I like reproductions of things to be true to the original. Books, movies, food, beer and even Oktoberfest.
I have been there, which by no means makes me a foremost authority in any degree, but I know what it’s like (Read Oktoberfest: O’zapft is!).
And by default, I know what it isn’t like.
Oktoberfest is not very authentically represented by the variety of Oktoberfests in the U.S. Ohio has a very large amount of people of German heritage, so one would think that you could find someone who knows something about Oktoberfest or Germany, Austria or Switzerland to help you with your event.
Even if you cannot find someone to tell you about the Munich Oktoberfest, you could do some research.
One of the first things you would learn is that Oktoberfest does not include the letter “C.” October in German is written Oktober with a “K.” There is also no capital “F” because the event title is all one word.
The Oktoberfest here in Findlay got the “K” right, but not the “F,” so it is spelled “OktoberFest.”
The next thing you should know is that Oktoberfest begins in mid-September and concludes after the first weekend in October. Here’s why:
The historical background: the first Oktoberfest was held in the year 1810 in honor of the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig’s marriage to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The festivities began on October 12, 1810 and ended on October 17th with a horse race. In the following years, the celebrations were repeated and, later, the festival was prolonged and moved forward into September.
By moving the festivities up, it allowed for better weather conditions. Because the September nights were warmer, the visitors were able to enjoy the gardens outside the tents and the stroll over “die Wiesen” or the fields much longer without feeling chilly. Historically, the last Oktoberfest weekend was in October and this tradition continues into present times. (Oktoberfest dates and general facts)
Oktoberfest in Munich begins this Saturday (Sept. 17, 2011) at noon and continues until Oct. 3.
Fortunately, German beer is readily available in the U.S., so having the right beer to drink happens, although proper pouring techniques and glasses do not always prevail. I am also not always satisfied with American breweries’ takes on a Hefeweizen, but Shiner in Texas does make it right.
Food, on the other hand, is not always so successful, whether it is at Oktoberfest or a German restaurant. I tend to blame my discontent with some German restaurants on the idea that perhaps the food is based off a more northern German region rather than southern, which eliminates some of the food I expect to be on the menu. But Oktoberfest happens in southern Germany, so the food should be distinct to southern German.
Another problem with food is that some parts of dishes just are Americanized. For instance, at the German-American Festival in Toledo, I was able to order a schnitzel sandwich, but it was served on an American hamburger bun. In Austria, it would be served on a Semmel, something shaped similarly to a kaiser roll, but has a hard and flaky crust. At the Cleveland Labor Day Oktoberfest (which is in early September), I ordered a schnitzel sandwich that was served with thick-cut slices of some wonderful white bread. Also not totally traditional, but still tasty. It was easily the best schnitzel I have had outside of a German-speaking country, excluding the one I had at Hofbräuhaus Las Vegas because that is an imported German restaurant.
An additional problem with food is that people do not always know what the German or Austrian version of a food is. Maybe you grew up in a house where schnitzel or goulash was served regularly. But that does not mean that what you grew up with is authentic to the region around Munich or anywhere close, for that matter. I have had people ask me about both of those dishes and what they traditionally contain. I have also had to explain that not all schnitzel is Wiener Schnitzel! Please, take note:
Although the traditional Wiener schnitzel is made of veal, it is now often made of pork [or turkey or chicken]. When made of pork, it is often called Schnitzel Wiener Art in Germany. In Austria, by law it has to be called Wiener Schnitzel vom Schwein (vom Schwein meaning from pork or pig)to differentiate it from the original. In Austria and Germany, the term Wiener Schnitzel is protected by law, and any schnitzel called by that name has to be made from veal. (Wikipedia’s Schnitzel page)
Another food example is Spätzle. First, it would be nice if Americans could learn how to pronounce this word for a type of egg noodle (listen here). In German, the “E” gets pronounced like “uh” rather than not pronounced at all. Over the past couple of weeks, not only have I heard this word mispronounced a handful of times, but I have also heard someone talk about how he is going to make some “Spetzel, that fried noodle.” Umm, no. It is dough that is dropped into boiling water. No oil or skillet needed.
There are plenty of other things I could point out, but I think by now you get the point. Although I can’t go without mentioning a new “Octobeerfest” where I grew up. The festival features food from Germany, Austria, Poland, Italy, Czech Republic, Hungary, Greece and others, along with keg tossing, cigar seminars, kissing booths, a monster truck show, beer gardens, apple bobbing, a lumberjack competition, corn hole, polka, bluegrass and disco music, and more. Honestly, if you can’t find something you like at this festival, then I don’t know what to tell you.
And here’s what I want you to get from this post: Oktoberfest might be a giant party where millions of liters of beer are sold, women dress in dirndls and men dress in lederhosen, people dance on tables, and everyone consumes pretzels, gingerbread hearts and strudel.
But it isn’t that simple.
There is more to the Germans, Austrians and Swiss than just Oktoberfest. Yes, they are those things embodied in what Oktoberfest is, but they do not eat sausage and potatoes every day just like Americans do not eat pizza or McDonald’s every day.
I love that so many people honor Oktoberfest by planning their own celebration, especially because it reminds me of how much I love Germany and Austria, and I love seeing other people enjoy something from those cultures, too. But could you please spell Oktoberfest with a “K”?
Are there any traditions from another culture that are becoming American or are already celebrated here that bother you because of their deviations from the original?