Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest is an annual nine-day festival in the twin cities of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Based on the original German Oktoberfest, it is billed as Canada's Greatest Bavarian Festival, and is the second-largest Oktoberfest in the world. It is held every October, starting on the Friday before Canadian Thanksgiving and running until the Saturday after and attracts an estimated 750,000-1,000,000 visitors every year.
While its best-known draws are the beer-based celebrations, other cultural and entertainment attractions also fill the week. The most well-known is the parade held on Thanksgiving Day; as the only major parade on Canadian Thanksgiving, it is televised throughout Canada and portions of the northern United States on CTV. In 2009, on the Thanksgiving Day parade there were 150,000 visitors.
The twin cities and surrounding area have a long history of German roots; Kitchener was formerly named Berlin. A large portion of the population identify themselves as being of German heritage, and many still speak German as well. A common phrase at the celebrations is Gemütlichkeit, German for congeniality, or warm friendliness. This word is even programmed into the bus route displays, so during Oktoberfest it will show the route and Gemütlichkeit, or Willkommen.
The festival's mascot is Onkel Hans, a rotund man in Bavarian dress with a thick moustache, lederhosen, and a traditional felt hat with tassel. His graphical image shows him holding a beer stein in one hand, and a sausage (in a roll) in the other. A lesser-known icon is his counterpart Tante Frieda, a similarly stout woman wearing a dirndl.
Another icon of the festival is Miss Oktoberfest. This position was formerly selected in a televised beauty pageant, the applicant coming from across Waterloo Region. The position is now selected by a closed committee of judges from a panel of local applicants; community involvement and personal character form the main criteria under the new system. A ribald spin-off of the Miss Oktoberfest pageant is celebrated in some local high schools, in which all participants are male, but dressed as women.
Clubs and Festhalls
Many celebrations in the festival take place in festhallen; these venues serve beer and traditional foods, and host traditional dancing and music, particularly polkas. The major festhalls are operated by the German clubs based in the cities:
- The Alpine Club of Kitchener.
- The Concordia Club of Kitchener, the largest ethnic German club in Canada.
- Hubertushaus, operated by the German-Canadian Hunting & Fishing Club of Mannheim.
- The Schwaben Club of Kitchener.
- The Transylvania Club of Kitchener.
Other festhalls and biergartens are operated out of existing bars, clubs, and other venues in the cities, which take on Germanic names (such as Karlsberghaus, Altes Muenchen Haus, and Ruedesheimer Garten) for the festival events. In 2010, festhalls opened for the first time in Cambridge and Elmira.
Based on traditional Pennsylvania Dutch and local Mennonite Hex designs, the 24 Hex symbols under the eaves of the Timeteller were designed and painted by Kitchener artist Otto Werner.
Single events that take place over the week include:
- Opening ceremonies - include an official keg-tapping to start the festival; at Kitchener City Hall (Friday)
- Pancake breakfast - free breakfast for all comers, in Uptown Waterloo (Saturday)
- Barrel Race - keg-rolling race in Uptown (Saturday)
- Rocktoberfest - major concert featuring rock acts, as well as more traditional music; Queensmount Arena (Altes Muenchen Haus), Kitchener (Sunday)
- Oktoberfest 5K Fun Run - a family oriented Turkey Trot down the parade route right before the Thanksgiving Day parade. (Monday)
- University Nights - a night for local University students run by the local Sigma Chi fraternities. Buses run all night from University Avenue in Waterloo to the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium, where the event takes place. Traditionally, Wilfrid Laurier University's night is on Thursday and University of Waterloo's is on the Friday of the second weekend, however both nights attract students from both schools, as well as other nearby colleges.
- Oktoberfest Parade - bands, traditional dancers, floats and revelry, down King Street in both cities; broadcast nationally by CTV (Thanksgiving Monday) and local radio coverage is provided by CKGL
- USA Today:Travel
- Alpine Club of Kitchener-Waterloo. Alpineclub.ca (2010-08-23). Retrieved on 2010-09-11.
- Concordia Club. Concordiaclub.ca. Retrieved on 2010-09-11.
- Welcome - Hubertushaus - a unique experience. Hubertushaus.ca (2010-04-24). Retrieved on 2010-09-11.
- default. Kitchenerschwabenclub.com. Retrieved on 2010-09-11.
- The Transylvania Club Conference Centre and Culture Club. Transylvaniaclub.com. Retrieved on 2010-09-11.