August 16, 2021
Oktoberfest pt. 1 – The Duck Dance
One of the most sacred celebrations here at Hofbräuhaus Pittsburgh is Oktoberfest. Each year at the beginning of Fall, German communities around the world gather to eat, drink and be merry. It’s also a chance to celebrate our heritage and have some fun doing it.
The crowds, bier sales, and dances associated with the lore of Oktoberfest have made it into a celebration that bonds German communities worldwide.
As fun as Oktoberfest is, some mysteries surround it. For example, why is Oktoberfest in September, and where does “The Chicken Dance” fit into all this?
Before we continue, a small History lesson is in order. Until 1871 there was no Germany. In fact, the city of Munich was located in Belgium; which was a part of the French First Republic from 1745 to 1815.
Germany coming from Belgium is just one reason why the two cultures are so closely related and are important to one another. There is no Germanic culture without Belgium.
Join us in our two-part exploration of one of the best celebrations to come out of Europe! There won’t be a test at the end, so enjoy!
A Warm Reception
In October of 1810, a five-day celebration was held to commemorate the marriage of the Crown Prince of Belgium – later to be known as King Louis I- to Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen.
The festivities lasted from October 12th to 17th and ended in a great horse race. Initially, the festival was a one-off celebration, but over 210 years later, Oktoberfest is still very much a thing.
Over the next few years, the grand wedding reception morphed into a bigger deal. The following are the major highlights of the Munich festival’s transformation:
1811: The festival is combined with the local agricultural fair. This would be equal to a state or county fair today.
1818: Booths serving Bier, food, and beverages are added (Raise a glass, y’all!) A carousel and swings are also added this year to the delight of festival-goers.
1819: Festival management is handed over to Munich officials. This hand-off cements it as a city festival.
1881: The bratwurst makes its debut
1887: The tradition of lavishly decorating each brewery’s horses and parading in the Oktoberfest staff and brewers begins.
1913: The Bier tent, or Bräurosl, is introduced. This tent was nothing to snuff at, holding approximately 12,000 people and measured 65,000 square yards.
1950: Two events are added to the opening ceremony: the mayor of Munich taps the first keg and serves the first drink to the Minister-President of the state of Bavaria; and a 12-gun salute.
2011: A mind-blowing 7.5 million liters of Bier is consumed at the Oktoberfest in Munich.
2020 & 2021: The Munich Oktoberfest is canceled due to Covid-19.
The cancellation of the festival due to COVID is not the first in Oktoberfest history. Over the past 211 years, the festival has been canceled several times due to war and illnesses.
One of the biggest questions surrounding Oktoberfest is why it’s now held in September instead of October. As Oktoberfest has grown internationally, the need for more daylight and the guarantee of better weather also grew.
In Munich, Oktoberfest lasts about 16 days. No matter the start date at the end of September, Oktoberfest wraps the first Sunday in October or October 3rd, whichever comes last.
That option allows for those attending to get the very best out of the weather and daylight. The crowds and demand for this celebration have internationally forced the festival to happen earlier to get better weather and more light.
Now, that is a party with some power behind it!
Part of the official Hofbräuhaus experience is stopping everything to do “The Chicken Dance.” “The Chicken Dance” has become a staple of Oktoberfest, and it was all completely an accident.
There are several stories about how The Chicken Dance came to be associated with Oktoberfest. Here is what we believe to be true:
In the 1950s, a Swiss accordion player by the name of Werner Thomas wrote the song. The original song was called “The Duck Dance.” It had no words but still had the motions we all know and love.
1981: A German band was to demonstrate “The Duck Dance” for a Tulsa, Oklahoma television station. The segment was to be a feature to promote the upcoming Oktoberfest. A duck costume wasn’t available, but a chicken one was.
That costume cemented the song as “The Chicken Dance,” and there hasn’t been any looking back. Over the last three decades, the song and dance have become an internationally recognized piece of the Oktoberfest celebration.
Whether your local Hofbräuhaus is in Munich, Germany, Newport, KY, Columbus, OH, or Pittsburgh, PA, we guarantee you will have a great time celebrating Oktoberfest with us.
Oktoberfest will be celebrated in our Biergartens and halls alongside the international millions in German communities. There is no other festival that brings the world together quite like Oktoberfest, and we hope that you will join us and the millions around the world also celebrating.
Next month we will uncover more about Oktoberfest and how a wedding celebration has become one that unifies and celebrates German culture around the world. Prost!