Bier Here: Oktoberfest’s history and the events going on to celebrate in Pittsburgh
Published: Thursday, September 20, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2012 00:09
Get out that stein and those leiderhosen, it’s time for Oktoberfest. While Pittsburgh may be thousands of miles from the homeland, there are festivities that will make you feel right at home celebrating the two-century-old drinking tradition.
According to James Wehs, adjunct German professor, Oktoberfest started in the first part of 19th century, with the marriage of the Prince of Bavaria. He invited people to his October wedding, where the drinks were free, and it became a tradition. The celebration was moved to September because of weather.
Following World War II, Americans became interested in it and started to attend. With international travel, it has attracted thousands of people from all over the world and has kept growing and growing, Wehs said.
“No question the beer is at the center of it,” Wehs said. “If it wasn’t for the beer and the breweries, there wouldn’t be an Oktoberfest.”
The festival, held annually in Munich, will celebrate its 202nd anniversary this year and sees over six million visitors each year. This year’s festival will start Saturday with opening ceremonies and run through Oct. 7.
“The essence is breweries in Munich, that’s the essence,” Wehs said. “Almost exclusively, the Germans go to [Oktoberfest] to drink 20 beers and fall over.”
Wehs, who visits family in Germany about every three months, attended Oktoberfest with a friend in 1965 and spent three days there, describing it as “quite a thing.”
“I recommend it to anybody, it’s not the opera though,” Wehs said. “Once was enough.”
For those who can’t make it to Munich for the festivities, there are options right here in Pittsburgh.
Hofbrauhaus in South Side Works has been holding Oktoberfest festivities since 2009 according to Denis Varitek, assistant general manager.
The South Side brewery and restaurant will have Oktoberfest events this Friday and Saturday and next Friday through Sunday in their bier hall, bier garden and South Side Works streets. Festivities will include including strolling musicians Steve Grkman and Mad Bavarian, stilt walkers, face painting and, of course, beer.
In addition to their normal beers, Hofbrauhaus will have their seasonal Oktoberfest. About 420 kegs, holding 50 liters each, of the seasonal September beer were shipped in from Munich for the month of September and Oktoberfest, according to Varitek.
“Basically Oktoberfest is like the last hoorah for the season,” Varitek said.
Varitek expects 20,000 people over the two weekends.
“It is busiest two weeks of the year ... we have all hands on deck,” Varitek said.
All staffing is “beefed up,” from servers to the kitchen, and even police officers, according to Varitek.
“Like any event, like going to a Steeler game, [there is] always gonna be people that are too excited,” Varitek said. “They think this is a big playground and they’re going to stupid things. “
However, at the real Oktoberfest, excessive drinking is encouraged.
“If you don’t drink a whole lot, people will get suspicious. The bouncers will start to look at you,” Wehs said. “If you don’t drink enough, it’s kind of obnoxious.”
Penn Brewery in North Side will also host Oktoberfest events and have been on for at least a couple of decades, according to Marketing Director Linda Nymen.
“[It’s] very, very lively, very, very festive. People always have a really good time,” Nymen said.
Penn Brewery’s events run the next two weekends, Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. to midnight and Sundays from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., when 8,000 - 10,000 people are expected.
The festivities will feature bands Autobahn Band, Heimet Klange, Kevin Solecki and Gaudi Buam. German food, as well as a “Master Tapper” contest, where contestants will compete each weekend to win a case of Penn Pilsner for a year, will round out the weekend’s events.