La Crosse’s 57th annual Oktoberfest celebration will be held Sept. 28-Oct. 1.
By ANASTASIA PENCHI
This classic German festival offers beer, food, parades, people, music and other family entertainment.
La Crosse’s first Oktoberfest was first patterned after the Munich, Germany, festival in 1961. The La Crosse Chamber of Commerce organized it with help from the G. Heileman Brewing Company and other local businesses.
No matter if you are an Oktoberfest regular or newbie, here are five things to look forward to:
The Tapping of the Golden Keg.
A longstanding Oktoberfest tradition is the skipping of college classes (or work) to assist in the Tapping of the Golden Keg. La Crosse has its own brewmaster in Randy Hughes of City Brewing Co. You’ll likely see him there dressed in full fest garb, taking pictures with other people (and the keg, which is actually golden). This Oktoberfest experience is held on Friday morning – the day before the Maple Leaf Parade — but it ends up being a highlight for many. Craft Beer Night is held the evening before the Tapping of the Golden Keg, so if you can handle both of these events, along with the Maple Leaf Parade on Saturday, you are a true Oktoberfest professional and deserve your own button.
The Maple Leaf Parade.
All who live within 60 miles of La Crosse should experience the Maple Leaf Parade. Take a football, snacks, some chairs and some drinks, and then stake out a location. Let the kids run wild and throw the football along the parade route before it starts. Event organizers estimate 100,000 people come to watch this two-mile parade along this stretch of La Crosse. It is the big draw of this celebration, and it does provide fun over several hours. Great marching bands and floats ensure there is plenty of music, clapping and laughing. Why not Polka with strangers?
The Torchlight Parade.
This is another must for families. It is held on the North Side of La Crosse, and marks the official opening of the fest. If you have never attended a parade at night, you must experience it. Listen to marching bands as its players and instruments go by all decked out in glow sticks. The floats are creatively lit up, as well as some of the houses along the route. This parade is not nearly as long as the Maple Leaf Parade, which is good because most kids have to get up and go to school the next day. Bring your own glow sticks and hot chocolate if it’s cold.
Celebrity spotting in beer tents.
Oktoberfest draws people who used to attend college in La Crosse back to this area. These people now also bring their friends and family to celebrate with them. Most hotel rooms are booked solid for a year beforehand. The word is out nationally on how great this festival is, so you are bound to see celebrities. Do you ever watch the TV show, “American Pickers” on the History Channel featuring Frank Fritz? He often talks about attending La Crosse’s Oktoberfest, and I know people have taken pictures with him in past years. Even if you don’t happen to spot any national celebrities, you are bound to see our local politicians and TV personalities.
Get kissed by men in lederhosen.
You cannot deny there are a lot of people dressed in German clothing who walk around kissing strangers and handing out buttons. According to the Oktoberfest Web site, the festival names a Royal Family every year, so after 56 years there is a large group of people who are encouraged to dress up. The Web site warns: “Other patrons may dress in authentic garb as well so if you approach someone in German-style wear, please ask first if they are part of the Oktoberfest organization.” In other words, just don’t assume you can kiss anyone in German gear. I’d ask that those in German gear please don’t assume all festival attendants want to be kissed either.
If you would like to learn more about kissing the Oktoberfest Royal Family or just want to figure out how to become one of those people who sit in a recliner as they are pulled in a Maple Leaf Parade float, visit the Oktoberfest Web page at www.oktoberfestusa.com.
Anastasia Penchi is graduate of UW-La Crosse and a long-time Coulee Region writer who has written for area newspapers and magazines (www.loislaneforhire.com).