German Ethnic Events: Oktoberfest

Figure 1.--

The best known German/Austrian ethnic event is the annual Oktoberfest in Germany, curiously held in October. Although perhaps the best known, this is a relatively recent German festival. There are also Maifests and other German theme events. These events commonly include games, booths, authentic German food, dance, and music. Quite a variety of events are conducted at a typical American Octoberfest. We are mot sure at this time how the American celebrations differ from the actual German celebrations. The Munich Oktoberfest with many offerings for youngsters (drinking beer etc.) probably is the template for the U.S. octoberfests, but the American events are quite different..

Historical Background

Oktoberfest is a Bavarian festival, but in the United states has become a generic German ethnic event. The modern Oktoberfest is actually a relatively recent innovation. Bavarian King Max Joseph in 1810 arranged a grand festival to mark the wedding of his son, crown prince Ludwig, to Therese Charlotte Luise, Princess of Saxony-Hildburghausen. This was the first Oktoberfest.

Social Class Trends

There are social differences. Events like the Oktoberfest in Germany are more visited by the socially lower part of the population. Families of the middle and higher class prefer (and support) the more traditional festivals.

Similar Festivals

Similar festivals, founded for similar reasons at about the same time, can be found elsewhere, e.g., the Cannstatter Volksfest auf dem Wasen near to the Neckar river, a suburb of Stuttgart“ or the „Wäldchestag“ in Frankfurt.


Brass bands and of course oompahpa music are very popular. Large events have orchestras performing. Popular groups include the DONAUSCHWAEBISCHE BLASKAPELLE, Al NOWAK Orchestra, Deutscher Musikverein Brass Band, Merv HERZOG, Fred Ziwich Orchestra, and others.


German folk dancing is another popular event. Many different groups perform at events around the country: MANSFIELD (LIEDERKRANZ), TRACHEN UND SCHUHPLATTLER (VEREIN, BAVARIA), SAXON DANCERS (NADES, ROMANIA), SAXON CULTURE GROUP (YOUNGSTOWN), SAXON DANCERS (CLEVELAND), Liederkranz Tanz Gruppe (Dayton), SACHSENHEIM, SOKOL DANCERS, and many others. Often other ethnic dance groups are invited to participate like IRISH DANCERS and SLOVAK DANCERS. Of course polka music is some of the most popular. Dancing can include, in addition to polkas and waltzes, the german quadrille style "Square Dancing" (Bunten) brought over from the Lüneburger Heide area of northern Germany in the 1840's and 1850's


Schuhplattler is Bavarian (German) and Tirol (Austria) folk dancing performed in folk costumes (tracht). It includes traditional Schuhplattler and other folk dances. Schuhplattler are seen as a typical dance in Alpine area, both German and Austrian, but in fact it was really only native to some regions. Some object to it being view as the typical dance of all of Bavaria and Austria. It is in fact "original" only in some special regions. In traditional Austrinan folk dancing events there are (with VERY rare exceptions) no Schuhplattlers, however, it is very popular today among tourists. As a result it can be widely seen today in Austria as well as Germany. There are only few groups which are dealing seriously with this dance. Lederhosen for Schuhplattler are often made a special cut to heighten the effect of slapping the thighs and bottom. The legs are somewhat longer, almost down to the knees, and tapered to make for a snug fit.


German food is always a big attraction. Popular German dishes include: wiener schnitzel, bratwurst, potato pancakes, SAUERKRAUT, APPLE STRUDEL, Spanferkel chicken, Rollbratenand and many other dishes.


Some events stress crafts demonstrating the folkways and skills of German immigrants. Guests find juried artisans, often in period attire using the same primitive tools as immigrant artisans. Watch broom making, rail splitting, clothes washing, scherenschnitte, klöppelei, and German fractur--just a few of the seventy early skills demonstrated. Mule powered sorghum mill, timber sawing and splitting shingles is also a rarely seen event. One event offers a tour of an 1820 log home.

