates at Oktoberfest. Instead, they use beer mugs and porcelain plates that are simply rinsed after use. And the rinse water does not end up in sewers but in the toilet flushes of the tents. On top of that, food eaten right away is served in waffle cones that you can eat along with your food.
A reduced carbon footprint
Many Oktoberfest tents now get organic quality meat. This means cattle, pigs, and chickens come from Bavaria and live their entire life cycle there. In 2014, 120,000 pairs of pork sausages, 78,000 pork knuckles, 510,000 chickens, and 48 calves were consumed. Some 112 whole oxen also ended up on plates. So, this does impact Oktoberfest’s carbon footprint.
Green electricity is often used
The public areas of Oktoberfest — streets, and toilets — are now all supplied with green electricity. But 60% of the exhibitors have followed this concept and now also use green electricity. This means that many areas of the festival are now supplied with electricity from hydroelectric power plants.
Lederhosen are not cleaned in the washing machine
Certain rules you just can’t break. This is especially true in traditional Bavaria. Among them? Lederhosen is not to be washed. One reason: it’s not good for the leather. But some people also say it is because you must preserve its soul — that every stain has its own history. Then again, sometimes that just means its dirty. So, may we suggest our eco-friendly detergent strips? Simply dissolve them in warm water and then clean the affected areas. Just do it secretly, and no one will notice.
Every tap counts
Traditionally, a large beer keg is tapped by the Lord Mayor to start Oktoberfest. The mayor must tap the wooden barrel so that the beer can flow. This is a tradition the people of Bavaria take very seriously — and they count how many hammer blows it takes before the good times start. If a mayor does it in two blows? That’s excellent! The more blows there are, the more unpleasant it becomes for the Lord Mayor. There are the press reports, for example, about how many strikes he needed. Such a disgrace. So, the mayor is under quite a bit of pressure during the whole act — much like the barrel itself. Once the task is done, the mayor shouts “O’zapft is!” This means “It’s tapped.”
Before the barrel is tapped, no beer may be served
As long as the mayor has not tapped the barrel, no beer may be served. This is also a tradition. The tapping takes place every year in the so-called Schottenhamel tent. It is the oldest of many pavilions at Oktoberfest and has existed since 1867. As soon as the keg has been tapped, 12-gun salutes are fired. A kind of honorable salute with black powder. And only then is beer served. Tradition is tradition.
The more beer mugs the waitress or waiter can carry, the better
Oktoberfest is very much about traditions. One of them is that the beer on tap is carried to the tables in the festival tents. And the rule is whoever carries the most enjoys the greatest prestige. (Also: waiters naturally earn more money with every extra glass they can carry so they take as many glasses as possible.) So, it becomes a competition. Who can carry the most glasses? And the glasses are heavy. Not only do they contain a liter of beer, but the glass itself is heavy. So, one glass weighs 2.3 kilograms with beer. The official world record belongs to a man named Oliver Strümpfel. He carried 29 beer mugs. According to our calculations, that’s slightly more than 66 kilograms.
Not only is the service at Oktoberfest strong but so is the beer
If you’re not used to the beer served at Oktoberfest, be careful because it is strong! While average German beer has about 4.6 to 4.8% alcohol by volume, the beer brewed especially for Oktoberfest has a full 5.8 to 6.4%. For comparison, a standard Bud Light has 4.2% by volume. That means one liter contains as much alcohol as eight shots of schnapps. So, if you drink five mugs of beer, you’ve already consumed a bottle of liquor.
Before you flirt at Oktoberfest, consider the bow
People wear traditional costumes at the Oktoberfest, as you might already know. That usually means lederhosen for the men and dirndl for the women —but it’s 2022. Everybody can wear what they want. But that’s the tradition. And with the dirndl, there is a special feature. Because on the belly, the dirndl has a ribbon. And depending on how the ribbon is tied, it is worth trying to flirt with the person or not. If a person wears the ribbon on the left side of the body, they are not taken. They are married or taken if they wear the bow on the right. Whoever ties the bow to the back probably has no idea and comes from out of town. Which can then cause a bit of confusion.
It generates a huge economic boon
Of course, the Oktoberfest also makes a lot of money. Don’t forget it is the largest people’s festival in the world, with more than six million visitors traveling to Munich. During the period, Oktoberfest earns about one billion euros. And the period is not that long. In 2022, for example, Oktoberfest runs only 17 days — from September 17 to October 3.
Paris Hilton was expelled
A very bizarre story happened in 2006. At that time, a certain starlet was on a promotional tour for her Prosecco, which she then repeatedly presented at Oktoberfest. It was obvious at the time that the entrepreneur only had in mind to promote the sale of her own drink. She was forbidden to do so because other celebrities then also used Oktoberfest to promote their brands. This displeased management so much that Hilton was subsequently declared an unwelcome person.
There is another name for Oktoberfest
Old pros call Oktoberfest “Wiesn.” This is because the festival has always been held on a 34.5-acre area called Theresienwiese, which is named after the aforementioned Princess Therese. So, if you want to sound like you belong, call it Wiesn — not Oktoberfest. In Munich, nobody says “Oktoberfest.” If you say that, you will quickly be recognized as a newbie.