Celebrating Tradition

Rivers of beer flow at Oktoberfests around Michigan.
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Oktoberfest tent in Michigan
Photography courtesy of Laura Henschke

At Michigan Oktoberfests, the beer just flows and flows as it should since the colorful festivals are based upon the more than 200-year-old Munich, Germany, tradition of holding the largest beer festival in the world.

But Oktoberfests include more than beer. There are crazy competitions to see how long steins can be held or how fast a beer keg can be rolled. German brats and pretzels, plus hard-to-pronounce foods like “wurstsalat” (a German sausage salad with peppers and onions), fill the menus. Men dress in Lederhosen breeches and women in dirndls as they dance under beer tents. There are lots of kid activities, making the celebrations family-friendly events.

Men in Lederhosen breeches

Frankenmuth’s festival takes the prize for being the largest. The town draws about 10,000 to its Oktoberfest, according to Pam Mossner, festival coordinator. The Sept. 20-23 event will open with the tapping of a keg of the German beer Hofbräu, the only type of beer served, and by the end of the festival will have gone through about 300 barrels.

“The German way to dance, eat and drink pretty much sums it up,” Mossner said of the 29-year-old Frankenmuth festival. Weiner dog races set this party apart from others. About 5,000 people watch 100 dogs compete and get dressed up in German costumes.

Oktoberfest organizers in Frankenmuth and Grand Rapids said their events have grown larger each year and they continue to work to make them more authentic.

Frankenmuth Oktoberfest Weiner dogs
Photography courtesy of Lauren O’Connell

Oktoberfest West Michigan, Sept. 28-29 at John Ball Park, is where that authenticity includes the sounds of Alphorns opening the festival, traditional German music during the day and German techno music at night. It’s put on by the Edelweiss Club of Grand Rapids. “I think it’s one of the most authentic you can get,” said Paul Starr, director of the festival.

German beers and wine will be served as crowds cheer the stein hoisting, keg racing and keg tossing competitions. Children’s activities also are on tap.

West Michigan Oktoberfest
Photography courtesy of Laura Henschke

Smaller Oktoberfests in Pentwater, Lansing and Sault Ste. Marie each close their main streets for the festivities that have become local traditions.

Beer at Michigan's Oktoberfests
Beer and more beer, dancing and fun all are part of Oktoberfests around the state. // Photography courtesy of Laura Henschke

Pentwater’s Oktoberfest adds a non-German twist: a classic car and hot rod show. “It’s family friendly and great for those interested in classic cars and hot rods,” said Eva Gregwer, executive director of the Oct. 13 event.

Oktoberfest in Lansing’s historic Old Town, Oct. 5-6, will host the Lansing Stein Heist finals. It also has Hammerschlagen, an interesting nail-driving competition. “It’s filled with silliness,” said Vanessa Shafer, executive director of the 21-and-over festival. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously about anything.”

Sault Ste. Marie Oktoberfest on Sept. 29 is where people can do something unusual — run across the International Bridge to Canada — in the Sault International Race. “It’s an Oktoberfest with a Yooper twist,” said Justin Knepper of the Downtown Development Authority. “Come with an open mind. You’re going to get a little bit of everything.”

Photography courtesy of Laura Henschke

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