As a Jewish traveler, I must admit I had my reservations prior to visiting Germany for the first time. Two nights and three days at the Munich Hilton for Oktoberfest 2007. I went for the beer, the music, and the lederhosen. I Ieft with an appreciation for the spirited renewal of Jewish life in this historic city, a taste for lager and a hangover.
The Oktoberfest had its origin in 1810 when Crown Prince Ludwig – who later became King Ludwig I of Bavaria – and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen celebrated their wedding. Thus the grounds for the Oktoberfest are called “Theresienwiese” still today – a term affectionately abbreviated to “Wiesn”. The decision to stage a repeat of the immensely popular fall festival and local horserace at the same time the following year gave rise to the Oktoberfest tradition that has attracted tourists from all over the world over the past two centuries. According to the City of Munich, last year’s Oktoberfest attracted 5.7 million visitors.
This year’s Oktoberfest began when Munich’s Lord Mayor Christian Ude exclaimed “Ozapft is!” – “the barrel is tapped!” after opening the first cask of beer at noon on September 18, 2010 in the Schottenhamel festive hall.
The 14 festive tents have a total seating capacity for more than 100,000. There are hundreds of rides for thrill seekers of all ages, including a giant Ferris wheel, carrousel, roller coasters and other attractions. Over the course of the two-week festival visitors consume 6.5 million liters of the special Oktoberfest beer brewed by the six most famous Munich breweries: Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, Spaten and Staatliches Hofbräuhaus. Tent denizens bellow German drinking songs, munch on oversized pretzels and down oversized glasses of beer until the last revelers stagger home and the cleaning crew prepares for the next day.
For beer lovers who keep kosher, we can take sudsy comfort in Germany’s strict adherence to quality control. The Beer Purity Law of 1516 was enacted by Duke Wilhelm IV in the Bavarian city of Ingolstadt. The law stated: "In all cities, markets, and in the country, the only ingredients used for the brewing of beer must be Barley, Hops and Water. Whosoever knowingly disregards or transgresses upon this ordinance, shall be punished by the Court authorities' confiscating such barrels of beer, without fail." Through legislation, Germany’s integration into the European Union and mutual agreement, the Purity Law can no longer be enforced as written. However, age-old brewing practices are revered in Bavaria. The use of unmalted grains, enzymes, and additives are frowned upon and Oktoberfest beers are specifically brewed to proudly reflect Germany’s culinary history.
On my visit to Munich, I was smitten by the Augustiner lager, although each brew I tried was remarkable for its freshness and distinctive taste. The people I met were amazingly friendly and while sightseeing around the city, I was able to learn a lot about the Jewish culture that once flourished in the region.
Jews have been part of Munich life since medieval times. In 1882, the Bavarian King Ludwig II granted the Jewish community a site in the town center, so they could construct their new central synagogue. The rise of the Nazi party and the Holocaust decimated Jewish life in Germany and the tragic murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games did little to improve Munich’s reputation as hospitable for Jews. In recent years, however, Jews have returned to the city to rebuild their cultural and religious institutions. A Jewish Museum and Jewish Community Center opened in 2007, residents frequent a delicious kosher restaurant specializing in European and German cuisine at the same location, and an architecturally stunning main synagogue was completed in 2003.
One of the toughest things about visiting Munich for Oktoberfest is watching everyone else enjoy the food. German beer is best accompanied by traditional Bavarian delicacies – a treat rarely available to kosher revelers. Unwilling to cede these gastronomic delights, the joyofkosher team prepared an authentic Oktoberfest menu perfect for Shabbat or a biergarten party. Guten Appetit!
Click here for our Kosher German Oktoberfest Menu.