Ushering in Oktoberfest season
Finding the recipe for successful fests


August 25, 2016


Submitted photo

One of the oldest Oktoberfests in the area, the Oktoberfest at Old Heidelberg Park runs for four weekends from Sept. 9 to Oct. 1. It draws about 50,000 people in Glendale.

WAUKESHA - The unofficial two-month start of Oktoberfest season shouts the question: Why are they so popular?

With almost a dozen festivals in the Milwaukee area alone, those behind the scenes used one word: gemŸtlichkeit. The German word conveys a lot, but it’s basically a feeling of good cheer. How does that translate into Oktoberfest?

“People have  a really good time and it brings a sense of community,” said  Joanna Adamicki, social events coordinator for Waukesha Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department, which is putting on its first Oktoberfest next month.

“Oktoberfest is the one festival where I see people from town,” said BJ Homayouni, executive director for Festivals of Cedarburg Inc., which also has Strawberry Festival, Wine & Harvest Festival and Winter Festival. “I see a lot more locals there.”

If there’s a second word? Beer. A third would be food. A fourth word would be heritage, a fifth music and a sixth family. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

“It is beer and food. I think that’s what draws it. There are a lot of different beers associated with it. There are a lot of German beers, along with the unique food they have,” Homayouni said.

“We have things like wienerschnitzel. We bring in an authentic German cook who makes our food for us. We have a German sausage platter, sauerbraten, and more,” Homayouni said of the festival that actually takes place in October and is in its ninth year. “We usually get close to selling out our food.”


John Ehlke/Conley News Service

A wooden dance floor and two stages providing continuous live music are part of West Bend Germanfest. The 31st annual event runs through Sunday.

The 31st annual West Bend Germanfest, which starts its four-day run today, has a variety of vendors selling traditional food like spahnferkel (roast pig) as well as an array of desserts.

A wine cellar and beer garden have been spruced up and expanded, according to Steve Tennies, the fest’s project manager.

Beer and authentic German food are key draws at Oktoberfest at Old Heidelberg Park in Glendale, said Laura Krauser, sales and marketing director for the Bavarian Bierhaus. There’s a wider selection of food in the Bierhaus, she added.

“We serve about 6,000 to 7,000 people a day,” said Kraus of the festival that runs four Fridays and Saturdays starting Sept. 9 through Oct. 1. That’s about 50,000 people in eight days.

The West Milwaukee Lions Club goes with its own food in the parking lot of Kegel’s Inn, 5901 W. National Ave., West Allis, but people also go into the German restaurant. The club’s fourth annual Oktoberfest is Saturday and Sunday.

“Typically we serve HofbrŠuhaus beer and Miller, sausages including landjaeger, and on Saturday they can go inside to Kegel’s, which doesn’t serve food during the day on Sunday,” said Bill Elliott, treasurer of the West Milwaukee Lions Club.

While drawing up to only 250 people, he looks forward to some growth, having moved the festival from September and away from football games and iffy weather to August.

“It’s smaller and more intimate. It’s in an area of Milwaukee that hasn’t had a Germanfest in quite some time,” Elliott said.

Waukesha’s inaugural Oktoberfest will include the 5K Wurst Beer Biathlon in which people have a beer and bratwurst at the half-way mark. “That’s why it’s a biathlon, it’s eating and running,” Adamicki said.

The resurgence

It’s hard to express why the festivals are on the rise locally. After all, Oktoberfest dates back to Oct. 12, 1810 when Bavarian crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese and the residents of Munich were invited to festivities held on fields in front of the city gates.

Clearly, we aren’t still celebrating the wedding. In the following years in Munich, it quickly blossomed to celebrate agriculture and grew to the 16-day festival of today.

Milwaukee Oktoberfest, Oct. 13-Oct. 16, has grown in attendance and will move from downtown to Veterans Park on the lakefront for its seventh annual event. It will provide more room for “fun, music, beer and people.”

Tennies cited the strong German culture in Washington County and the rest of the region.

“Milwaukee used to be an old German city,” Tennies said. “And you have the strong beer culture and beer-making as well.”

Back to beer again, which could explain contests such as pounding a nail into a block of wood or holding a stein at arm’s length. But with the growth of microbreweries, people have been seeing beer in a new light.

Submitted photo

While fun, the West Milwaukee Lions Club Oktoberfest also benefits the community.


Krauser said Oktoberfests at Heidelberg Park date back to the 1940s. And what’s old is new again has a reason for the popularity of Oktoberfests.

“It’s an environment that’s very inviting. You’re very comfortable with family and friends. It’s not divided by age,” she said.

In West Bend, Germanfest is bringing back the Kinder Zone and re-emphasizing family activities, including nagelschlagen (nail pounding), although Tennies said there is still much to draw adults.

Polka in particular has been popular and among the perennial favorites has been The Polka Family, which returns this year, Tennies said.

German bands have been a standard at the Oktoberfest in Old Heidelberg Park, Krauser said. But this year the rides and games are getting a bit of a makeover to entice children of all ages.

“The bands, a lot of families - it’s a great atmosphere,” said Elliott of the West Milwaukee Lion’s Club Oktoberfest.

“I’ll be the first to admit that I love going to Oktoberfest and I was there at German Fest in Milwaukee. It’s always a great time,” he said.

Civic-minded fests

But Elliott said a reason for the festival’s existence is all proceeds go to the West Milwaukee Lion’s Club.

“In the past, the club has spent money in the community, funding scholarships and health needs, and a variety of charitable work,” he said.

Previously, the club spent a lot of volunteer hours at the Bradley Center and the former US Cellular Center for the charities there, while the shift re-emphasizes West Allis and West Milwaukee causes, he added.

Funds from the West Bend Germanfest will build a home for Habitat for Humanity of Washington and Dodge Counties, Tennies said. And with the new emphasis is renewed volunteerism and sponsorship, he added.

Tennies said the West Bend Germanfest talked about folding, but with the new vigor, notably with Habitat’s participation, the festival instead added a fourth day this year.

At the get-go, Adamicki said the Waukesha’s Park, Recreation and Forestry Department is teaming up with the Waukesha Kiwanis Early Risers and the Waukesha Rotary Club as well as the Waukesha Citizens Police Academy. The volunteers will sell food and beer and help out in other ways.

“People have been extremely helpful, from ordering the tents to hiring the bands,” she said. 

Buying into a community event is key, Tennies said.

“Hopefully, we’ll be around another 30 years,” he said of West Bend Germanfest.

Plenty of attendees will drink to that.