By Ed Perkins, Tribune Content Agency
It’s not too early to start planning your fall vacation. And if you’re looking for an excuse to OD on hot sausage and cold beer, head for an Oktoberfest. Yes, the “real deal” is in Munich, but dozens of U.S. and Canadian cities make a big deal out of Oktoberfest — some extended, some just a weekend. The official Oktoberfest dates in Munich are September 16 to October 3, but dates vary in other venues.
For true Oktoberfest, you still have to get to Munich. Currently, I see mid-September round-trip fares to Munich in the range of $600 to $900 from Boston or $800 to $1,100 from Los Angeles. As usual, one-stop flights are considerably cheaper than nonstops, but beware that some of the cheapest trips involve connecting at a remote airport such as Istanbul or flying in a really bad economy class on Ukrainian.
Oktoberfest in Munich isn’t for the dedicated pfennig-pinchers. As they do everywhere, local hoteliers in Munich have raised prices for the festival, and I see that most of the economy hotels in or near the city center are already sold out for many of the festival days. Unless you’re willing to pay top dollar, consider staying somewhere outside the center with good U-bahn access. And even then you’re likely to pay north of $200 a day. But the beer is still a reasonable value: Official prices start at a tad under 11 euros (currently about $12.50) per liter (roughly two pints); I pay as much for a cold draft at my local pizzeria. In many places, water and lemonade cost as much as or more than beer.
Attending Oktoberfest in Munich is a big deal, as well: To make sure you get in, you have to make advance reservations at one of the near-30 “tents” that are set up for the prime action. Check oktoberfest.de/en/ for details.
But you don’t have to travel 4,000 miles for a beer-and-sausage fix; you can find Oktoberfests of varying authenticity closer to home. I’ve seen three different centers listed as “biggest outside of Munich:”
- Several sources cite Cincinnati’s “Oktoberfest Zinzinnati” as largest in the U.S., operating September 15 to 17.
- New Braunfels, Texas, between Austin and San Antonio, makes a strong claim to German heritage. But its bash isn’t really Oktoberfest; it’s “Wurstfest,” scheduled for November 3 to 12.
- In Canada, the top-rated Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest, about 90 miles southwest of Toronto, runs October 6 to 14 this year.
Other cities that show up on various Oktoberfest lists events include Addison, Texas; Appleton, Wisconsin; Atlanta; Big Bear Lake, California; Boston; Chicago; Breckenridge, Colorado; Cleveland; Denver; Frankenmuth, Michigan; Fredericksburg, Texas; Fremont, Washington; Helen, Georgia; Hickory, North Carolina; La Crosse, Wisconsin; Leavenworth, Washington; Los Angeles; Mount Angel, Oregon; New Orleans; Phoenix; Pittsburgh; Reno/Tahoe; San Francisco; St Louis; Toronto; and Washington D.C. Even Alyeska, Alaska, gets mentioned. Surprisingly, quintessentially German Milwaukee doesn’t have a major event. Check funtober.com/oktoberfest/us/ for a complete nationwide list of locations and dates.
As I noted in prior Oktoberfest coverage, the main authenticity deficit suffered by U.S. Oktoberfests is that what they call “Wienerschnitzel” is most likely to be either pork or chicken rather than the authentic veal. But pork-based “Schweinschnitzel” is a perfectly good dish, and getting decent veal for true Wienerschnitzel is almost impossible in most of the U.S.
Nevertheless, as I’ve also noted in prior columns, you can’t discuss Oktoberfest without starting at Munich. But if you don’t mind missing some of the hokey entertainment, huge crowds, and high prices, you can find great wurst, sauerbraten, and schnitzel in Munich all year. And you never need to worry that Munich will run out of beer.
(c) 2017 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC. — July 18, 2017