Every year when the leaves start to change color, the thought of Oktoberfest pops into many people’s minds. And with it the important question: “Where should we go?” Because I am German and hence considered an expert, questions and requests inevitably find their way into my ear or inbox. Case in point, two years ago, my team at work insisted rather convincingly that I should organize an Oktoberfest for them. The fact that as a Northerner I had never ever been to an authentic Oktoberfest, let alone the famous Munich event, was met with slight incredulity and then was shrugged off as easily and quickly as you can say Prost!
Another assumption is that each and every German woman has a wardrobe featuring a Dirndl dress. Here comes another disappointment, I am afraid. When my friends – no matter their nationality – throw an Oktoberfest party in their backyard these days, this German often ends up being the only one without the appropriate outfit. Go figure. (OK, I did have Lederhosen when I was a kid and must confess that I loved those! But how they ended up in a village near Hannover is a story for another day.)
In order to explain the fact that the Oktoberfest is a Southern thing, we need a bit of history and context.
A local, royal event
The origins of Munich’s Oktoberfest go back to the royal wedding of Kronprinz Ludwig and princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen in 1810. The citizens of Munich were invited to attend horse races, performances, and a parade on a field outside the city gates. It was named Theresienwiese (Theresa’s meadow) to honor the princess, a name that is still used today. In 1811, the celebrations were repeated and thus began the tradition of the legendary Oktoberfest.
For the longest time and due to these origins, the Oktoberfest was a truly Bavarian event, unlike some religious or harvest festivals that had more of a national character. However, this has changed! Today, the Oktoberfest is an international phenomenon. Not only do millions of people travel from across the globe to visit Munich and consume millions of liters of beer in the famous festival tents, but the idea of the Oktoberfest took a firm hold in all corners of the world. First, they were organized by German immigrant communities, which is why in the US you find many in the original places of German settlement (New York, Chicago, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, San Antonio, Germantown, etc.). But these days, you don’t need Germans to throw a beer party! People everywhere are perfectly happy to adopt popular festivals and just make them their own. Consider Halloween – that one is making its way around the world as we speak.
Bay Area festivities
If you want to experience an Oktoberfest in the Bay Area (and beyond), you have plenty of choices. As a matter of fact, there are so many, I haven’t tried and tested them all yet. But here is a (very incomplete) list to get you started. And note, despite the name, Oktoberfests mostly happen in September, some even in August. Nomen is not always omen.
The biggest event in our area with tent, music, and all is the Oktoberfest by the Bay in San Francisco. Check it out here: https://oktoberfestbythebay.com/
The oldest German restaurant on the West Coast, Schroeder’s in San Francisco, is holding its 125th edition of their Oktoberfest this year. Wow! The event is free but you can buy tokens in advance. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/125th-oktoberfest-block-party-tickets-46540668392
Some other sizeable parties happen in Redwood City https://www.redwoodcity.org/residents/redwood-city-events/festivals-holiday-events/oktoberfest, Mountain View http://mvoktoberfest.com, and Monterey www.oktoberfestmontereybay.com/.
There are outdoor Oktoberfests that are based on the idea of your typical summer Art & Wine festival. One of these is the Oktoberfest in Campbell: https://www.downtowncampbell.com/event/oktoberfest-downtown-campbell-2018
There are parties happening in breweries like Das Brew, http://www.dasbrewinc.com/events, or wineries like Schug https://www.sonomacounty.com/sonoma-events/oktoberfest-schug-winery. And of course, the German American Chamber of Commerce has one too https://www.facebook.com/gaccoktoberfest/
If food is your focus, check out the Oktoberfests held or organized on weekends by our many fine German restaurants. Here are just some examples:
Ludwig’s German Table (San Jose): https://www.ludwigssj.com/
Teske’s Germania (San Jose): http://teskes-germania.com/about-us/entertainment/
Tyrolean Inn (Ben Lomond): https://www.tyroleaninn.com/oktoberfest-2018
Speisekammer (Alameda): http://www.speisekammer.com/
So there you have it, our part of California is ripe with choices. And even if you are traveling, there is probably an Oktoberfest happening near you right now, including in places where you might least expect them. How do I know? A few years ago, I was staying with my folks at the historic Camp Richardson resort on the peaceful shores of Lake Tahoe, when I was rudely awakened at 5AM by beer kegs being rolled down a truck ramp…
So throw on your garb (or not) and head over to the nearest tent for beer and oom-pah music!
Now all you need to know is how to toast in German! For a casual toast like cheers, try Prosit or the shorter Prost! If you want to be a tad more elegant, make it a Zum Wohl (pronounced like “tsoom vohl”, which means to your health)!
Oh, and the Oktoberfest I cooked up for my team was a success. Just in case you wondered 🙂
What are your favorite Oktoberfest memories or places? Please feel free to share in the comments.