Oktoberfest has sets up shop in Midtown, and organizers at the temporary beer garden are happy to share the history of the 200-year-old German festival. Edible Manhattan's Rachel Wharton filed the following report.
In the shadow of Madison Square Garden, OktoberfestNYC is now open for beers and brats. Until October 7, its tented beer garden has taken over a plaza at the corner of 33rd Street and Eighth Avenue.
Despite its big city location, OktoberfestNYC hopes to offer New Yorkers a taste of the annual event beloved by Bavarians. In fact, the 16-day food, beer and agricultural fair, which always ends on the first Sunday in October, has been thrown in Munich for exactly 200 years.
"The background is from 1812, when Crown Prince Ludwig got married to Therese and they had such a big celebration they had to move it outside the city walls into the meadows. And that's how Oktoberfest basically started, with a big celebration for the wedding and horse races," says Heike von Maydell, a marketing consultant for OktoberfestNYC. "Basically it was such a success and people liked it so much that the town decided we have Oktoberfest every year."
But Oktoberfest is also part of another tradition, one based around a traditional beer style called Märzen.
"Märzen beer dates back a long, long, long time ago, and this is beer made in the month of March, which is 'März' in German, and that's why it's called 'Märzen' beer," says von Maydell. "Way back when when they had no refrigeration system, what they did is they made all the beer in the month of March, before it could spoil, and it would be an extremely strong beer. And then they had such an abundance of beer they would basically get rid of it at Oktoberfest."
To drink a lot of beer, you need a really big glass. So another Oktoberfest hallmark is liter-sized steins. Those are delivered to communal tables by waitresses in the traditional German dress called a dirndl. According to von Maydell, most Bavarians attend the fest in traditional garb too.
"Oh yes, you stand out like a sore thumb if you don't wear your dirndl at Oktoberfest. Everybody's going to point the finger at you," says von Maydell.