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Germany Octoberfest: The Celebration Begins

Oktoberfest

JUERGEN BAETZ   09/22/12 01:15 PM ET  AP

BERLIN — The world's largest beer festival opened Saturday in Germany as Munich's mayor tapped the first keg to kick off the 16-day Oktoberfest, known for its oompah music and traditional costumes.

With only two blows of his hammer and a cry of "O'zapft is" – "It's Tapped" – Mayor Christian Ude inserted the tap into the first keg, opening the 179th Oktoberfest to the cheering of thousands who were waiting to be served their first beer.

More than 6 million guests from around the world are expected to descend on the beer tents of Munich to celebrate the 16-day Oktoberfest extravaganza.

Last year's visitors consumed almost 8 million two-pint (one-liter) mugs of beer. This year a mug, called "Mass" in German, of the malty pale beer made exclusively by Munich's breweries sells at up to (EURO)9.50 ($12.30).

The Oktoberfest started with a wedding party: Just over 200 years ago, Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig celebrated his royal nuptials with a big public bash that was such a hit it became an annual event. Nowadays, it is now known worldwide for its towering mugs of beer, oompah music, men wearing traditional Bavarian Lederhosen leather shorts and women in bright costumes.

While the core of the Oktoberfest remains the same, with Dirndl-clad waitresses delivering steins, its flavor has evolved over the years. A local festival with small beer gardens has mushroomed into a major international event featuring about a dozen cavernous beer tents, some seating about 10,000 singing, inebriated revelers at a time.

Last year, the Oktoberfest guests ate around 500,000 chickens, 120 oxen and an unknown number of large doughy pretzels at the festival.

The fairgrounds of the "Wiesn," as Oktoberfest is locally known, are spread out over about 75 acres (30 hectares) and can accommodate hundreds of thousands of people at a time, and German authorities keep security tight, although, they say, no concrete threat exists.

"I want it to be a peaceful Wiesn, and that the weather improves," Ude said.

Many tents were already full at midday, German news agency dapd reported, but rain ensured that there was still enough space in the outdoor beer gardens.

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Juergen Baetz can be reached on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jbaetz

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  • Musicians walk through the rain as they take part in the traditional costumes and riflemen parade of the Oktoberfest beer festival at the Theresienwiese fair grounds in Munich, southern Germany, on September 18, 2011. (CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Revelers covered against rain try to kiss each other during day 2 of the Oktoberfest 2011 beer festival. (Photo by Johannes Simon/Getty Images)

  • Musicians play their instruments inside a beer tent during day 2 of the Oktoberfest 2011 beer festival. (Photo by Alexandra Beier/Getty Images)

  • Revelers dressed with traditional Bavarian Lederhose trousers enjoy drinking beer at bBraeusrosl beer tent. (Photo by Johannes Simon/Getty Images)

  • (CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • (CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • (CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • (CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • (CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • (CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Young visitors rest during the opening ceremony of the famous Bavarian "Oktoberfest" beer festival in Munich, southern Germany, on Saturday, Sept.17, 2011. More than six million guests from around the world are expected to descend on the beer tents of Munich to celebrate Oktoberfest over the next 17 days. Last year's visitors consumed some 7.1 million 2-pint (1-liter) mugs of beer. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

  • (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

  • Germany Oktoberfest

    A waitress carries beer mugs in the Hofbraeuhaus-tent after the opening of Oktoberfest. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

  • Visitors lift their beer mugs in the Hofbraeuhaus-tent. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

  • (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

  • (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

  • (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

  • (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

  • Hostess Melanie presents new beer mugs for the 2011 edition of the world famous Oktoberfest beer festival on August 25, 2011 in Munich. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

  • Workers remove tables at an entrance of a Oktoberfest beer festival tent. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

  • A man prepares flowers at the entrance of a Oktoberfest beer festival tent. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

  • An empty Oktoberfest beer festival tent. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

  • A man prepares a fairground ride. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

  • A man works on a lion sculpture, the logo of the Bavarian Loewenbraeu brewery. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

  • A woman arranges gingerbread hearts in a booth. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

  • Dennis Malura (C) of 1860 Muenchen smiles with his team mates after fitting a traditional Bavarian Lederhose costume at the Loden-Frey costume shop. Photo: Bongarts/Getty Images

  • Workers prepare a 7-meter-tall effigy of a beer mug to be lifted onto a 30-meter tower next to the Paulaner tent. Photo: Getty Images

  • A customer is provided with a traditional Bavarian Dirndl dress at a shop selling Dirndl dresses and leather trousers. Photo: Getty Images

  • Traditional Bavarian Dirndl Photo: Getty Images

  • A man works on a booth in preparation of the Oktoberfest beer festival at the Theresienwiese fair ground in Munich. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

  • A man works on the floor of a beer tent. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

  • The Paulaner beer tent. Photo: Getty Images

  • The Hofbraeuhaus beer tent. Photo: Getty Images

  • The Schottenhamel beer tent. Photo: Getty Images

  • The Hippodrom beer tent. Photo: Getty Images

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Filed by Andrew Burmon  |