Oktoberfest: Germany vs. United States

Oktoberfest sign

Oktoberfest is an annual German tradition that aims to celebrate their culture. There are so many factors that go into creating this cultural experience; for instance, clothing, beverages, food, music, et cetera.

People of German descent live all around the world and those that live in the United States attempt to recreate Oktoberfest from afar.

U.S. culture is very different from that of Germany so it is challenging to bring the entire festival to the United States for many reasons. For example, it’s possible that U.S. citizens could reject anything out of the ordinary that may be considered tradition in Germany, making it less authentic.

Looking into the history of Oktoberfest, King Ludwig I married Princess Therese in Saxony Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810. A festive celebration of their marriage brought Munich citizens onto the Theresienwiese field (Theresa’s fields) named in honor of the princess. Horse races took place on the field when in presence of the Royal Family that soon became an annual event — Oktoberfest.

Elizabeth Beach describes her experience:

There were tents everywhere. Every tent looked like it held about 10,000 people and when we finally found a seat in the fourth tent we walked into, we were served a liter of beer—each!

Oktoberfest, food, beer, tent, festival
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Some parts of the German culture that show up during Oktoberfest are clothing and food. Clothing involves the lederhosen and the dirndl. Lederhosens (worn by men) are knee-length leather pants with suspenders to hold them up. Dirndls (worn by women) are ruffled up dresses with an apron to match. All around, it consists of a bodice (blouse) and a skirt.

Now, the food served during Oktoberfest is carb-loaded and packed with juicy meat.

A list of examples:

  • Roast chicken
  • Schweinbraten (roast pork)
  • Schweinshaxe (roasted ham hock)
  • Steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick)
  • Würstl (sausages), Brezen (pretzels)
  • Knödel (potato or flour dumplings)
  • Käsespätzle (cheese noodles)
  • Reiberdatschi (potato pancakes)
  • Sauerkraut
  • Obatzda (spiced cheese-butter spread)

Oktoberfest in the U.S.

Oktoberfest in the United States is presented much differently. It’s less “intense,” so to speak. The German cultural aspects of the festival aren’t as strong in the U.S. and the focus isn’t centered on the celebration of culture, but more so on the beer.

Kieran Doyle says,

In Europe, the alcoholic culture is very different. People don’t drink to get drunk and it’s people of all ages. It’s more of a celebration of all things German so people are getting together to celebrate their culture.

Beach follows up with,

People try to carry the traditions in America but its never truly authentic. They don’t typically wear the traditional clothing. There is more of a carnival feel to everything that brings families together whereas in America it’s more geared towards adults because the main focus is beer for 21 and up.

The United States’ idea of fun family festivities are games involving alcohol in some way like keg bowling. The carnival vibe isn’t really there but instead has become a party in the bars.

Embracing one’s culture is important and shows that you respect yourself and where you come from. Even though the United States celebrates Oktoberfest differently than Germany, it doesn’t mean the respect for the culture is valued any less.

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