Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Oktoberfest in Cincinnati - 2011 Edition

As many are aware, I am really into Oktoberfest. Living in Cincinnati, it's quite easy to do, the city has a strong German heritage tradition, and in general I like all the things that go into an Oktoberfest: German Food, Beer, Music/Entertainment and the like. This all culminated for me last fall when I was afforded the opportunity to take that once in a lifetime trip to THE Original Oktoberfest in Munich. (I know, some of you must be getting tired of the fact I pull that out every chance I get)

While Oktoberfest is a 2-3 week fair in Germany,in mid to late September, somehow in Cincinnati we have managed to make it run from late August to early October. Sure, the festival moves every weekend, but you can get your Oktoberfest on somewhere. This is accomplished in part by having several German heritage societies that hold their own Oktoberfest (and are smart enough to not overlap each other), as well as the major communities having their own fests. There are even events in Cincinnati this time of year that bear no resemblance to a German heritage/beer festival, but use the name.

This year - I managed to try out three such events. I'd been to two of them in the past, but decided to try out a new one (for me).

Germania Society Oktoberfest

This is the one that was new to me. I'd heard great things about it, so why not give them a try. This one is just north of the I-275 loop On Kemper Road near Hamilton Avs. in Germania Park. In other words, close enough to be considered Cincinnati, but just far enough out that public transit is not an option.

Germania Park is a picnic grove and also the grounds of the Germania Society. We arrived Sunday right around 3pm and got to the main parking lot just in time to see the FULL sign go up in our face. Parking is free in the official lot if you are lucky enough to get in, not even a handicap palcard could talk our way into the lot. It is hard to turn around, because people park along both sides of the street for at least a mile in each direction. They do set up a rope and stanchion "walking lane" to try to make this easier, and there are, as you might expect, unofficial lots that will let you park there, for a price. Even those were filling up.

We followed the directions given to us by the parking attendant to go to the Pleasant Run school on Hamilton Ave, and from there we caught a free shuttle. Hey, this isn't bad at all. We parked, a shuttle may have arrived about 10-15 minutes later, and we were off to Germania Park where they bus let us off right by the festival entrance. This may have worked out better than if they had let us in the big lot, and we had to park clear in the back.

There is a nominal general admission charge of around $3 to enter Germania Park, and once inside you can either head straight towards the festival grounds (they even name it the Wies'n, in honor of the popular shorthand name for the name of the festival grounds in Munich) or you can head to the Germania Klub Haus for a traditional German dinner. We decided to go eat first, we were hungry and the dinners close before the Wies'n. Its a short walk to the right from the admission gate past their maypole, and flagpoles sporting the United States and German flags, then a left, and down the stairs. At the base of the stairs is a Biergarten with tables, band, bier, and some food (brats/metts) available.

We headed on into the building, inside they had several long banquet tables setup, and as you might expect the room is decorated with German inspired or imported decorations. Off to one side, by the dance floor was a bar with a full line of German biers on tap, next to the bar was the food service counter, and at the other end of the hall was the desert table. There was a long line for the desert table, but surprisingly I walked right up to the food service area.

So, after I got mom seated, I made two trips to the food service area. The traditional dinner included your choice of pork loin or sauerbraten, served over spaetzle, with green beans, red cabbage, and bread - all for $10. Not a bad price for a full meal at a festival, and especially not for a GOOD meal at a festival. The festival stresses that these meals are homecooked meals, not catered in, and the pride shows in the form of a great meal. (We each took a different entree choice so that we could mix/match and taste everything) After getting the food, I walked over to the bar, and I know, I should have just bought the stoneware stein now, and been done with it. But no, I bought the plastic souvenir stein with Spaten. I was delighted that when I ordered a soft drink for Mom, the bartender said to just take the soft drink on the house. So, to recap, great food, friendly bartender, nice musicians, a room full of friendly people, and I haven't even made my way to the actual festival yet. Gemutlichkiet for sure.

After dinner, I went through the desert line in the back of the room and picked up an Apple Strudel and a Cream Puff. The attendant admitted the desert table food is mostly furnished by Servati's which is good, as now I know where to get more cream puffs. It should be noted they had a full line of deserts, for about $3-$4 each.

