How Americans Celebrate Oktoberfest

Oktoberfest dates back to what was essentially a massive wedding reception. In 1810, Prince Ludwig of the German state of Bavaria invited the entire population of Munich to rejoice in his marriage to Princess Therese. The focus of the day was a horse race, and, by all accounts, the 40,000 individuals in attendance also drank large amounts of beer. The revelers committed to do it again the next year, and a tradition was made. It was more than a century later that communities in the US caught on, but now the festivities grow more inventive every year. Here are five US Oktoberfest events worth checking out.

Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati, Cincinnati:
This undisputed king of American Oktoberfests was originally held in 1976. Now, it draws half a million individuals annually and has the odd distinction of threatening two of its own world records every year: the largest chicken dance ever and the largest kazoo band. The dance is often led by real-life rock stars. One drawback is that while the German version runs for more than 2 weeks, Cincinnati packs it into 2 days. The party is in the historic Fountain Square district in downtown Cincinnati. Aside from ample beer tents, the fest includes live German music on 7 stages and more than 30 food vendors.

Oktoberfest, La Crosse, Wisconsin
Wisconsinites are no strangers to German influence. The state is among those with the highest proportion of German Americans in the US. The Oktoberfest lineage in La Crosse, WI, dates back to 1961, and while it’s grown, the fest has preserved a laid-back vibe. The fest kicks off with the Festmaster Ball, in which the final member of the Oktoberfest Royal Family is announced. Other events include multiple parades, a craft beer night, heritage night (celebrating La Crosse’s Teutonic roots), a photo contest (no theme) and the Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest beauty pageant.

Oktoberfest by the Bay, San Francisco
You may not have guessed it, but the Bay Area of California is home to 17 German clubs, all of which are represented at Oktoberfest by the Bay. Headlining the packed oompah music bill, is the 21-piece Chico Bavarian Band, a Blaskapelle (traditional Bavarian brass band). Another draw: fall weather in San Francisco is typically sublime, with sunny days in the 70s and pleasantly cool nights.

Hofbräuhaus, Las Vegas
Hofbräuhaus in Las Vegas kicked off Oktoberfest Sept. 17, and drives the party clear through to Halloween. The Vegas Hofbräuhaus is a reproduction of the world-famous Munich beer hall and to live up to that standard, starts every Oktoberfest weekend with a celebrity keg tapping. Siegfried & Roy are among the many stars who have done the honors in the past. Vintage Bavarian dress, music and high spirits are dominant throughout. Other properties hosting “fest events” include the Golden Nugget, Gordon Biersch Brewery and O’Sheas Casino because, you know, Ireland and Germany are both in Europe.

Oktoberfest, Mt. Angel, OR
This little community located 40 miles south of Portland, OR, with architecture, farmland and countryside starkly reminiscent of Bavaria, was settled by German pioneers in the 1800s. The town’s Oktoberfest, which started in 1966 as a harvest festival, is now the biggest festival in the Northwest, attracting more than 350,000 people for 4 days of live music, free “Kindergarten” rides and shows, street dancing, arts and crafts, traditional biergarten (and weingarten) and more than 50 food chalets.

Be sure to check in your local area as more Oktoberfest celebrations come about every year! Go forth and wear lederhosen, dance oompah, eat bratwurst and, yes, down a few beers. But keep it reasonable: There’s no Novemberfest, so if you forget all the fun you had you’ll have to wait an entire year to relive it.

Leave a Reply