What image does the word “Oktoberfest” invoke? I bet it’s wursts and pitchers overflowing with beer. If I’m spot on, then the origins of Oktoberfest may surprise you.
Oktoberfest is a yearly festival held in Munich, Germany that has made its way to Kitchener-Waterloo. The tradition of having an annual Oktoberfest started way back in 1810 when Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese. To honor this union, the citizens of Munich were invited to a celebration in the fields opposite the city gates. The decision to have the festival the next year was what made Oktoberfest an annual event. Initially Oktoberfest consisted of a parade, a horse race, singing and beer and wine tasting. However, over the years, more events were added to the annualized festival such as bowling and tree climbing. In recent times there are pop and electric music concerts that take place.
So how did this festival become such an important event in Kitchener-Waterloo?
The Waterloo region is home to a large population of Canadians with German roots. This tradition was brought over by their ancestors who settled here and has become a large-scale event. It is the largest Oktoberfest outside of Germany! Oktoberfest in Waterloo starts the Friday before Thanksgiving and carries on until the Saturday after. The Thanksgiving parade that takes place is the only major Canadian Thanksgiving parade.
The first Oktoberfest celebration that took place in the region was at the Concordia Club in Kitchener in 1969. It began on Tuesday, October 14th and went until Saturday. However, the largest Bavarian festival in North America had humble beginnings; the first one was organized using just $200. It has nonetheless stayed true to its aim of preserving the German culture through all these years.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Oktoberfest in Kitchener-Waterloo. The celebrations, like every year, officially start with the keg-tapping. This year to mark the milestone, there are more events than usual. A new festhalle has been added to accommodate an additional 4,500 people. As ever, the star of all festivities is the parade, which goes for 5 km and has floats, clowns, and dancers. Nearly 150,000 people attend the parade yearly and nearly 1.8 million people tune in to watch the parade on their TVs. This year in addition to the marching bands from Canada and the United States, there will be a couple of new ones, including one called OktoberCorps.
The festival brings in an amount close to $22 million (according to reports from 2013 and 2014). It definitely does a lot to boost the local economy. With more than 700,000 people attending the celebrations yearly, it’s perhaps the most revenue-generating event of the region. Oktoberfest also does its bit in giving back to society by helping charities and non-profits raise funds during the festival.
Oktoberfest, though synonymous with beer drinking, has a lot of events that don’t involve drinking. If not for the sausages and fancy head gear, I’d suggest going this year to mark the golden anniversary and for Onkel Hans – the Oktoberfest mascot – who is perhaps the most popular celebrity of the event.