After finishing dinner, we headed to the Wies'n. For that, we had to backtrack our steps to the front gate, then it was up the hill. Before going up the hill I was called over to the ID check booth to get my age verification wristband, which is pretty standard practice at festivals in Cincinnati. Then right across from the ID check booth is a Warstiener booth, which is convenient as I was in need of a refill. You then pass the Kid's Area before heading up a real steep hill to the grounds themselves.

So, after climbing the hill and letting mom catch her breath, we took a look around. To the left is a huge pavilion with rows and rows of tables, and authentic german entertainment playing on a stage in the center of the pavilion. Mom is more of the "find me a place to sit and watch the band" type person, so I found her a nice seat, and then I went off to explore the festival.

So again, starting from the festival entrance, right when you enter the main grounds on top of the hill there is an information booth for the sponsoring Germania Society
to your left, and the big merchandise tent to the right. Here you can buy stuff related to this event, to the Munich Oktoberfest, to German heritage items. It's a pretty extensive merchandise tent, and I found a lot of the same stuff I carefully hauled back from the Munich Oktoberfest for sale here.

Moving right along, the outer edges of the festival grounds are lined with all sorts of food booths, featuring all your German and Festival food favorites. You want the traditional Oktoberfest Roast Chicken, you can have that, various sausages, they have you covered, pastries not problem, potato cakes, sauerkraut balls, pretzels, Limburger Cheese, all there for the asking. Not that into German food, they have all your festival food favorites as well. In the center of the front half of the grounds they have the major award tent, (you can buy tickets on a Rhine River cruise, or cash equivilant), a bar with wine, schnaps, Jagermiester, etc).

In the very center of the grounds, they have the desert booth, an ATM, and the gambling part of the festival. Instant tickets, poker, blackjack and more are there for you to try your hand at, and help raise funds for Germania Society.

The back half of the main festival area is the rides midway, nothing all that interesting for adults, but for the children, it looks to be like quite a good midway. I say main area, as off to one side, you can leave the grassy area for the gravel area of a more secluded picnic grove. Ah yes, Spaten Dunkel, just what I need, thanks. The big point of interest here is they have an unusual skill game. A Stien Hold game. Essentially, they take a 1 liter (1 Mas) glass stein (If you have been to Hofbrauhaus in Newport, you know what I am talking about) fill it with water (no need to risk spilling good German beer, right, and this way the children could play) You stand in the booth, they hand you to full stein, and you not only have to hold it, you have to hold it with one hand (it has a handle) straight out in front of you, so your arm is perfectly horizontal). That's it. You hold that posture, just like a Survivor endurance contest for as long as you can. Don't worry the men's record when I looked was around 4 minutes, and 2 minutes for the women. Whoever has the record at the end of the festival wins a prize. The clock stops when you either drop the stein, any of the water spills, or you fail to hold the required posture to the satisfaction of the judges (I think you get one warning for this one) For the record, I did not try this game, but I did watch it. Those that seemed to last the longest brought along a game partner to stand just outside the booth, and so they could attempt to carry on a conversation. I'm guessing this is to try to take the contestants mind off of the challenge at hand.

So, I walked the grounds, I tried a currywurst, I had a pretzel, I ate my way through the fair, I lost at blackjack, I won $50 on the instant game. I saw some friends there, I sat with mom some and took in the entertainment in the pavilion.

But, I really wanted to stop at that Merchandise Tent. Which, I did on the way out. I had a couple areas of focus. Event t-shirt, of course. But, while I was in Munich, I bought the traditional hat, and the hat came with a small "hat brush" (supposedly goat hair, at least traditionally), a small feather, and no pins. (The decorations are removable so you can customize your hat) I knew I wanted to better decorate the hat, as I had neglected to get the pins while in Germany, and as this was the first German event I had gone to since the Germany trip, I was feeling some 'hat envy'. So I bought a selection of pins there, sticking to my rule of "you can't have the pin unless you have been to the place it represents", as well as a larger 'hat brush' (Probably a medium size when it comes down to it, as I have seen some that are quite large). I forget prices right now, but I can tell you that in general pins go for $5-$20 depending on the pin, and the feathers and brushes can run well more than that. Yes, it was an expensive trip to the merchandise tent. I can not say, with absolute certainty that the hat decorations are worth way more than the hat itself. Particularly the sentimental value for which each pin represents.

