Rotary Brings 206-Year Oktoberfest Tradition to Great Falls

Rotary Brings 206-Year Oktoberfest Tradition to Great Falls

— Did you know that the original Oktoberfest in 1810 was a wedding party? That’s right! Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig organized the first Oktoberfest to celebrate his marriage to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. People enjoyed the celebration so much he continued throwing the party each year thereafter.

In 1818, a carousel and two swings were installed for the party-goers who were also entertained by tree climbing competitions, wheelbarrow and sack races, mush eating contests, barrel rolling races, and goose chases. By 1870s, mechanical rides were added to the festival and in 1908, Germany's first roller coaster appeared at Oktoberfest.

Today, Oktoberfest is known as much for its amusement park atmosphere and traditional folk music as it is for its beer drinking. It has also expanded from the 3-day wedding celebration to a 16-day party that begins in September and ends on the first Sunday in October. Over 6 million people from all corners of the world join the celebration. Each year they collectively consume about 1.5 million gallons of beer, 200,000 pairs of pork sausage, and 480,000 spit-roasted chickens.

I attended my first Munich Oktoberfest in 1976 while spending my sophomore year of college in Innsbruck, Austria. Hitch-hiking the 90-minute Autobahn stretch from Innsbruck to Munich, I connected with several fellow students for an unforgettable immersion into Bavarian Oktoberfest culture. Later as a student in Freiburg, Kiel and Saarbrucken, and while working in Berlin and Munich for 7 years, visiting Oktoberfest was always a “must.” The atmosphere in the tents - where upwards of 5,000 people clang beer mugs and sing “Ein Prosit Ein Prosit” - is electrifying. While living with my family in Munich (2002-2006) we were pleasantly surprised to learn that the local schools even had a day-off so the school kids could go to enjoy all the Oktoberfest festivities!

Traveling to Munich is, however, too time-consuming or costly for many. So the Rotary Club of Great Falls, and its foundation, are bringing a genuine Oktoberfest experience here. On Oct. 29, 5 p.m. to midnight, the first Rotary Club of Great Falls Oktoberfest Fundraiser will take place at the Riverbend Golf & Country Club. This will be a great night of Bavarian music (2 big bands), Schuhplattler Bavarian dancing, yodeling, and unlimited German beer, wine and food.Tickets are $100 per person and proceeds (after event costs) go to support the local and international service activities of the Rotary Club of Great Falls and our teen Rotary Interact Club.