Oktoberfest in Alabama
by Sarah J. Schmidt
From the German rocket scientists who engineered Huntsville’s high-tech reputation to the German businessmen who purchased Baldwin County timber land and created some of the area’s first tract developments, Alabama’s German heritage runs deep. It’s alive and well as communities around the state celebrate Oktoberfest this fall.
Begun in 1810 to celebrate a royal wedding, the original Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, is always held during the last week of September through the first weekend in October (hence its name). It draws millions of visitors every year for carnival rides, entertainment, traditional Bavarian food and of course, German beer — much of which is specially brewed and available only during the festival.
Many of Alabama’s Oktoberfest celebrations follow this same tradition, offering local craft beers and German brews that aren’t readily available elsewhere. But it isn’t just the beer that draws crowds, says Marsha Franks, President of the Cullman Oktoberfest Board of Directors.
“For many years, we didn’t even serve beer at our Oktoberfest because Cullman was in a dry county,” she explains. The laws changed in 2011 and Cullman’s Oktoberfest featured its first “Biergarten” that year, but Franks says, “it’s really a sense of community that continues to bring people together.”
Here’s where you can find that sense of community (and some fine German beer) at Oktoberfest celebrations around Alabama:
Cullman Oktoberfest, Oct. 5 – 9: Now in its 34th season, this year’s event features the Burgermeister Ball, car show, craft Biergarten with more than 30 local/imported beers and German entertainers, Terry Cavanagh & the Alpine Express. Various organizations serve home-cooked German meals nightly around the city. For example, the Cullman Regional Medical Center hosts a Jager-Schnitzel dinner Tuesday night. Sacred Heart Catholic Church serves up bratwurst and hot potato salad with entertainment by Wolfgang Moritz on Wednesday night. Check the website for a complete list of menus and locations.
Dothan Porktoberque, Sept. 23 – 25: Dothan puts a southern spin on its non-traditional Oktoberfest with a KCBS-sanctioned barbecue competition, allowing festival goers to sample the barbecue entries and vote for favorites. Of course there’s German beer to wash down all that barbecue and live German music throughout the weekend, including Dothan’s own German Polka Dots band. A car show and corn hole tournament round out the weekend. Admission is free if you wear Lederhosen!
Florence St. Florian Oktoberfest, Oct. 1 – 2: German settlers bought land in the 1870s just outside Florence when a former plantation was parceled into lots. They named the settlement, “St. Florian” in honor of Florian Rash, the German settler who donated the community’s church bell. St. Florian remembers its German heritage with an annual celebration featuring an antique tractor show, music, arts and crafts vendors, children’s activities and German food.
Fort Rucker Oktoberfest, Sept. 30: Fort Rucker hosts a keg toss competition and a Volkswagen Show & Shine car display for an afternoon of fun. Then German band Sonnenschein Express takes the stage for evening entertainment. Family-friendly activities include crafts, inflatables and a pumpkin patch. Vendors provide plenty of traditional German bratwurst and schnitzel. Lederhosen are optional! The event is open to the public (no military ID required), but check the event’s website for entry instructions.
Huntsville Redstone Arsenal Oktoberfest, Sept. 15 – 18: Redstone Arsenal opens its military gates to the public for its annual Oktoberfest weekend, featuring carnival games and rides for the whole family. Traditional German Polka bands and local entertainers, including Microwave Dave and the Nukes, perform in the Festhalle. Outside, find traditional German beers from more than 20 local breweries. Tasting includes your own souvenir beer stein. Sports fans can watch all the big games of the weekend in the Sports Pavilion. Check the event’s website for specific entry and parking requirements.