Every fall, millions of visitors descend upon Munich, Germany, to celebrate Oktoberfest, Germany's famous beer-and-preztel-laden celebration. The festival—the largest of any festival in the world, with over 6 million participants—began in 1810, when Crown Prince Ludwig (later King Ludwig I) married Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The newlyweds invited all the citizens of Munich to celebrate their nuptials outside of the city gates, on a field now named Theresienwiese (Therese's fields). The party was such a hit that the future king and queen decided they wanted to recreate it every year. Oktoberfest has been held at the Theresienwiese every year since, with the exception of 1813 (when Bavaria was engaged in the Napoleonic Wars).
Munich may be home to the original Oktoberfest (which, despite its name, occurs each year from late September through the first weekend in October) but it's not the only fall celebration of German culture. If you can't make it to Bavaria this year—or want to try a festival with smaller crowds—here are eight alternatives.
Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
If you're looking for the world's second-largest Oktoberfest, you'll have to go beyond German borders: the biggest Oktoberfest outside of Munich takes place each year in the Ontario twin cities of Kitchener-Waterloo (Kitchener was named Berlin from 1833 until 1916 because of the large number of German immigrants migrating to the city). At last year's Oktoberfest, 700,000 visitors consumed more than 50,000 sausages and 25,000 pretzels. But Kitchener-Waterloo's Oktoberfest is more than good fun for visitors—it's an economic boost for the cities. Last year, the festival generated an estimated $21 million in economic activity.
Palm trees aside, Blumenau, Brazil's "Little Germany" puts on a traditional German beer festival each October in celebration of the city's German heritage. In 1850, German philosopher Hermann Bruno Otto Blumenau, along with 17 countrymen, founded the town as an agricultural colony. Today, an estimated 30 percent of the town's 320,000 residents are of German descent.
Blumenau has hosted a beer festival every October since 1984, and each year, more than half a million visitors make the journey south to celebrate. In 2012, party-goers consumed 652,000 liters of beer—mostly the Brazilian beer Brahma.
The largest Oktoberfest celebration in the United States takes place each year in Cinncinnati. Around 500,000 people are expected to attend this year's "Oktoberfest Zinzinnati," which has taken place since 1974. This year's festival kicks off with the annual "Running of the Wieners"—a test of speed between 100 dachshunds dressed as hot dogs.
According to Oktoberfest vendors, Zinzinnatians aren't shy about chowing down on their favorite German grub: the festival goes through over 80,000 bratwurst, 23,000 pretzels and 3,600 pounds of sauerkraut each year. Oktoberfest Zinzinnati also holds the Guiness Book of World Records title for the world's largest chicken dance—in 1994, 48,000 participants, including the Prince of Bavaria, got down with the funky chicken.
For 23 years, the Marco Polo Hongkong Hotel has celebrated their own version of Oktoberfest, Bierfest, with German cuisine, German music and authentic German beer—the same style of Löwenbräu beer served since 1811 in the tents at the Munich fairgrounds. But those looking to get their hands on the Löwenbräu should arrive early, as the hotel only serves 200 steins of the brew each night.
Marco Polo's Bierfest bills itself as Asia's longest-running outdoor Oktoberfest. The celebration, which stretches for 23 days, attracts more than 53,000 guests, who consume over 71,000 liters of beer and 25,000 pretzels.
To celebrate Oktoberfest down under, head to Brisbane, which hosts Australia's largest Oktoberfest. Even though it attracts crowds of more than 30,000, the big festival manages to maintain an intimate feel, thanks to the two Australian-German families who started, and still run, the festival. Held over the course of two weekends in October, Oktoberfest Brisbane features traditional German food, German and Australian wines, and traditional German beer brewed specially for the event (and held to the same exacting standards as beer brewed for the Munich festival).
In 1990, in a move intended to both celebrate the reunification of Germany and spur tourism to the Michigan town of Frankenmuth, city officials decided to hold a traditional Oktoberfest in the town known as Michigan's Little Bavaria. In 1996, the Frankenmuth Oktoberfest was officially sanctioned by the German parliament, making it the first festival outside of Munich to receive such an honor. The next year, the Munich-based brewer Hofbräuhaus became the event's official sponsor, assuring that Frankenmuth Oktoberfest would have a steady stream of German beer—and financial support—to continue operation. Today, the festival features traditional German food, beer and music, as well as Wiener Dog Races, where dachshunds race for the title of Michigan's fastest wiener.
For 34 years, the small Texas town of Fredericksburg (settled by German immigrants in the mid-19th century) has celebrated its German heritage by throwing its own Oktoberfest celebration. In Tex-Mex tradition, however, Fredericksburg's Oktoberfest features a combination of German and Mexican-American food, with fajitas served alongside sausages and sauerkraut. The festival also allows beer drinkers to sample 50 different brews, including beers from Germany and Texas. In addition to food and drink, the festival features a marketplace, where more than 45 artists from around the area will display their artwork this year.
From September to November, Bierfest—South Africa's counterpart to Oktoberfest—travels through three South African cities. Each stop features a 4,000-seat beer tent, inspired by those at the Munich festival, as well as three specialty beers brewed by brewmasters from the South African Breweries. In addition to beer and traditional German food, festival-goers will be treated to German music courtesy of the Bierfest Oompah band. For those looking for an excuse to bust out their lederhosen and dirndls, the festival will hold a costume contest to crown its own King Ludwig and Princess Therese.