You probably already know a few things about Oktoberfest. You’re likely aware that it’s a German festival that involves a lot of beer drinking. You can probably picture people wearing traditional outfits (lederhosen, ftw!) while holding large steins of lager. And maybe you’ve actually seen pictures of large crowds gathering in German-style beer gardens to celebrate.
But did you know that the long-standing tradition of Oktoberfest is actually primarily celebrated in…September? Read on to find out why Oktoberfest is in September and where to celebrate Oktoberfest in the Midwest.
A Germanic Tradition
Germans have been celebrating Oktoberfest for over two centuries. The origin of this annual festival dates back to 1810, when the city of Munich held a large, multi-day party to celebrate the marriage of Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese. The citizens of Munich were invited to attend various events following the wedding, including parades, beer tastings, and horse races.
The event was so popular that the city decided to repeat the festival at the same time the following year. The party grew year by year, adding new elements to the celebration. In 1811, organizers added an agricultural show to the festival. Carnival rides and booths started appearing on the festival grounds in 1816. The traditional, large-scale beer tent was introduced in the early 1900s.
In 1872, festival organizers decided to move the start of the celebration to September due to October’s shorter and colder days. From that point forward, Oktoberfest would begin on the first Saturday after September 15th and end on the first Sunday in October.
The Heart of Munich
The annual celebration in Munich continues to be the official Oktoberfest. Each year, the festival begins when the Mayor of Munich taps the first keg and declares, “It’s tapped.” In German, of course. It is the largest folk festival in the world, attracting over 6 million visitors each year.
Today, Munich’s festival includes costume parades, roller coasters and Ferris wheels, food tents, and folk music concerts. Also, incredible amounts of beer. Revelers consume nearly 2 million gallons of beer every year as part of the celebration.
Oktoberfest in the Midwest
Luckily, you don’t necessarily have to travel all the way to Munich to celebrate Oktoberfest. German immigrants around the world use Oktoberfest as an opportunity to celebrate their history and culture. And plenty of communities use it as an excuse to host a great party! Here are some of the best Oktoberfest celebrations in the Midwest.
Amana Colonies Oktoberfest
The Amana Colonies are a series of small villages located in east-central Iowa. Founded by German immigrants in the 19th century, today, they’re primarily a tourist attraction. And every year, these villages are home to a traditional Oktoberfest celebration.
Amana’s Oktoberfest, like the original, kicks off with a keg-tapping ceremony. The festivities also include a brat-eating contest, a yodeling competition, and, of course, plenty of German beer. You do need tickets to attend, so make sure to plan ahead for this weekend of fun!
Das Beste Oktoberfest
The name says it all in regard to this Wisconsin Oktoberfest celebration. Billed as the longest-running Oktoberfest in the Midwest, Das Beste Oktoberfest has been an annual event in the city of La Crosse since 1961.
La Crosse typically holds its festivities on the final weekend of September. The party includes multiple parades, plenty of polka music, and a traditional biergarten. A new Oktoberfest Royal Family is crowned every year to honor community leaders in La Crosse. If you’re looking for a family-friendly Oktoberfest celebration, Das Beste Oktoberfest is the place for you.
New Ulm Oktoberfest
Recently rated as one of the best Oktoberfests in the U.S., New Ulm’s celebration closely mirrors the original. And this version actually takes place in October! New Ulm’s festival is always held on the first two weekends of October across multiple locations.
The event calendar for this Minnesota Oktoberfest includes everything from axe throwing to grape stomping, along with lots of live music and plenty of traditional dress. If you’re feeling strong, you can participate in the stein-holding contest — start working those delts now!
A beautiful fall destination, the Missouri town of Hermann celebrates its German heritage throughout October. Enjoy the changing fall colors, along with plenty of local food and beer every weekend of the month.
Hermann may be a small town, but they go big for their Oktoberfest. You’ll find traditional German food at nearly every restaurant in town, a historic “Festhalle” set up on the grounds of a local hotel, and plenty of opportunities to hear live German folk music. If you’re looking to lean into your German heritage, this should be a can’t-miss event on your calendar.
Norfolk’s Oktoberfest doesn’t have as long a tradition as some others, but it has rapidly made a name for itself. Billed as a “family festival,” this Northeast Nebraska celebration mixes fun competitions with live entertainment and a lively beer garden.
This year brings the 11th version of Norfolk’s festival, held over a late September weekend. It’s a great mix of traditional German culture with local flavor (Saturday’s festivities include a live watch of the Husker football game).
Twin Cities Oktoberfest
The Twin Cities celebration eschews traditional German beer in favor of homegrown brews. This year’s version will feature more than 20 beers and ciders on tap from top local breweries. In fact, the whole festival is dedicated to celebrating all things local (while dressed in 19th-century German clothing). There’s also plenty of live entertainment and great food options.
As with the Twin Cities celebration, Milwaukee’s Oktoberfest is relatively new. But it’s already one you don’t want to miss, especially if you’re in it for the food. Provided by local restaurant, Kegel’s Inn, you’ll find traditional German dishes like rollbraten and bienenstich (delicious pork sandwiches and cream-filled pastry bread, respectively).
You’ll also be well entertained. There’s a wiener dog pageant, a cornhole tournament, and a brat-eating competition. Not to mention traditional German dancing, along with traditional and modern live music. And don’t worry — there’s also plenty of German beer on tap!
Now that you know why Oktoberfest is in September and where to find the best festivals in the Midwest, there’s nothing holding you back. It’s time to dress in your traditional best and hoist up that stein. Prost!
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