Article By Astrid Zeppenfeld
Oktoberfest. What do you think of when you hear the word “Oktoberfest”? Most Americans have by this third sentence
conjured up the typical image of the Bavarian Liesl in her Dirndl holding–at a minimum–seven(!) beer steins. Truth be told, I myself (born and raised in Germany) conjured up that same image, complete with Liesl’s “Holz vor der Hütten.”
Now that you have this mental image of the Dirndl-clad gal, complete with the semi-drunk Lederhosen guys, let me debunk
this myth: the beer is NOT warm. Surely it’s not served in a chilled glass (which absolutely kills the foam head on the beer),
but it IS cold when first drafted.
The original big Oktoberfest happens once a year in Munich on the “Wiesn”; however, within the past five or so years, several minor Oktoberfests have cropped up around Germany. While the Munich Oktoberfest always takes place during the second half of September, smaller towns that have recently started their own version often hold it during the actual month of October.
Oktoberfest first developed out of a town festivity in Munich and was frequented only by Bavarians from Munich proper. After it became successful enough, companies in Bavaria started bringing their customers, especially their international customers, to this event. These days it is not uncommon for any German company, even those without a subsidiary near Munich, to entertain their best international customers at the Oktoberfest in Munich. According to the official website of the city of Munich (www.muenchen.de), the Oktoberfest auf der Wiesn is still “a Bavarian Festival” with 71% of visitors coming from Bavaria itself; however, 14% of the guests come from other countries, with US-Americans making up 12% of those. This leads to the conclusion that Oktoberfest seems to be pretty popular among Americans, especially considering that next to Canadians and Australians (only 2% and 7% of all Oktoberfest visitors, respectively), Americans have the longest flight routes get there.
What took the German people several decades to replicate in smaller cities around the country was done better and faster by
the Americans; hence the many little Oktoberfests in so many areas in the United States.
In Missouri, for example, one can join a different Oktoberfest celebration nearly every weekend between September and
October. The German Cultural Society in St. Louis puts on not one, but two Oktoberfests, the first one of which was celebrated at the Donaupark on the weekend of September 10th. In fact, this one was so popular that a German film team from Berlin took the time to visit as part of a documentary on German beer brewing history in the United States. German tradition came alive in the form of Polka dancing, beer steins, and true German crafts such as “Original Erzgebirge” Christmas ornaments and pyramids. These are hand-crafted from wood and last for a very long time. My very own Christmas pyramid is roughly thirty years old and I use it every holiday season as well as the little wooden “Erzgebirge smoking men”.
Perhaps my favorite in the eclectic collection of German goodies that were offered for purchase at the Oktoberfest was
the 4711 (Eau de Cologne). Talk about original; in this picture you are looking at one of the very first colognes produced and
sold to consumers. The original Eau de Cologne first appeared on the market in 1709 AD and was named after the city of Cologne. This was so long ago that some people were still referring to the city as Colonia Agrippina which was the name Cologne carried when it was part of the Roman Empire. Although he was Italian, the inventor of the perfume–Johann Maria Farina– named his concoction of different oils and herbs “water from
Cologne” to honor his chosen home, the city of Cologne in Germany. It’s really amazing that in 2017 we still use cologne
just like Napoleon, Mozart, Louis XV, and Goethe did in their time.
Beer steins made of tin, porcelain, stoneware, or glass were available in abundance at the Missouri Oktoberfest. In this picture you can see Karl Schmitt holding two of his prized beer steins, some of which have pictures etched in the bottom. Holding the beer stein up to the sun makes the picture appear in clarity and the detail of this lithophany is truly fascinating, much like the history of the beer stein itself. Up until the time of the Black Death, Germans did not typically carry their own drink containers wherever they went, but when the bubonic plague ravaged much of Europe during the 14th century, people quickly came to realize that it was most prevalent in the dirty parts of cities and thus started to carry their own (clean) beer containers. Tiny flies, which descend fairly frequently upon Europe during the summer months, are responsible for the invention of the lids on those beer steins.
As with any festivity or celebration, the more beer that gets consumed, the more people tend to want to dance. This was
why there was a big tent at the Oktoberfest set up not only with tables and chairs for drinking and eating, but with a dance
floor. The band played and guests could choose to watch the German dance groups of both adults and children perform, or
swing their dancing legs themselves. But before all the dancing started, we got to meet a very interesting gentleman who owned one of the oldest alpine horns. Yes, exactly like the one from the Ricola commercials! And he knew how to play it; it was really quite something!
So next year, if you need a venue to hold a company get-together, or if you are looking to entertain any business partners
around this time of the year (September/October), remember to look up the schedule of Oktoberfests in the region. Chances
are you’ll find one close by on exactly the weekend you need it during those two months. Chances are even better that your
employees and business partners will enjoy themselves tremendously as this is not your typical company party or business
luncheon–starting with the brats and currywurst. This is especially true if your business has ties to Germany, be it through
your products or your business relationships. And, due to the involvement of the German Cultural Society in St. Louis and
beyond, you might consider attending an Oktoberfest yourself simply to find and build new business connections while drinking from a beer stein (don’t worry, you won’t need to bring your own–unless you want to make sure there are no flies around your beer!).
Astrid Zeppenfeld is a contributing writer and MM&E’s editor/business development manager from St. Louis.