The first keg has been tapped and the beer is flowing freely at the massive two-week-long Oktoberfest celebration in Munich, Bavaria, Germany. More than 6 million people will descend upon the city to enjoy parades, music, rides, and of course, to guzzle nearly 7 million liters of beer — but revelers can not live on beer alone.
Stirring up the thirst of these stein-swinging merrymakers?
The humble pretzel.
The Bavarian pretzel is a classic Oktoberfest secular snack, but it is said to have angelic origins. The exact history of the pretzel is unclear, but the most common legend says that sometime after 610 A.D., Benedictine monks of Bourgogne and Bavaria gave pretzels as a reward to children who said their prayers. (Germans called them bretzel, which is probably where the English name came from.) The twisted shape of the pretzels is said to represent the shape of two arms in prayer. Some stories even claim, the three open spaces in a pretzel represent the Holy Trinity.
The simple recipe of water and flour was favored during Lent and Easter when Christians were forbidden to eat meat, dairy, or eggs. Pretzels were even once hidden on Easter morning just as eggs are often hidden today.
But pretzel’s piousness doesn’t end there.
According to Nashville Oktoberfest, even pretzel necklaces are said to have spiritual significance. In 1521, strict beer brewing laws called the Reinheitsgrebot (literally “purity order”) began restricting German brewers to just three ingredients: barely, water, and hops. A secret sect of German beer-brewing monks put pretzels on a string and wore them close to their heart — the three open spaces symbolizing their worship of the “Holy Trinity” of beer ingredients.
By the 1600s, the interlocking loops of the pretzel had come to symbolize love, with couples using pretzels at their wedding to seal their matrimony. This use of pretzels may also be at the origin of the common phrase “tying the knot.” In Germany specifically, pretzels became known as a symbol of good luck, and children especially, would wear pretzel necklaces on New Year’s as a wish for prosperity in the year ahead.
Thus, with the first Oktoberfest in 1810 — when prince Louis I of Bavaria married Theresa of Saxony-Hildrughausen — it’s reasonable to believe that pretzels played a big part in their celebration.
And the tradition has continued.
Each year, hundreds of people have returned to celebrate Oktoberfest in the spirit of Louis and Theresa’s big bash and enjoy different types of German beer, local dishes, and of course, pretzels.
And traditional or not, quite frankly, there’s just no denying that salt-studded pretzels are the perfect complement to a robust beer stein overflowing with authentic German beer.
Prost to pretzels and cheers to beers!
Cant make it to Munich this year, try one of the Best Oktoberfest in the U.S.