MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Toasting Oktoberfest

These festive tributes to Bavarian tradition put the oompah into fall.

The Oktoberfest parade in Amana.

© Beth Gauper

A parade is part of Oktoberfest in Iowa's Amana Colonies.

When fall arrives, we get a sudden urge to hoist a stein of beer, eat a grilled bratwurst and listen to red-cheeked men in little felt hats play the accordion.

Fall belongs to the Germans, who streamed into the Upper Midwest in the 1850s and still are the largest ethnic group in every state. Which is a good thing, because Germans like to have fun.

In October 1810, they had so much fun at the wedding of Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen and Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria, held in a meadow near Munich, that they decided to do it every year.

Emigrants to America brought the tradition with them, along with their recipes for beer and sausage, and started hundreds of smaller Oktoberfests all across the Midwest.

The closest in spirit to Munich's beer-drinking bacchanalia is La Crosse's nine-day celebration, held since 1961 in a city that once had seven breweries. 

But like most Oktoberfests, it's more of a family event now. Dachshund races have become popular, along with such American staples as wagon rides and pumpkin decorating.

You'll also find typical German strength competitions, such as Hammerschlagen (driving nails into the top of a barrel) and Maßkrugstemme (holding up full steins of beer).

To catch the best weather, Munich's Oktoberfest now starts in September, and so do most in the Upper Midwest.

Here are some of the best in 2014.

And don't forget to check at your local breweries and German restaurants; many of them hold Oktoberfests, too.

Trip Tips: Oktoberfest celebrations in the Upper Midwest

Admission to most Oktoberfests is free, but some charge a small fee. If you don't like to drink out of plastic cups, bring your own stein. 

Narren at Minneapolis Oktoberfest.

© Beth Gauper

New Ulm's Narren, folk figures with wooden masks, are popular at Oktoberfests.

For more about German traditions, see Heritage travel: Germany.

Sept. 5-6, 12-13, 19-20 and 26-27, Oktoberfest in Glendale, Wis. This festival on the northern edge of Milwaukee, held by the Bavarian Soccer Club and United German Societies, is the oldest in the Midwest. It includes folk dancing, sing-alongs, yodeling and brass bands.

Typical German festival foods are served, including spanferkel, or spit-roasted young pig, and rollbraten, sliced roast pork on a Kaiser roll. It takes place in a large pavilion in Heidelberg Park.

Sept. 10-12, Berghoff Oktoberfest in Chicago. Since 1985, the Berghoff restaurant in the Loop has been holding this free party in Federal Plaza.

Sept. 12-14, Oktoberfest Minneapolis. There's keg bowling, stein hoisting, a long dog derby and bratwurst-eating contest at this festival near Target Center, in the warehouse district.

Sept. 13, Oktoberfest at the Essen Haus in Madison. This beer-centric restaurant near Capitol Square offers German food, music and family games.

Sept. 19-20, Oktoberfest in Plymouth, Wis. There's dancing, food and music at the Plymouth Arts Center.

Sept. 19-20, Oktoberfest in Cedar Falls, Iowa. There will be polka music, family fun and a beer garden at Gateway Park.

Sept. 19-21, Oktoberfest in Chippewa Falls, Wis. On the fairgrounds, there will be a kids' costume contest, card tournaments, a German car show, dumpling demonstrations and parades at 3 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.

Sept. 19-21, Oktoberfest in Peoria, Ill. The German American Central Society hosts this fest, which includes a puppet theater, folk dancing, German lessons and log-sawing and stein-holding contests.

Sept. 20, Oktoberfest in St. Paul. There will be dachshund races and cannon firing in addition to folk dancing and music on Rice Street, on the grounds of St. Bernard's Parish.

Sept. 20 and 27 and Oct. 4, Oktoberfest in Lake Villa, Ill. This indoor-outdoor festival on three Saturdays in Chicago's far northern suburbs is sponsored by the American Aid Society of German Descendants at the German/American Cultural Center.

