“Roll Out The Barrel” for Oktoberfest

by Natalie MeierStaff Writer

The third annual Des Moines Oktoberfest was held outside the Hessen Haus on Sept. 22 and 23. A few friends and I decided to check out this age-old German tradition. It cost $6 to get in and you can pay $1 more for a plastic souvenir mug that you can keep.

The tapping of the golden keg (yes, it is really a gold-colored keg) at 3 p.m. marked the beginning of the festival on Friday. The beer from the golden keg is free, so we decided to get there early. We were there by 2:30 p.m. and had plenty of time to stake out our spots, right by the golden keg of course, for the ceremonial start of Oktoberfest. The Burgermeister, which means master of the citizens or mayor in German, serves the first glass of beer in a silver glass. Before the beer can be served to the rest of the people, it must be tested and approved.

As we waited for the beer, I looked around at all of the different food vendors. The items included bratwurst, sauerkraut, sweet apples, German potato salad, pork chops on a stick, chicken sandwiches and much more. I can’t forget to mention the beer; the choices seemed endless. Spaten Oktoberfest, Warsteiner, Franzis Kaner Hefe-weissen, Lowenbrau, Beck’s and others were being sold for $4. As we sang “Roll Out the Barrel” and “In Heaven there is No Beer” with the Hank Thunander Band, we heard “Das Ist Gut.” The band began the German toasting songs and the crowd toasted one another as the beer was poured.

As the night went on, we met more interesting people. One of my favorites was Grandma Nellie, a little old lady wearing a dirndl, an authentic German dress, who taught us how to polka dance. As we were dancing with Grandma Nellie, I realized Oktoberfest is not all about getting drunk. Oktoberfest is about meeting new people, young and old, and having fun. It’s about celebrating life and an age-old holiday that has lasted through two world wars. I decided to research the German Oktoberfest and see how this tradition began.

On October 12, 1810, Ludwig of Bavaria, the future King Ludwig I, married Therese of Saxon-Hildburghausen. Their wedding festival lasted for five days. There were parades, horse races, music, food and, of course, beer. A year later, an agriculture festival was combined with the anniversary celebration and history was made.

The festival is held from the third weekend in September until the first Sunday in October. Although called Oktoberfest, most of the celebration is actually in September. This is because the festival is outside and the September weather is more favorable than in October. Six million people attend Oktoberfest each year, making it the largest festival in the world. The modern-day festival now includes tents that can hold 5,000 people, carnival rides and many other things the whole family can enjoy.

Although the Des Moines Oktoberfest only lasted two days, it is still a worthwhile experience. It may be missing a carnival and parades, but it’s not missing wonderful people and delicious beer. I highly recommend the Des Moines Oktoberfest.