Fear and Loathing in Kitchener-Waterloo

It’s that time of year, Oktoberfest is here again!

Those words rang out across the square at Kitchener City Hall. Feathers bobbed on the heads of excited Oktoberfesters, my mother’s especially as she hit me in the face every time she turned to point out something else in the crowd. I had to resist the urge to rip the feather out of her hat, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

Being a Kitchener native, Oktoberfest has always been something that was part of my life, whether it was going to the family breakfasts or in the later years visiting the Festhallen and spending way too much money on beer. The food, music, and brews give Kitchener a new life. There’s a certain buzz that runs through everyone as this week approaches. This year, I was more concerned about getting tickets and organizing a schedule, thereby replacing the excitement with concern, frustration, and a hectic aura.

Going to the opening ceremonies, watching the dancers, smelling the sausage reminded me very quickly how much I love this time of year. It helped that the weather was absolutely beautiful and I could still get away with wearing shorts and not freezing. As soon as the keg was tapped, I knew what I wanted: beer.

I was thrilled I got to check out a venue I had never been to but had heard so much about, the Schwaben Club. It’s a traditional German club, so there were a few older people, and one side of the Club stuck to the traditional music and food, while the other side was more aimed towards the younger crowd.

The night is still a bit hazy. After looking in my wallet the next morning and finding that I had hardly spent anything, I’m still not too sure where most of the beer I was drinking came from. All I know is my cup was never empty, the music was awesome and our pitcher’s name was Brad. I also know that everything I was wearing that night now smells like beer, and my brand new boots may be ruined thanks to the massive crowds spilling my beer. No, it was knocked clear out of my hand, on to the floor, and all over me. I do remember the music though, and I was surprised when the band (I couldn’t tell you what they were called) covered Maroon 5 and a few other Top 40 hits. And I can tell you all I wanted to do was the Chicken Dance, which is by far the best Oktoberfest dance of them all.

The next morning was one of the roughest I’ve had in a while. When I finally made it home, I curled up on the couch with the seventh season of Friends and completely passed out. My mother even woke me up at one point to make sure I was still breathing. Yes, it was as bad as you’re probably imagining. All I could think about was ‘I still have another night of festing ahead of me… what have I gotten myself into?’

The original Oktoberfest was likely to have begun on October 17, 1810 in Bavaria in celebration of King Ludwig I to Therese Von Sachesen-Hildenburghausen. The National Guard thought that horse races would be a fitting way to celebrate the union, and with King Max’s (Ludwig’s father) permission, they made up the last five days of the wedding celebration. This quickly became an annual event and combined with a local farmer’s market to provide food and drink to accompany the races. Later on in the 1800’s, the booths grew into the large beer halls one would see today, and a midway and fair are now part of the annual celebration in Munich.

Oktoberfest spans over two weeks, and ends on the first Sunday of October. The Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest is entering its 43rd year, and has much more humble roots than that of its Bavarian counterpart. It started with a small group of volunteers who ran their own Oktoberfest at Concordia Club, largely due to the large German population of the area, evidenced by Kitchener’s former name of Berlin, until WWII. But a small group of dedicated volunteers decided that this could potentially be something that could be good for the community. With the hard work of Richard Hermansen, Owen Lackenbauer and Darwin Clay Oktoberfest began in KW on October 14, 1969 at Bingeman’s.

“We got the enthusiastic support of the German clubs and a tourism official from Munich, Germany. All we had was $200 and a vote of confidence from the Chamber to get it going. It was a phenomenal success for the first five days, and we turned a small profit with just short of 75,000 visitors,” recalls Lackenbauer.

I dragged myself off the couch, got cleaned up and tried to choke down a slice of pizza. All I kept telling myself was that I would ease up tonight and eat lots of the delicious German food to try to soak up some of the beer. I even managed to gain some knowledge, I wore flip flops instead of my new boots, which I’m sure didn’t matter anyway because they’re probably already ruined. Press pass in hand, I went off to Queensmount, the notorious ‘university kid’ venue.
I was so excited to get in for free by flashing my shiny press pass, but like most things, that’s not quite how it went.
My group got completely split up after my failed attempt to get in with the normal ticket holders. It left my roommate and me standing outside for an extra half hour being told by the security guard that we wouldn’t get in for a long time. My frustration was mounting, and all I could think was that this was going to be an interesting night.

I stared around the arena for a moment. I could have sworn it was a lot smaller last year, but then again last year is still a mystery to me. Finding anyone in that place is next to impossible, so the sight of our lost friends walking towards us with beers in hand for us was indescribable.
The music was a little bit more traditional, with some classic hits thrown in which made for the perfect combination. There was more selection when it came to food and a few games to participate in.
People will always tell you that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, but if you’re from Kitchener-Waterloo and you like to drink, Oktoberfest gives Christmas a run for its money. Forty-three years later, it’s something that nearly every local resident has some memory of.
It’s the festival that goes for a week, almost completely shuts down the downtown and has something for everyone. For some, it’s even a Thanksgiving tradition. Either way, it’s safe to say that Oktoberfest is something that is near and dear to the hearts of many, and is a tradition that I hope to see going for many, many more years. Even if I can’t remember most of the time I’ve spent festing.

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