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Oktoberfest, the laws of Reinheitsgebot and a meadow wedding

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-19th century Germany, as well as providing insight into the origins of Oktoberfest, which began Sept. 21 and concludes Oct. 6.

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 adviser and unofficial biographer, were found beneath a false bottom in a wooden trunk apparently abandoned some 50 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?”

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.”

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 150 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 more than 6 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.

Jim Laughren is a wine and beer advocate and educator and the author of “A Beer Drinker’s Guide To Knowing And Enjoying Fine Wine.” A former Miami resident, he lives in Portland, Oregon.

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