When you have good bier and a tight knit community (from all over), festivals just invent themselves. That’s what happened with Oktoberfest in 1810. Can you believe Helen, Georgia, the town that invented itself in the image of Bavaria, has been celebrating Oktoberfest for 50 years? It’s evidence that the spirit driving Oktoberfest is eternal: we love to make up reasons to sing, dance, enjoy the most comfortable time of year, and do so in pristine foothills. The parade has kicked off and the first kegs have been tapped. Let’s get ready for a month of merriment.
What brings people to Helen year after year for Oktoberfest? There’s no better place to experience the spirit of Bavaria with authentic food, drink, costume, architecture, music, and dance. The Blue Ridge foothills region even looks like Germany. Helen’s is the longest running Oktoberfest in the United States. Having kicked off in mid-September, Helen’s Oktoberest celebrations occur daily from right now until November 7. You can’t miss the entry to the Festhalle in the center of Helen’s compact, 2 square-mile downtown:
● Weekdays 6:00pm-10:30pm
● Friday 6:00pm-12:00am
● Saturday 1:00pm-12:00am
● Sunday 1:00pm-7:00pm
Why All the Beer?
The origin of the Oktoberfest is credited to the marriage of King Louis I of Bavaria in 1810. King Louis’ family invited the volk of Munich to attend a range of festivities, namely beer and horse racing. Because of the timing, there was a lot of beer to be disposed of: Märzen beer is made near the end of winter and lasts until early fall when it must be drunk. What this meant was a perfect storm for revelry. The festival was repeated yearly all over Bavaria.
German monks were way ahead of the rest of us in the craft brew movement. They actually pioneered using hops and serving beer in gardens. In 1516, Bavaria began regulating the purity of beer. Beer across the world is part of this legacy. Part of Oktoberfest is celebrating abundance of beer. Helen’s Oktoberfest has a travelling keg-tapping ceremony schedule that allows visitors to enjoy all of the unique sides of town.
Keg tapping is a German tradition in which an honored speaker says a few words, and the crowd chants and then imbibes the freshly tapped keg. You’ll want to especially listen for these two phrases: O’zapft is! (It’s tapped!) and “Oans, zwoa, drei, g’suffa!” (One, two, three. . . drink!).
There is still time to catch tapping ceremonies on October 9th:
12pm: Monday’s Pub 1pm: Spice 55 2pm: Sweet Acre Wine 3pm: Chattahoochee Dog Haus 4pm: River Haus
As you make your way sound the Festhalle and the many bars that serve German beer around town, be on the lookout for the classics:
● Dunkel: Darker, Munich-brewed and found at the Heidelberg
● Oktoberfest/Märzen: A well-aged, deep, strong amber beer always at Troll Tavern
● Pilsner: Golden light beer with a sweetness found at Hofbrauhaus
● Schwarzbier: Look for this dark beer sipper at Big Daddy’s
German traditional music for Oktoberfest makes you want to chant, bounce, and drink. You will hear accordions, alphorns, tubas, bass drums and cymbals. Because of the 2/4 beat, Oktoberfest music, overlapping with polka, is called “oom-pah.” The Festhalle in Helen is pretty serious about their music: 90% of it is required to be German traditional. Because the celebration is so well known, this is a rare place to hear the bands who play that kind of music all together. Here are the featured acts at the Bandshell Amphitheatre which range from brass bands to traditional folk balladeers:
October 4 – 10: Squeeze Box featuring Ted Lange & Mollie B.; Sonnen Schnapps
October 11 – 17: Alex Meixner Band; Alpinedoc Matthias
October 18 – 24: Alpenmusikanten; The Duncan’s from Prost
October 25 – Oct 31: Martin Gross und sein Sonnenschein Express: Herb Albinus
November 1 – 7: Europa; Herb Albinus
October various (Most Fridays and Saturdays): Don Ostrowsky
All day at the Festhalle you can have various wursts, sauerkraut, potato cakes, and schnitzels. What about breakfast? Hofers was founded by German immigrants in 1973, and it’s almost as old as Oktoberfest in America. And for lunch or dinner, you might want to get a different take on German cuisine: Spaetzle (German dumplings) and smoked pork chops at Hofbrauhaus are confirmed old-country quality, while the upscale Beef Roll at Bodensee is a still-authentic contrast to the more common pork sausages.
What is up with the leather shorts? Lederhosen were the 18th century working-class version of jeans in Germany. They are leather shorts (there are pants versions too) with suspenders. The Bavarian variety was known for a decorated flap. Since leather pants have lost their utility in much of life, lederhosen add to the romanticism of Oktoberfest. Pair them with a Tyrolean wool hat, which falls somewhere between Robin Hood and a fedora, for an even more festive look.
The dirndl is the feminine era-appropriate counterpart to lederhosen: a close-fitting bodice with a blouse underneath, high waisted skirt and apron. There aren’t any fashion police in Helen, so feel free to experiment with any traditional garb you please. Jean shorts work too.
Oktoberfest is at the heart of Helen’s culture. This time of year defines the atmosphere of this magical place year-round. Couldn’t we all use the escape? For lovely local accommodations to round out your Alpine Helen Oktoberfest getaway, click here today!