When Bavaria’s Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen on Oct. 17, 1810, the citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities on the fields in front of the city gates to celebrate the happy event. A parade was held and horse races in the presence of the Royal Family closed the event.
The decision to repeat the horse races in the subsequent year gave rise to the tradition of the Oktoberfest. It eventually was moved ahead to September to allow for better weather conditions, and it continues as Germany’s major festival two centuries later yet today.
It’s so big that the 6 million revelers inject $1.43 billion into Munich’s economy. They consume more than 510,000 roast chickens, 60,000 sausages, 59,000 pork knuckles, 124 cows and 48 calves, washing them down with 1.98 million gallons of beer sold from 38 beer tents.
Of course, not everyone can make it to the Old Country to lift a stein to Ludwig and Therese’s memory, but no worries. With 45.15 million citizens of German ancestry, America has many of its own festivities in cities ranging from New York, Denver and Philadelphia to Milwaukee, St. Louis, San Diego and everywhere in between. We’re told that Cincinatti’s — called Zinzinnati — is among the most popular, with 650,000 attendees last year. They ate 80,500 bratwursts, 1,875 pounds of German potato salad, 24,000 soft pretzels, 64,000 sauerkraut balls, 56,250 sausages, and drank more than 2,000 barrels of beer — enough to fill a 20-by-40-foot swimming pool.
However, readers don’t have to travel very far to celebrate Oktoberfest, because we have our own version right here in Jefferson County, in the form of Gemuetlichkeit Days.
The 49th German-heritage festival is taking place tonight through Sunday in Jefferson with the theme, appropriately enough, of “Oktoberfest.” Most activities are being held at Jefferson County Fair Park, although Sunday’s parade will be downtown.
New this year is the “Masskrugstemmen” beer stein-holding contest, open to adults only and featuring men’s and women’s divisions. The contest is at 7:30 tonight in the Black Forest Garten. Also added to the slate is the Kids’ Fit/Hope’s Heroes children’s mudder-style run and obstacle course. It is being held in conjunction with Tomorrow’s Hope Saturday at Stoppenbach Park.
There are a variety of other fun events during the weekend, ranging from sheepshead, a German food contest and vintage car show to a sauerkraut-eating competition, Big Wheels races, 5k run and polka hop lessons. And in between all of this will be music by six German- and Polish-style polka bands and Madison County, a seven-member country show band.
And not unlike all Oktoberfests both here and abroad, there will be plenty of German and American culinary culture, with many foods.
Buttons for Gemuetlichkeit Days cost $10 at the gate and cover all three days. Buyers’ names are put into the hat for a raffle, with the money raised supporting scholarships for Jefferson High School students.
There is no doubt that if Ludwig and Therese were alive, they’d be heading over to Jefferson for its version of Oktoberfest. And there is no reason that you shouldn’t, as well.
As the Gemuetlichkeit Days button says, “Party like a German and polka like a local.”
See you there!