Sept. 25-28, Oktoberfest in La Crosse, Wis. There's non-stop music, food and carnival rides at this large festival on riverside fairgrounds, plus the Maple Leaf Parade, German Heritage Day and the Torchlight Parade.

A German brass band plays.

© Beth Gauper

The Elk River German Band plays at Oktoberfest in Minneapolis.

Sept. 26-27, Oktoberfest in Des Moines. Take polka-dancing lessons, enter the Bier Maiden or stein-holding contests and win costume prizes at this outdoor fest under tents downtown.

Sept. 26-28, Oktoberfest in New Glarus, Wis. The festival in this Swiss town southwest of Madison features an antique tractor pull, horse-drawn wagon rides, a giant pot of cheese fondue and, of course, New Glarus beer.

Sept. 26-28, Oktoberfest Chicago. This festival features beer, brats and bands under a big top in the Lakeview neighborhood at St. Alphonsus church, founded by German immigrants in 1882.

Sept. 26-27, Octoberfest in Appleton, Wis. This large downtown festival is more general civic celebration than heritage festival, with an arts and crafts show, car show and music on five stages.

Sept. 27, Mill City Oktoberfest in Minneapolis. On the downtown riverfront, Mill City Museum and Mill City Farmers Market team up to offer German music and food from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Sept. 27, Northside Oktoberfest in Iowa City, Iowa. The Iowa City Brewfest is part of this festival, which includes keg bowling, a yodeling contest, hammerschlagen and Munich bar wench challenge as well as a SodaFest with pop and stage entertainment for kids.

Oct. 3-5, Oktoberfest in Amana, Iowa. This formerly communal village in eastern Iowa features a brat-eating contest and the Eisenmann (Iron Man) competition, in which teammates roll kegs, walk a balance beam with full steins of beer, saw logs and keep full steins of beer lifted.

There's a parade at 10 a.m. Saturday, plus artisan demonstrations, music and a lot of food, beer and wine.

Oct. 3-4, Twin Cities Oktoberfest in St. Paul. This fest at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds includes music, dance and hammerschlagen.

Oct. 3-4, Oktoberfest in Naperville, Ill. The fest at the Naper Settlement museum features music, food and children's activities.

Oct. 3-4 and 10-11: Oktoberfest in New Ulm, Minn. Minnesota's most German town offers food and music from homegrown and regional bands at the Holiday Inn, with other activities around town, including picturesque Schell's Brewery.

Oct. 4, Oktoberfest in Galena, Ill. The Lions Club puts on this riverfront festival, which includes wiener-dog races, polka lessons, hammerschlagen, pumpkin-decorating and a beanbag tournament.

Oct. 4, Oktoberfest in Oshkosh, Wis. This fest features dancing, dachshund races and lots of contests: frankfurter eating, stein holding and barrel rolling.

Oktoberfest in New Glarus.

© New Glarus chamber

In New Glarus, Oktoberfest revelers drink the local brew.

Oct. 11-12, Oktoberfest in Cedarburg, Wis. There are lots of contests in this Yankee mill town north of Milwaukee — sauerkraut-eating, German spelling, best dirndl and lederhosen — plus beer, wine and music.

Oct. 11-12, Oktoberfest in Lake Geneva, Wis. Wagon rides, crafts and free pumpkins are part of the fest in this southeast Wisconsin vacation town.

Oct. 17-19, Oktoberfest at Ruttger's Bay Lake Lodge in Deerwood, Minn. The oldest family-operated lake resort in Minnesota, founded in 1898 by German immigrants, holds an annual festival that's open to the public as well as guests.

It includes German buffet dinners, an arts and crafts fair, a children's pedal tractor pull, hammerschlagen and appearances by the Narren of New Ulm as well as well-known bands. 

Oct. 18, Oktoberfest in Elkhorn, Wis. This downtown festival near Lake Geneva features wine and beer tasting, music, a car show, arts and crafts and a pie raffle.



Last updated on September 17, 2014
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