Create Your Own Oktoberfest!
Held annually in Munich, Bavaria, Germany, and officially the world’s largest festival, or volksfest (people’s festival), Oktoberfest lasts an exhausting 16 to 18 days (depending on the calendar year) and attracts 6 million people from around the world on 100 fun-filled acres.
In the U.S., community Oktoberfest-ivities generally span just a long weekend, but in many ways remain in step with Munich’s efforts to feature the finest beers and ales, and heartiest bratwurst, sauerkraut, and other German delicacies – all of which run neck-and-neck with robust music, dancing, amusements, and just plain large-scale fun. But you can recreate the fun and flavors of Oktoberfest at home with your own family!
First, however, while the official German celebration includes an agricultural showcase and used to feature rousing horse races, did you know the history of Oktoberfest dates all the way back to 1810? At that time, Crown Prince Ludwig (later to become King Ludwig I) married Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen on October 12 – a reason to celebrate. In 1810 a parade was held to honor the royal couple, and though suspended for some time, it was reinstated in 1850 continuing to this day. In fact, an estimated 8,000 Bavarians in traditional costume walk from Munich’s Maximilian Street through the center of town to the fairgrounds in this parade each year.
Held in an area that came to be called called Theresienwiese, meaning field or meadow of (Princess) Therese, today the area of celebration is often shortened to die Wiesn. Traditional foods include favorites like hendl (roast chicken), schweinebraten (roast pork), schweinshaxe (grilled ham hock), steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick), würstl (sausages), Brezen (pretzels)), knodel (potato or bread dumplings), kasespatzle (cheese noodles), kaiserschmarrn (raisin pancakes), reiberdatschi (potato pancakes), sauerkraut, and Bavarian delicacies such as obatzda (spiced cheese-butter spread) and weisswurst (white sausage).
Barring a quick trip to Germany, these ideas can have you authentically creating your own family Oktoberfest to celebrate this exciting autumn event.
First, with the colors of the German flag being red, black, and gold, you can choose your color scheme (tablecloths; napkins; paper plates; streamers and other decorations) accordingly. Or, use the colors of the state of Bavaria: cobalt blue and white. At the official celebration in Munich, reportedly around 30 tents are set up to accommodate visitors, food, and festivities, so if you choose to go that route and use your backyard, it might be fun to find a tent in one or two of the official colors.
Next, with traditional German garb including men’s lederhosen – leather shorts with suspenders – you can improvise or even go all out by visiting costume shops or websites that specialize in authentic clothing. Women typically wear dirndl skirts (gathered at the waist) and aprons.
Deciding on some traditional German music CDs will add to the festivities, but if your family plays musical instruments, part of the fun could be to learn a few Oktoberfest songs to play together, especially if you are inviting friends and neighbors to celebrate with you.
Finally, while you may not have the time to prepare a dozen traditional German dishes, American variations abound and the following recipes can surely get you started. Glucklich (happy) Oktoberfest!
Grilled Bratwurst in Beer
1/4 cup butter
2 medium onions, sliced into thin rings
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped (optional)
3 to 4 (12-ounce) cans beer of choice
8 bratwurst links
8 small, crusty hoagie rolls
Dill pickle spears
Prepare the grill for a medium-hot fire.
Place butter in a medium-sized disposable foil roasting pan. Place pan on grill rack and cook until the butter melts. Add onions and garlic; cook until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add beer and bring to a simmer. Place pan on low heat zone and keep mixture warm.
Place bratwurst on grill rack. Grill, turning occasionally until evenly charred, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer bratwurst to onion/beer mixture and let stand until ready to serve in hoagie rolls.
Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage (served hot)
3 medium apples
3/4 cup water
1 small head red cabbage, shredded
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
2 tablespoon butter, divided
Peel, core and chop apples. Pour water into a large saucepan and stir in all ingredients except 1 tablespoon of butter. Bring to a rapid boil. Reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 50-60 minutes, stirring periodically until cabbage is tender. Stir in remaining tablespoon of butter and serve hot.