Oktoberfest … right now? Yep, it’s possible with SCIENCE.

You’re probably familiar with Oktoberfest, the international festival held annually in late September and early October in Munich. It’s a family affair and a place to eat and party. Bavarians celebrate their heritage by wearing elaborate native costumes — think Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, but instead of cowboy hats and boots, men of every age sport lederhosen. People go for the day to see the livestock show, ride carnival rides, eat lots of unhealthy food, and drink beer. Lots and lots of beer.


When I arrived, my first question was “Where are the beer tents?” They were actually right in front of me, but they looked nothing like tents. They are elaborate structures with brightly colored paint and moving figurines. The insides are decorated with banners, flowers and chandeliers.

The Hoffbrau House and Lowenbrau tents are very popular for the partying crowd. The ump-pa-pa bands play traditional German beer-drinking tunes and the popular songs of the day. Seemingly every 15 minutes “Ein Prosit” is played and everyone stands on their bench and raises their mugs to the unofficial Oktoberfest theme song.

Oktoberfest traditionally starts in the third weekend in September and ends the first Sunday of October. (There are many laughs when the Americans show up throughout October for the celebration.)

HMNS celebrates the history and science behind Oktoberfest and beer every year at Saint Arnold Brewery with founder Brock Wagner and his beer-making mentor Scott Birdwell of Defalco’s Home Wine & Beer Supplies. This year’s date is Sept. 25. If you want to raise your stein with us, click here for more info and to purchase tickets. The deadline for ticket purchases is Sept. 19.

From the Munich Tourist Office:

Crown Prince Ludwig, later to become King Ludwig I, was married to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810. The citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities held on the fields in front of the city gates to celebrate the happy royal event. The fields were renamed Theresienwiese (“Theresa Fields”) to honor the Crown Princess, although the locals have since abbreviated the name simply to “Wiesn.” Horse races in the presence of the royal family marked the close of the event that was celebrated as a festival for the whole of Bavaria. The decision to repeat the horse races in subsequent years gave rise to the tradition of Oktoberfest.

In 1811, an added feature to the horse races was the first Agricultural Show, designed to boost Bavarian agriculture. The horse races, which were the oldest – and at one time – the most popular event of the festival are no longer held today. But the Agricultural Show is still held every three years during the Oktoberfest on the southern part of the festival grounds.

In the first few decades, the choices of amusements were sparse. In 1818, the first carousel and two swings were set up. Visitors were able to quench their thirst at small beer stands, which grew rapidly in number. In 1896 the beer stands were replaced by the first beer tents and halls set up by the enterprising landlords with the backing of the breweries. The remainder of the festival site was taken up by a fun-fair. The range of carousels offered was already increasing rapidly in the 1870’s as the fairground trade continued to grow and develop in Germany.

Today, the Oktoberfest in Munich is the largest festival in the world, with an international flavor characteristic of the 20th century. At the foot of the Bavaria Statue, adjacent to the Huge Oktoberfest grounds there are also carousels, roller coasters and all the spectacular fun for the enjoyment and excitement of visitors of all ages.

The festivities are accompanied by a program of events, including the Grand Entry of the Oktoberfest Landlords and Breweries, the Costume and Riflemen’s Procession, and a concert involving all the brass bands represented at the “Wiesn.”

The Oktoberfest celebrated its 200th Anniversary in 2011, only wars and cholera epidemics have briefly interrupted the yearly beer celebration.

You will learn more beer history at HMNS’ Oktoberfest: The History & Science of Beer on Sept. 25 at Saint Arnold. Yes, that Saint Arnold: the patron saint of brewers.

Can’t wait until Sept. 25 to learn more about this saintly man? Click here.

What did Leonardo da Vinci eat?

We all know what he painted, invented, and thought – but in this fascinating guest post, Merrianne Timko lets us in on what fueled Leonardo da Vinci’s fabled genius – a sneak peek into the Museum’s upcoming Cultural Feast.

Snoot fun
Creative Commons License photo credit: Phil Romans

Many of the foods we eat today –  including tomatoes, corn, potatoes, and chocolate, were “discovered” by explorers to the New World, and introduced into the European diet only after Leonardo’s death in 1519.  

Leonardo’s manuscripts for the time when he lived in Florence from 1500-1506 provide us with several lists of food items which are often interpreted as shopping lists or accounting entries for his household.  Although not all of the entries are in Leonardo’s handwriting, items listed include: good beef, eggs, wine, meat, mulberries, mushrooms, salad, fruit, flour, bran, herbs, buttermilk, and melon. 

Although Leonardo designed stage sets and mechanical devices for The Duke of Milan’s court banquets – which were renowned for their sumptuous dishes – Leonardo’s writings reflect moderation regarding food and wine.  One excerpt reads:

To keep in health this rule is wise.
Eat only when you want and sup light.
Chew well, and let what you take be well cooked and simple…
(Codex Atlanticus)

Some of Leonardo’s  manuscripts suggest that he may have preferred a more vegetarian type of diet, although vegetarianism was somewhat controversial during his time period. 

Creative Commons License photo credit: filologanoga

Leonardo’s interest in diet may be seen in a list of books that he owned around 1499, including an edition of Bartolomeo Sacchi’s work On Right Pleasure first published in 1470.   Sacchi,  perhaps better known as Platina, relied heavily on ancient Greek and Roman writings regarding the medical properties of food, and proper consumption.  Thus, Leonardo’s mention of parsley, mint, wild thyme, burnt bread, vinegar, pepper, salt, may not simply be a recipe for a salad, but a remedy for a stomach condition. 

Drawings of edible plants, including blackberries, are found in some of Leonardo’s manuscripts.  In addition, he used citron trees, olive trees, fruits, and nuts as the subjects of some of his fables. 

Reference should also be made to Leonardo’s Last Supper painted in the refectory of S. Maria delle Grazie in Milan – the most well-known depiction of a subject that became popular during the late 15th century in Italian art. 

With few Biblical details regarding what was eaten at the Last Supper, Leonardo depicted a menu largely of his choosing.  Despite the poor preservation of this fresco, a scholar has recently identified one of the dishes served to be grilled eel with orange slices – a popular Renaissance dish of the time, and perhaps a favorite of the Duke of Milan, or even Leonardo da Vinci himself!

Ms. Timko has combined her background in art history and archaeology with her interest in food and wines in order to research topics in Culinary History. She’ll share her knowledge of the foods da Vinci and his contemporaries would have enjoyed during the upcoming Cultural Feast, Leonardo’s Renaissance Table.