The First Oktoberfest

In the last decade of the eighteenth century and first decade of the nineteenth, the German state of Bavaria had prospered in its alliance with first Revolutionary, and then Napoleonic France, while being one of the few states of the Confederation of the Rhine to maintain its effective independence. In 1808, constitutional reforms were introduced which freed the serfs and swept away the last vestiges of the medieval Holy Roman Empire. In this happy and prosperous time, during which the internal inconsistencies of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Eras had yet to manifest themselves, Bavaria acquired some smaller German states as part of peace negotiations with Austria. At the Treaty of Schönbrunn after Napoleon’s victory in the War of the Fifth Coaltion, Bavaria was required to cement an alliance with the least reliable of Napoleon’s Confederation allies, Saxony.

On 10 October, 1810, Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria (the grandfather of the future “Mad King Ludwig”) wedded Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen, in Bavaria’s largest city, Munich. The Crown Prince invited the citizens of the city to the wedding festivities held in the fields in front of the city’s gate. Thousands showed up and the citizens named them “Therese’s Fields”. With beer and wine tastings, 40,000 spectators watched horse races from the side of a hill leading to the city, and by the end of the day the festival was recognized as a celebration of all things Bavarian.

The festival was such a rockin good time that it naturally occurred again the next year, and annually thereafter. We know it today as Oktoberfest.

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