The stickiness, frizziness, unrelenting hazy summer sun: what’s the best way to usher it out, preparing yourself for a crisp fall? An alpine Oktoberfest with bier and dancing!
Perhaps you haven’t planned a trip to Munich to join some 7 million other seasonal revelers—but that’s no deal breaker.
The longest Oktoberfest celebration in America is in the otherwise quiet German-themed village of Helen, Georgia. At the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains and bisected by the Chattahoochee River, it’s as close to Bavaria as you can get in America. Here is your introductory guide and some options to help you plan the perfect trip to Helen’s 49th year of Oktoberfest:
Oktoberfest exists because Germans stumbled upon a party they wanted to replicate—it was the right time of the beer year and the right time in history to be seasonally convenient. Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese on October 12, 1810. Unlike other royal weddings of the era, citizens of Munich were invited to attend festivities. The citizens were so flattered that they repeated the celebration every year . . . and for longer durations. Food and beer stands were introduced in 1815.
Oktoberfest has persisted because it represents a distinct slice of pastoral, pre-German unification Bavaria and is easily understood worldwide as a great excuse for celebration.
For those faithful to the elements, Oktoberfest is exportable. Helen has the architecture, music, dress, food and beer, and enthusiastic following to pull it off like no other American city. One million tourists visit Helen every year for Oktoberfest!
Oktoberfest begins runs throughout most of September and October: September 5-8, 12-15, 19-22, and the long stretch is from September 26-October 27!
The Festhalle is the epicenter of Helen’s Oktoberfest. It is set up with rows of long tables, overseen by Bavarian-dressed servers. There is an admission fee every day of the week except Sunday, which provides music and dance performers from all over. You’ll want to hear authentic Polka—a band schedule is here. Inside you can get an authentic stein of Paulaner Oktoberfest (there are plenty of other German classic brews), hot brats, pretzels and deserts from a variety of vendors.
· Monday – Thursday 6pm – 10:30pm
· Friday 6pm – Midnight
· Saturday 1pm – Midnight
· Sunday 1pm – 7pm
· Monday – Friday $8
· Saturday – $10
· Sunday – Free
If you want a table, get there early. If you prefer a looser, more laid-back party, err on the late side. In either case, learn this indispensable toast-song:
A video to learn from is here and the lyrics are below.
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit (A toast, a toast) Der Gemütlichkeit (to cheer and good times) Ein Prosit, ein Prosit (A toast, a toast) Der Gemütlichkeit (to cheer and good times)
After the band plays this song, everyone raises their glasses and says: “Oans, zwoa, drei, Gsuffa!” meaning “One, two, three, drink!”
Considerations: Who Should Go?
Don’t be alarmed by the beer-drinking emphasis: Helen is well-suited for families year-round, even during Oktoberfest. An afternoon in the Festhalle is a great time for all ages: music, the chicken dance, costumes, food, and crafts.
While one day of festing may be plenty for some, others may prefer to spend part of each day in their lederhosen. The great thing about Helen is that the entire town is prepared for Oktoberfest with specials and events, and the natural attractions such as Anna Ruby Falls and Chattahoochee National Forest are always available. A contingent of your group might want to go kayaking, fishing, shopping or biking—and all of that is within reach for people on the same vacation.
Considerations: Timing and Accommodations
Going to Oktoberfest means you’re accepting that it will be crowded. If you are staying multiple nights, it’s best to make reservations in advance with regard to your proximity to plans. Whatever you do, don’t try to make a drinking day-trip. The traffic can get very thick on the windy roads, and it is not worth it in any regard. Stay at least a night (trust us on this one!).
Do you want to see German culture on display? You may want to attend the popular annual kick-off parade on Saturday, September 7th, at noon. If you’re planning a long family weekend, it may be best to aim for an early celebration at the Festhalle with free admission on Sunday, reserving the rest of your trip for exploring the area. Some say the weeks in September are better for smaller crowds, although the heat may be a tradeoff.
You’ll likely want to explore some of the hotel and motel options here. If you want to be close to the festivities and experience remarkably German facades, try these:
· Bavarian Brook
· Heidi Motel
· Hofbrau Riverfront Hotel
· Castle Inn
. Visit Helen this Oktoberfest, and we guarantee you’ll feel the meaning of Gemütlichkeit!