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An Alternate History: Historic Oktoberfest Documents Discovered in Nuremberg Garret

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by Jim LaughrenOktoberfest in Munich Picmonkey


Documents released to the press earlier this week, purportedly written by the unofficial biographer of King Ludwig I of Bavaria, paint a fascinating picture of court life in early and mid-nineteenth century Germany, as well as providing insight into the origins of Oktoberfest.

Heinrich Peeinhosen, spokesperson for Das Mumbler, the well known German language investigative journal, says the bundle of writings, attributed to Johann Wolfgang von de Amóre, Ludwig’s Austro-Italian confidant, personal advisor and unofficial biographer, were found beneath a false bottom in a wooden trunk apparently abandoned some fifty years ago in a fifth-floor garret in the north Bavarian city of Nuremberg. How or why the historically significant papers ended up there is still unknown.

Perhaps most interesting, according to Herr Peeinhosen, is a narrative dating from King Ludwig’s first meetings with his wife-to-be, the Princess Therese Charlotte Luise of Saxony-Hildburghausen. It was the marriage of then-Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese in 1810 that occasioned the inaugural Oktoberfest celebration.

It appears that von de Amóre was given free rein to observe and record even the most intimate conversations between the two. From their first meeting:

“I say,” the Prince saith, his royal regalness all about, “how come we such good fortune as to host a lady as lovely as yourself?”

“It’s Princess, not Lady, Herr Funnypants.”

“Funnypants? I do most strenuously object. This royal bottom is encased, quite comfortably, I might add, in the traditional and, one could even say, noble, attire properly referred to as lederhosen, the durable and manly alternative to mere fabric.”

“Mmm. Whatever. Say, you got anything to drink in this place, besides beer?”

“Our beer, Ms. Snooty-yet-lovely Princess, is the finest and purest to be had. You do know, do you not, that according to Bavarian law in place since 1516, the so-called Reinheitsgebot, only water, barley and hops may be used in the production of beer? You will find no gruit, no mixture of noxious herbs and weeds, to flavor the beer of Bavaria; nor do we take wheat and rye from our bakers, causing the price of bread to soar, when barley alone makes the most delicious of beer.”

“Get off your high horse, Funnypants. When I was dating Napoleon he served me only the finest French Champagne... though he was a sweaty little grub. So, okay, you’re tall, reasonably; you’re handsome, hmm reasonably; and you’re heir to a throne. Where do I fit into this picture?”

The next number of pages was badly water damaged, said Peeinhosen. The Das Mumbler document experts expressed little hope of successfully restoring further pages. Only about fifty of the one hundred and twenty handwritten sheets are fully legible. Between age, being nibbled on by insects and rodents, and stained with mouse feces and tannins leached from the wooden trunk that housed them, it is unlikely that much more of von de Amóre’s recollections will come to light.

Fortunately, among the still decipherable writings is this conversation between Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Theresa on the eve of their wedding:

“Ah, my sweet little daughter of Saxony-Hildburghausen,

 On the morrow you shall be mine. And such Dirndl shall you wear.”

“Don’t get yourself all in a lather, my Prince. It’s going to be a long day.”

“Indeed, and with horse races and copious amounts of beer served to all the good citizens of Munich in celebration. And right outside our city gates.”

“You and your beer. And you mean in that damp, tick-infested meadow?”

“My beer, lest you forget, conforms to the laws of Reinheitsgebot; and that meadow will be a scene of such rejoicing as to carry your name, my love, into the future.”

“Come on, Ludwig, can it with this Reinheitsgebot stuff. You think that’s ever going to last? In this town? Ha! And that creepy, crawly meadow will carry my name over my dead body.”

The Prince strode in princely manner from one end of the drawing room to the other.

“I wish only that you had more faith, sweet Theresa. Thousands will join us tomorrow and one day, who knows, six million perhaps will continue the wondrous festival we are set to launch with wedded bliss.”

“Get hold of yourself, Ludwig. We’ll be lucky if half a dozen show up on the morrow. And six million? That’s twice the population of all Bavaria. Surely you’ve taken great quantities of some nefarious substance into your head! Have you been sneaking into the royal outhouse again?”

The pages following are less legible, with references to “seeing a man about a horse,” cited as a possible source of the famous saying. Unfortunately, this attribution is inconclusive as there was indeed a horse race, one which lasted for the first one hundred and fifty years of Oktoberfest, until 1960, and so seeing a man about a horse was a clear possibility. At the same time, huge volumes of beer have been consumed almost from the beginning....

Today, the world’s most popular festival, attended by well over six million visitors, is still held on the Theresienwiese festival grounds (translation: Theresa’s meadow). Only beer made within the city of Munich according to the Reinheitsgebot qualifies as Oktoberfest Beer, the allowed brews being Augustiner-Bräu, Hacker-Pschorr-Bräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner-Bräu, Spatenbräu and Hofbräu-München.

Should you have the opportunity, says Herr Peeinhosen, a visit to Oktoberfest is a most educational experience and one that every beer aficionado should have on his or her bucket list.

laughren headshot Picmonkey


Jim Laughren, CWE, wine and beer advocate and educator, is both a fun guy to drink with and the author of A Beer Drinker’s Guide To Knowing And Enjoying Fine Wine, which was recently reviewed in Taste California Travel's Book Section.

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