Children's Events

HBC has received this e-mail rom an American reader, "I was wondering if you could help me. Our church is hosting an Oktoberfest this fall and I am working on the children's committee. We are looking for a project or game the children can participate in keeping within the German theme. We were thinking of making a "craft" or re-creating some kind of toy the German children played with. Or some kind of traditional clothing like flower or hair ribbons for girls, and something unique to boys. I came across your web page while searching and just found it to be so interesting! I just thought you might have some ideas or suggestions we can use. I thank you very much in advance!" -- Barbara Mini A German reader writes, "Sorry Barbara, an „Oktoberfest“ in Germany is never a church’s event – this is a festival for adults for drinking beer etc. without any religious background. For a church, there is the „Kirchweih“ or „Erntedankfest“, or may be a „Kinderfest“ in summer. In Munich, the Oktoberfet is not an event for the children, may be for elder teens. During an Oktoberfest there may be some guided games and funs for children in the afternoon, the real noisy Oktoberfest starts in the evening for adults only (babies are sleeping, gives nice pictures in TV)."

HBC believes this is an important question. We should note that there differences between Oktoberfest in Germany and America. The German Oktoberfest as our German reader points out is not a family event, but primarily a beer drinking event for adults with music and dancing added in. This is different in America where Ojtoberfest is more a celebration of German ethnicity. Some of the Oktoberfest celebrations we have attended in America were somewhat weak in children's events, especially events for younger children. . We have some basic ideas. Certainly a kind of dance workshop teaching children some basic dance routeins would be good activity in keeping with the theme. A craft activity is a good idea. Girls would indeed be intreagued with making a flower or hairbow that they could wear. I'm less sure about the boys, prhaps they could make somekind of cloth halter like the leather ones won wih lederhosen. A paper Alpine hat is another possoibility. Childrens games are another possibility. German children commonly played some of the same games as American or English children, such as "Tinker, Tailor" which in German was "Kaiser, Koenig". Perhps ome of the games could be run in German. It would be a fun activity for younger children and provide an opportunity to learn some German words. Another possibility is Blindman's Bluff which in German is Blindekuh (Blind cow). Other picnic events such as Three-leged races, although the games with rhymes that can be done in German. A German reader writes, "That’s fine. May I include the proposal to teach and learn popular (German) songs for children (the German/European melody is very often taken over by American songs in musicals!), or German folk dancing."

We would be very interested if our readers could suggest some children's events that have proved popular with children at Oktoberfests.


S ome of the best known German ethnic costumes are lederhosen, both short pants and knicker style. These ethnic costumes are called "Tracht". Lederhosen are commonly worn by German bands and dance groups. Boys participating in German ethnic events commonly dress up in lederhosen. HBC has noted consideable variation in folk costume. Many of these variations may be just variation of the historical costumes worn in Germany up to about 1925. Some of these differences may be regionally based. The outfits included different types of hats, blazers, shirts, pants, and socks. I'm not sure what the hat style was called but feathers were often added. One style is the Allgäuer Hat with Gamsbart (beard of a chamois). For festive occasions--a single flower in hat is added to match the womens' hats. The blazers were often grey with a wide variety of trim--often in green. Trachten shirts often have their sleeves rolled up. The pants were either lederhosen or knickers style pants. Some were elaborately trimmed. Hosenträger is one distinctive regional style. It may have gereen embrodiery with large white Edelweiss. Boys wore both kneesocks and a kind of hose that was a band around the calf. The kneesocks are most commonly gray with double green stripes. I'm not sure why this type of kneesock is so common. Trachten shoes are also worn. Women and girls also wear a variety of ethnic outfits. There are many regional differences. One example is Allgäuer style. The woman's Festtracht exemplifies the traditional simplicity of the area. We wear: a gray skirt (about 16 rows of gathering---the way this skirt is gathered typifies the Allgäuer style) , a white Trachten blouse, a black Mieder, a Allgäuer Hat with feather (worn on the crown of the head) , a red apron, a single red flower Trachten Shoes (white or black hose). We note a German web page that provides a good example of the variations.

American Celebrations

A German reader writes, "I suppose the origin in the US is from soldiers returning from military service after World War II." This may well be a factor. We note that American Oktoberfests are sponsored by American German ethnic organizations. I'm not sure about when these events began to be held in America. The anti-German sentiment resulting from World War I as well as prohibition presumbavly impaired the organization of these events. As we have discussed above, American Oktoberfests are quite different from the celebrtion in Munich from whivh they draw the name.


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Created: July 8, 2003
Last updated: 3:01 AM 8/8/2004