Boston Celebrates Oktoberfest
By: Sean Young
It is no surprise that Boston, the country’s third-highest alcohol-consuming city, is going all out for this year’s Oktoberfest. However, those with ties to the festival’s origins and culture are not impressed.
What has been an over 200-year-old tradition in Munich, Germany began only 42 years ago in the States. Beginning mid-September and ending in early to mid-October, Oktoberfest draws around six million visitors annually to its founding city, easily breaking beer-drinking records almost every year.
The festival is rooted in fun and drinking, but most do not know the history and origins behind the festival, likely falling victim to a grand marketing scheme.
The popular tourist attraction originated in 1810 as a unique five-day royal wedding celebration featuring a horse racing show for its guests. The celebration became a hit amongst the public, who “wanted more” the following year. Landwirtschaftlicher Verein in Bayern (the Bavarian Agricultural Association) adopted the event as an official annual celebration with the promise to generate wealth in the region and as a way to promote its own products.
Since its founding, the festival has developed more and more each year into what we know it as today. It became culturally significant in 1850 with the unveiling of the statue of Bavaria. In the late 1800s, the opening of carnival rides resulted in the need to set up beer tents rather than beer stalls to accommodate the growing number of guests. ‘Quiet Oktoberfest,’ a family-friendly approach to the celebration, was adopted in 2005, which made music acceptable only after 6:00 p.m.
With horse-racing only an anniversary celebration, and brass band music, lederhosen, and other traditional aspects of the festival being pushed aside, a separate historical festival, the ‘Oide Wiesn,’ was organized in 2010 to remind visitors of Oktoberfest’s origin and Bavarian culture.
Despite German migrants arriving in the 19th and 20th centuries, the first American Oktoberfest was recorded in 1961 in La Crosse, Wisconsin, focusing on folk music and beer. German-Americans, the most ‘self-reported’ ancestral group in the US, seem to have highlighted the cultural aspect along with the drinking.
In Boston, the cultural aspect can be seen in more family-friendly celebrations, such as the Harvard Square Fair in conjunction with the HONK! Parade, or at more traditional beer gardens, such as Night Shift Brewery on the Esplanade or Harpoon Brewery in Seaport. However, the culture project seems to make way for marketing schemes in other locales.
Decked out in balloons with signature orange and blue, the Samuel Adams Brewery announced it’s officially “Beer Season” in Boston. The three-year-old brewery began its Oktoberfest celebrations on Friday, Sept. 22, complete with limited-edition German-style beers, DJs, sauerkraut, and even merch. Online tickets for the festivities, lasting only three days, were sold out instantly. Despite being filled to the brim with booze and festival goers, Alicia Bareeca, who is half-German and on the German Culture Club’s EBoard, was not impressed.
“It just felt like a way for them to get more money, just another marketing scheme,” said Barecca (CAS’24).
Barecca preferred the outdoor Night Shift Brewery beer gardens situated on the Esplanade. She said they were much more reminiscent of the typical German beer gardens she’d seen as a child.
A typical Oktoberfest can look like this: searching for a table, waiting forever to get a beer, getting very drunk, and, if you so please, riding the different attractions. But, Vasko Georgiev, a 22-year-old from Salzburg, Austria, said, “It’s mostly getting absolutely wasted.”
It’s an interesting experience as a first-timer, he said, but “if you’re not getting drunk, there is not much else to do.”
Aside from all the fun and games, the growing size of Oktoberfest goes hand in hand with Boston’s excessive drinking problem.
On top of increasing beer prices, the amount of people suffering from alcohol-induced poisoning, injuries, and even death related to drinking continues to increase both in the origin city of this beloved festival and in this state. Alcohol abuse costs Massachusetts. at least $5.6 billion annually, a report from BU researchers concludes.
With happy hour becoming a recent addition to Boston’s drinking culture, the city seems to be heading toward even more drunk events.
“It was like Cinco de Mayo for Americans, but in the fall. And, just like St. Patty’s, it just seemed like another day to drink a different type of beer,” said Barecca.