For over 200 years, Oktoberfest celebrations have brought food, music and beer to the masses—along with the opportunity to say goodbye to summer and hello to fall. But Oktoberfest is more than just German; it is Bavarian, rooted in the geography and culture that is broader than modern-day Germany.
Neighboring countries also participate in the feast, and it has spread around the world. Just like St. Patrick’s Day allows us to channel our inner Irishman, Oktoberfest allows everyone to be Bavarian. But there is more to Oktoberfest than just beer.
Oktoberfest began in 1810, as a reception for a royal wedding. The royal Bavarian family, being close to its people, celebrated the betrothal in a vast meadowland. It must have been one good party! The celebration stuck, and in years following, Oktoberfest incorporated the celebration of harvest, agriculture and horse racing. Oktoberfest has continued to transcend its original roots, but it maintains its authenticity because it has and always will be a great party—for everyone.
The true meaning of Oktoberfest appreciates the widespread acceptance of embracing another culture, says Robert Von Dassanowsky, German studies and film professor and head of the German program at UCCS.
“There is a wonderful unity in diversity, and Oktoberfest shows the world and the U.S. a different kind of Germany after 1945,” he says.
After World War II, there was a stigma attached to being German, Italian or Japanese in America. Many immigrants tried to acclimate by hiding some of their cultural pride. Von Dassanowsky says Oktoberfest has helped to incorporate these elements into strengthening American culture.
“The U.S. will always be a melting pot,” he says. “That’s part of the richness of this country. [It’s productive to discover] how much alike we really are.”
As globalization has spread, it has brought more awareness that we are more similar than we might have realized. We listen to much of the same music, watch the same films, and seem to genuinely enjoy celebrating each other’s cultural heritage. Thus the popularity of having a fiesta on Cinco de Mayo or eating coq au vin on Bastille Day.
Even as ethnic conflicts and divisions seem to be flaring up nationally and abroad, Oktoberfest is a refreshing reminder that people will be coming together to celebrate how much we actually share.
“Oktoberfest celebrates humanism, stopping and celebrating life, harvest, growth, hops, beer,” Von Dassanowsky says. “And authentic [to the experience] is authentically enjoying it.”
We’ll raise a stein to that.
German All Year Round
One Wednesday night a month, year-round, a long table fills the Ratskeller basement bar of the traditional, family-owned Edelweiss restaurant in the Ivywild neighborhood. The boisterous crowd of German speakers exchanges banter over carefully-selected German beers. The monthly Stammtisch conversational group gathering usually sees more than 20 German speakers, some of whom drive an hour to be here.
Edelweiss has been a visible hub of authentic German atmosphere in the Springs for over nearly 50 years, helmed by Helga Schnakenberg (originally from Heidelberg), her husband, Gary and their son Dieter. The Alpine chalet feels like a slice of home to many expats and German heritage seekers in town.
“Over the last 35 years, my parents have fine-tuned every detail of this restaurant, bit by bit,” Dieter says. “Each room has a different theme or feel to it, with German decor and details they’ve really lovingly woven into everything. Even the mailbox out front was brought over in a suitcase.”
While Edelweiss doesn’t do an Oktoberfest at the traditional time, they have been known to put together a Summerfest full of traditional German beers, music and food. But, hey, they’re pros who do that every day of the year. Anytime you stop in, you’ll find all German beers on tap, imported from 100-year-old breweries, and strolling German musicians with accordions serenade you on Friday and Saturday nights.
Wimberger’s Old World Bakery & Delicatessan
On the west side of town, Wimberger’s Old World Bakery & Delicatessan was also founded by a German expatriate around the same time as Edelweiss, and holds the torch of a real German rye bread, along with dozen of other baked delights. It’s also a fine place to spend a Saturday morning hearing snippets of German conversation over your coffee, and you can also pick up some imported regional delicacies.
Where to Celebrate Oktoberfest
Oktoberfest is on. Check out where to get in touch with your inner Bavarian at festivals and breweries in the Springs in our article about Oktoberfest in Colorado Springs.
Originally published Sept. 2016