By Gregg Hoffmann Special to Published Sep 16, 2005 at 5:20 AM

{image1}You can find more than one Oktoberfest celebration in Wisconsin., a Web site that serves the German American audience, lists such festivals in Glendale, Appleton, Chippewa Falls, Plymouth and La Crosse.

The latter can boast of having one of the longest running in the country when its 45th consecutive fest starts Sept. 30. It runs through Oct. 8.

La Crosse also can tout the fact that USA Today listed the festival as one of the 10 best in Oktoberfest celebrations in the world a few years ago.

The first Oktoberfest, USA, was held in La Crosse in 1961. During the fall of 1960, several officials of the La Crosse-based G. Heileman Brewing Company were discussing an annual promotion.

As the idea for an Oktoberfest grew, it quickly became apparent that there would be much more to do than could be handled by a single firm. It was agreed that the Oktoberfest should be a completely civic enterprise. Early in 1961, brewery officials contacted the La Crosse Chamber of Commerce and proposed the idea to chamber members. It was accepted, and both agreed that the chamber would act as the sponsoring organization.

An Oktoberfest Committee was established to oversee the proposed annual celebration. There has been explosive growth of Oktoberfest, USA, since that first year.

In 1962, the name "Oktoberfest" was registered with the State of Wisconsin. In 1963, "Oktoberfest, USA" was registered and listed as a trademark with the federal government. In 1965, the newly-formed La Crosse Festivals, Inc., purchased the assets of Oktoberfest from the Chamber of Commerce and became the sponsoring organization.

The Old World Oktoberfest goes back to 1810, when Princess Therese was married to the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig. In a meadow adjacent to Munich, as part of the wedding entertainment, a horse race was staged for 40,000 enthusiasts from all over Bavaria.

The party given after the wedding was so successful that the meadow was named the Theresien-Wiese in honor of the princess. Even today, the meadow retains its name and is kept as a large open clearing within the heart of a city grown far beyond it. Today, the festival comes alive at noon on opening when, as the clock of St. Paul's Church in Munich strikes 12 noon, the Burgermeister enters one of the beer tents and taps the first cask and quaffs the first stein during a 12 cannon salute.

One of the highlights of the fest is the Trachtenfest parade, one in which thousands of participants from all over Germany dress in their native costume. Bands, floats and decorated beer wagons drawn by beautiful horses wind their way through the downtown streets and out to the Wies'n, short for festival grounds.

Like the Munich celebration, a parade kicks off the La Crosse festival on Sept. 30. A second parade, the Maple Leaf Parade, is held the second Saturday of the festival.

Autumn Bluffs Echo

A theme is established each year for Oktoberfest. This year's is "Autumn Bluffs Echo Oktoberfest."

"This annual fall festival has been ranked as one of the top ten Oktoberfest celebrations in the world," said Dawson Strutt, 2005 President, La Crosse Festivals Inc. "With this year's theme being 'Autumn Bluffs Echo Oktoberfest,' one can only imagine all of the wonderful sounds that have echoed over these majestic autumn-colored bluffs surrounding this beautiful valley known as 'God's country' the past 45 years.

"In 2005 you will again hear the sounds of classic rock, country, blues, and of course, polka music provided by not only our most popular local German bands but also some authentic German bands direct from Deutschland!"

You can hear plenty of German music throughout the festival and do a little knee-slapping dancing if that is your thing. But, as Strutt mentioned, you also can take in other types of music.

For example, the first night, Sept. 30, is Blues Bash Night. Dog House John and the Misbehaviors and the Lamont Cranston Band are featured.

The last night, Oct. 8, is Classic Rock Night, with Molly Hachet featured. In between those opening and closing nights, you can listen to performers ranging from Pat McCurdy to The Dweebs.

Of course, beer is bound to be part of any German festival. "Beer is part of everyday life in La Crosse, where eight German-owned breweries once stood," wrote "One of them, G. Heilman, helped get Oktoberfest USA off the ground. Today, it's one of the nation's best Old World folk festivals, with an honorary royal family, a lederhosen luncheon, and a torchlight parade."

As mentioned, G. Heilman was part of the founding of Oktoberfest. That brewery long ago abandoned La Crosse, but City Brewery has become a successful venture in the old Heilman plant. City Brewers sponsors the first day of the festival and sells plenty of beer throughout Oktoberfest.

At one time several years ago, public drunkenness became somewhat of a problem at the festival, but in more recent years the celebration has gone on without problems. Festivities are held at two Oktoberfest stage grounds and at other designated spots around town.

While La Crosse claims to have "one of the oldest" U.S. Oktoberfests, Glendale's celebration claims to be the "oldest and most authentic Bavarian Oktoberfest" in the Midwest. It certainly got a head start with the first of three weekends right after Labor Day at the Bavarian Inn and Heidelberg Park.

Chippewa Falls holds its third and Plymouth its second Oktoberfest the weekend of Sept. 16-18. Appleton celebrates its 25th Oktoberfest Sept. 21-24. If you know of other Oktoberfests in Wisconsin, add them at the end of this column using the talkback feature.

Gregg Hoffmann Special to
Gregg Hoffmann is a veteran journalist, author and publisher of Midwest Diamond Report and Old School Collectibles Web sites. Hoffmann, a retired senior lecturer in journalism at UWM, writes The State Sports Buzz and Beyond Milwaukee on a monthly basis for OMC.