But, I was not done yet, I had gotten into a pretty good conversation with the booth worker, and showed them some of my Munich photos and all that, and I mentioned that I got the souvenir stein. He suggested I needed to get one of their Germania Oktoberfest Steins to add to it. Their steins are made by the same company, Rastal, that makes the official steins, and look very similar in style. He also told me, that if I took it down to the Biergarten, I could probably find the artist and get the stein autographed. So, I did, and he did.

After that, it was a matter of great timing, we walked to the festival gate right as a bus was pulling up. Can't ask for better service than that.

Mainstrasse Oktoberest - Covington, KY.

This is a street festival that takes place in Covington. The area seems German enough with the name Mainstrasse, and it consists of a street that has a wide divider in the middle with grass and a walkway down the center. At one end of the street it ends at a clock tower, which has a Glockenspiel show, sort of like the famous clock in Marienplatz, just not nearly as fancy. This one does the story of the Pied Piper.

Since I go to these festivals almost every year, I won't give the full play by play. What you need to know is this particular festival is primarily a crafts festival. The center aisle of the 'park' in the middle of the street is lined with crafts vendors. Great, if you are into that sort of thing. Along the outer edges of the street are several food vendors, German and otherwise, and there are a couple beer booths on the festival grounds, selling beer, German and otherwise. So let's get our plastic souvenier stein, a Spaten and lets look around.

Of note, in what is usually the parking lot for this quaint European style business district there is a rides midway, and in the city park next to the clock tower there are more rides, as well as the main entertainment stage. I'd have to say this is the least German of the Oktoberfests I have been to in Cincinnati being primarily a crafts festival, but it does have one big redeeming feature. The Linden Knoll Gift Haus. It's open year round, but as you might expect they have a tent right outside their store with a "Greatest Hits" selection of merchandise, and if you don't see what you want, they will even valet park your beer while you go inside the store.

The Gift Haus is literally a house, and the ground floor is mostly open to the public. Here every square inch is filled with German and other European knick knacks, steins, dolls, souveniers and much more. It is the kind of place that if you don't know exactly where something is, its better to ask. They can show you in 2 minutes what would take you half an hour to find. I was again on the quest for more hat pins. Basket at the base of the hat rack in the third room, thanks. Bring the entire basket out to the counter with my selections, sure. Another great selection of pins here.

And entry 3

Oktoberfest Zinzinnati

This is the big one for the area. Another street festival, it is on 5th Street in Cincinnati, all the way from Race to Broadway. We have been lucky to be able to park in the garage directly under fountain square, which means its just one short elevator ride up into the heart of the festival. Fountain Square (or Platz during the festival) is the center of the festival. Here you have the main stage for entertainment, as well as the main merchandise tent. Another pin, shirt and stein run, then I ran most of the stuff down to the car. I got mom settled with a brat, soft drink and a table to watch the stage, and then took a look around.

From west to east - in the parking lot at 5th and Race, they have some of the rides midway, and a big tent featuring St. Pauli Girl and some craft beers. Fifth street is lined with food booths (German and otherwise), beer booths (German and otherwise) , sponsor booths, merchandise tents, and more. What sets this Oktoberfest aside from the others is the use of actual beer tents. Now, don't think you will mistake this for Munich. We are talking small, plain beer tents, no fancy facades, no wooden tables, no waitress service. They do feature stages and bands, and a walk up beer booth. You want food, go get it and bring it back to the tent. As such it is easier to come and go from tent to tent if you like. If you manage to get here on Opening Day, go to Fountain Square for the opening ceremonies, which will end with a parade that visits each beer tent to officially open it. In general the beer tents are on the side streets, as well as in the big plazas in front of the Procter and Gamble, the Government Square bus station and Chemed buildings. More rides can be found down by the Chiquita building.

So I thought I would be slick and I bought the official 1 Mas stoneware stein with event logo. I took it over to the Spaten booth, and yes they filled it for the refill price. I then quickly learned why that Stein game at Germania park is so hard. Do you have any idea how heavy that gets? 32 ounce curls indeed. Sure it looks cool to walk through Oktoberfest with a German hat and carrying an authentic style stein with real German bier, but not so much on the practical side.


Newport on the Levee - had an Oktoberfest event, but I could not make it due to other plans. Shame as they were also billing theirs as "most authentic" and "Munich Style" Since they have Hoffrauhaus nearby, surely they could get some good advice on how to be authentic. Maybe next year.


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