BY AARON THEISEN
IF THE POPULAR CONCEPTION OF GERMANS IS OF A HARD-WORKING AND INDUSTRIOUS PEOPLE, THEN OKTOBERFEST REPRESENTS THE CHANCE TO LET DOWN THEIR PLAITED HAIR AND EMBRACE THE COMFORTS OF SCHNITZEL, BEER AND CRISP FALL WEATHER.
Oktoberfest began in Munich more than two centuries ago as a harvest festival formalized to mark the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese. Key to the proceedings was Märzen, or March beer, which was brewed in the spring and then stored, or lagered, in icy caves, whereupon, at Oktoberfest, participants tipped steins until they drained the casks dry. In Munich, tradition dictates that the festival’s dirndl-clad beer-maidens can serve only six Munich-area beers. Fortunately, the Northwest’s celebrations suffer no such prohibitions; celebrators can sample suds from local microbreweries, many of which incorporate traditional German-style lagers in their seasonal rotation.
The three Oktoberfests (one in Oregon and two in Washington) epitomize the German concept of gemutlichkelt—the spirit of comradeship and good times. Don your dirndl or lederhosen for some biergarten bonhomie.
SEPT. 14-17, 2017
In the half century since its origins, the Mt. Angel Oktoberfest (oktoberfest.org) has come some ways from the days of young Mt. Angel Abbey seminarians scooping sauerkraut out of a barrel and swigging from beer steins. Today, this Bavarian Catholic community twenty miles northeast of Salem, Oregon, welcomes some 300,000 participants a year for four days of lager and lederhosen—the largest folk festival of any kind in the region. It’s the Northwest’s uber-Oktoberfest.
Befitting beer making’s monastic trappings, the Benedictine Abbey in Mt. Angel has begun brewing its own beer (mountangelabbey.org/benedictine-brewery); visitors will find the brewery’s Black Habit alongside several straight-from-Munich imports. The weingarten caters to those non-beer-drinkers among the group; the wiener dog races and family activities ensure the Oktoberfest is plenty kid-friendly.
SEPT. 15-17, 2017
Germany is said to have a peculiar national fascination with the golden era of American cowboy stories, and it’s in the arid landscape of basalt buttes and broad mesas that compose Central Washington where wiener schnitzel meets Western. Each September, nearly 20,000 participants descend on the small farming community of Odessa (population: 910) for Deutschesfest (deutschesfest.com), now in its 47th year; it’s the largest event of any kind in the lightly populated coulee region of Central Washington.
About 80 percent of the population of the area, named for the Ukrainian city, claims German/Russian descent; this is about as close as you’ll get to an authentic German harvest festival outside Bavaria. True to its roots in both Germany and small-town America, Deutschesfest is a simple affair, where church and school groups serve schnitzel, sauerkraut and strudel in the Festplatz and oompah bands inspire spontaneous bouts of polka dancing. But it’s the biergarten that forms the civic heart of the festival. Fortunately, Odessa-based Rocky Coulee Brewing Company (rockycouleebrewingco.com) ensures the beer keeps flowing.
SEPT. 29-30, OCT. 6-7, OCT. 13-14, 2017
Bavarian-themed architecture? Check. Alps-like mountains? Check. The traditional tapping-the-keg ceremony? Check.
Are we in Germany? Sure, let yourself believe it. Only a few hours east of Seattle, Washington’s Bavarian village of Leavenworth was born to celebrate Oktoberfest (leavenworthoktoberfest.com). Four venues with beer, dancing, entertainment and brats and other goodies, over three weekends, make this Oktoberfest one Munich could be envious of. At this family-friendly fest, revelers get their oompah groovin’ to the sounds of musical performers from the U.S., Canada and Germany.