Welcome to the biggest beer festival in the world, Oktoberfest. The streets of Munich become magnets for over 6 million visitors every year, so that the beer drinking frenzy can finally begin. While Oktoberfest started as a local tradition, the festival today is a sought out event world wide, attracting more and more tourists every year. What’s their motivation to join the party? Surely it cannot be as simple as getting served millions of litres of beer.
In the present day, Oktoberfest is a fusion of beer drinking, eating grilled sausages, pretzels and dancing to (not only) folk music. The psychology of Oktoberfest is deeply rooted in its cultural origins. What exactly is culture, how does it influence us and what happens when different cultures merge together at events such as Oktoberfest? Keep on reading to find out more!
Oktoberfest as a cultural ritual
Traditions like Oktoberfest are what shapes cultures around the world. They bring people together and provide a change from the routine of the everyday. Culture is what members of a specific social group have in common. This can be language, religion, values or social habits. Culture shapes our personalities and beliefs not only during childhood but also throughout our adult years. It sets norms for our lives and provides guidelines as to what is appropriate and what is not. While wearing Dirndls with relatively short skirts may be perfectly normal in Germany, this may not be acceptable in other cultures. What country you come from is a simple way to divide people into different social groups. Imagine you are at Oktoberfest, are you a local or a tourist? A simple piece of information about your origin provides context and gives a hint about who you are.
Where the tradition began
Oktoberfest actually began as a royal wedding. On the 12th October 1810 the crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen and people of Munich were invited to join the celebration. As a part of the event, a horse race was held to mark the grand finale. The horse races were repeated the following year and gave life to the tradition of Oktoberfest. It is cultural rituals like this one, that have helped bring communities of people closer together and that (especially in the past) have increased one community's chances for survival, in comparison to communities whose social bonds were not as strong. While cultural traditions help communities thrive as a whole, being a part of a social group also provides a support system for each member individually.
Oktoberfest is a cultural tradition but why are tourists so crazy about it? While drinking beer in large quantities is definitely a big part of the motivation, it would probably not be enough to travel half way across the world. It’s above all about the experience. Traveling is easier and cheaper than ever before and for this reason we have the opportunity to taste test different cultures. The millennial novelty seeking generation is actually a social group in itself. Traveling is a way to learn and experience something new and for millennials in particular, it is a way of life.
In addition, the internet and social media provide the perfect marketing tool for Oktoberfest organisers. Photos of people in dirndls and lederhosen, tables full of humongous glasses of beer and smiling faces in a festive atmosphere are one hell of an advertisement! Oktoberfest seems to be the ideal way to experience the German-Bavarian culture. There is nothing more authentic, is there? That's the reason why we add visiting Oktoberfest on our bucket lists or better yet, buy flight tickets to Munich in time for the next event.
Open up your mind
Getting exposed to foreign cultures has a number of positive effects on your life. It is true that at first stepping outside of the comfort zone of your own culture may lead to feelings of anxiety and uneasiness. However, coming into contact with different cultures provides you with new experiences, beliefs, world views and ways of thinking. Research shows that multicultural experiences even increase your creativity. Fostering new thinking patterns can be life changing for a number of areas in your life. No matter if we are talking about our careers, love lives, relationships or individual aspirations we have for ourselves, from time to time we can all benefit from a change of mindset.
Oktoberfest, just like traveling abroad in general, is a way to broaden our minds. Meeting someone from a different culture than your own always provides you with a new perspective of the world. While at Oktoberfest you not only have the opportunity to become better accustomed with the Bavarian culture, with the number of tourists flying in every year you also get the chance to expand your horizons beyond the German borders.
Cheers to the people
Oktoberfest is the perfect example of how culture and cultural traditions are crucial in creating and maintaining community life. Today, Munich becomes a cultural melting pot to forge communities of people not only with bavarian heritage but to connect minds from all around the world. At least for a couple of days every October. Oktoberfest reminds us that traditions and relationships matter. After all, it is people who have the power to shift our view of the world and even change our lives.