It was twilight on Bayou St John, but the lights were on at Deutsches Haus’ new location on Moss Street, and the festival was in full swing. The smell of sizzling, fatty wurst filled the air with a smoky scent, and the light from the lampposts and ATMs floated through the air filled with the chattering of the festival-goers. It was the opening weekend of Oktoberfest in New Orleans.
New Orleans Oktoberfest: A Family Friendly Affair
At the gate, the ticket-taking staff all wore lederhosen, alpine-style felt caps and broad smiles (a word of warning, the festival, including admissions, is largely cash-only, with ATMs inside).
As festivals go, this one has a gastro-pub vibe, with large tents that simply advertise “German beer,” and many of the patrons are milling about the grounds holding large, frosty glass steins meant to hold 20 ounces of frothy nectar. They looked like cups made for giants, though the steins are a familiar sight in Biergartens in Germany where middle aged German men sip mildly at their gargantuan drinks at 10 am, in a custom known as Frühschoppen. Despite the emphasis on beer, Oktoberfest is family friendly, and many of the guests brought their children and dogs. Some of the adults were decked out in lederhosen and dirndls, and some of the children were dressed as superheroes and ballerinas, as children are wont to do.
Inside Oktoberfest: Great Beer, Good Food, and Interesting Music
Once inside, you can head to one of the “beer tents” where, despite somewhat misleading signage, the bartenders serve many different brews. Try a “Dunkelbier,” or dark beer – one with a heavier maltier flavor that can be reminiscent of toast. All of the beers are served in generous 16 oz. pours, and the light beers, or “Leichtbier,” are wheat flavored and mild. As well as the imported selection, Urban South has also created a custom brew for the festival – Festbier. Urban South has its own craft beer tent, and several booths sell a variety of different snacks: kielbasa and sauerkraut on pretzel buns, soft pretzels, and Flammkuchen – a German style white pizza, which sounds unappealing but looks delicious. In the larger food tent, guests can purchase platters of food in a cafeteria style setting, choosing different meats (schnitzel, wurst, or German meatloaf) and sides (potato salad, red stewed cabbage, and sauerkraut) all served with bread and butter. The platters are large – you may want to split one with a friend.
Throughout the festival, you heard the strains of music and festival goers stopped, overflowing cups of beer in hand, at the bandshell in the center of the grounds. At the front of the crowds, several couples were line dancing and later, polka dancing, as the bands played songs with dirty lyrics over the clamor of the clarinets, drums, and accordion. One memorable set included a “polka-style” cover of both Britney Spears’ “Toxic” and Katy Perry’s “Hot and Cold”—both huge pop hits that arguably should never be polka-fied.
Oktoberfest in Germany, curiously, is celebrated in September. Held in Munich in Bavaria, the OG Oktoberfest hosts over 6 million visitors each year (as a comparison, about 1.4 million people partake in New Orleans’ Mardi Gras festivities each year), and beer consumption topped out at the festival in 2013, where the guests drank 7.7 million liters of beer (to Americans, a liter is 33.8 fluid ounces). In 2014, the guests drank a million fewer liters, but managed to consume “112 oxen, 48 calves, and over 600,000 chickens.”
Opening New Orleans Oktoberfest: Tapping the Keg
This year’s New Orleans Oktoberfest began with a ceremonial “tapping of the first keg” by current Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser. A controversial figure, Billy Nungesser was a vocal opponent to the removal of Confederate monuments in New Orleans and went so far as to write to President Trump himself, asking him to intervene with the removal. The plea went unanswered. Nungesser has also alleged that the Democratic Party of Louisiana has participated in widespread voter fraud, a claim that appears to be partisan and completely unfounded.
Ceremonial keg-tapping aside, the festival also has Masskrugstemmen – Beer Stein Holding contests – several times daily (men and women welcome) and something known as “chicken dancing” – the chicken dance. The festival has two more weekends (October 12-13 and 19-20) and goes from 4 p.m. – 11 p.m. Fridays and 1 p.m. – 11 p.m. Saturdays. On October 20th, at 3 p.m., the dachshund race will begin, with proceeds to benefit the Animal Rescue of New Orleans (you can register your dachshund here). Saturday, October 13 will be the Schnauzer Costume Contest and Parade (all breeds welcome), with proceeds going to the NOLA Schnauzer Rescue. You can register your dog here.
Considering that this iteration of New Orleans Oktoberfest both commemorates Deutsches Haus returning to Mid-City (their new building will open in November) as well as the organization’s 90th birthday, this year’s festival promises to be a memorable one. That is if, after all the biers, you can remember it.
For more information on Deutsches Haus and Oktoberfest, click here
Jesse Baum is a writer originally from Brooklyn New York. She is a writer and editorial board member for Big Easy Magazine, and a contributing reporter with the Mid-City Messenger.