Oktoberfest Celebrations in the US
It’s tempting to view Oktoberfest celebrations as elaborate excuses to drink excessively every October. But the truth is that Oktoberfest actually starts in September, which shows the perils of jumping to conclusions about other people’s drinking habits.
Oktoberfest’s origins date back to what was essentially a giant wedding reception. In 1810, Prince Ludwig of the German state of Bavaria invited the entire population of Munich to celebrate his marriage to Princess Therese. The centerpiece of the day was a horserace, and, by all accounts, the 40,000 people who showed up also downed numerous beers. The revelers committed to do it again the next year, and a tradition was born. 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 5 US Oktoberfest events worth checking out.
The undisputed king of American Oktoberfests, this bash was first held in 1976. Today, it draws half a million people annually and has the odd distinction of threatening 2 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: while the German version runs for more than 2 weeks, Cincy packs it into 2 days (Sept. 17-18 this year). However, there’s a “sneak peek” day on Sept. 16, with the traditional Running of the Wieners race (entry fee includes a hot dog bun costume). 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.
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 2011 fest kicks off Sept. 23 with the Festmeister’s Ball, in which the final member of the Oktoberfest Royal Family is announced, and runs through Oct. 1. 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.
Travel writer John Briley fondly recalls partying with the locals in Munich.