Compelled to leave their homeland due to crop failures and periodic epidemics, German immigrants settled the rich prairies and wooded lands of Wisconsin. The abundance of cheap farmland and a similar climate to their motherland attracted many German settlers to Wisconsin.
Since their immigration that began nearly two decades before Wisconsin officially declared statehood, the German people have added customs, traditions, and vibrancy to our great state. As of the 2000 U.S. Census, Wisconsin was second only to North Dakota in population density of those who claimed a German heritage, an astonishing 43.9%.
Oktoberfest – A Concise History
In October of 1810, Crown Prince Ludwig, later King Ludwig I of Bavaria, married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. The Crown Prince invited the citizens of Munich to attend the festivities. The festivities continued annually to commemorate the anniversary and Oktoberfest was born. The annual festival was eventually moved ahead to September to allow for longer days of sunlight and better weather conditions.
Starting in 1950, the traditional Oktoberfest began with a twelve gun salute and the tapping of the first keg at Noon on the opening day. Traditionally, the Mayor of Munich taps the keg and yells “O’zapft is!” or “It’s tapped!” in Bavarian, to thunderous applause.
Celebrating Oktoberfest in Wisconsin
Many of the Wisconsin festivals (listed below) include parades, carnivals, traditional food, oompah music, and of course beer tents.
Whether you don a dirndl or cinch up your lederhosen, remember to wear your tirolerhüte (Bavarian hat) and fill your stein with the finest bräu. And don’t forget to be present for the tapping of the keg, “O’zapft is!”
Oktoberfest – La Crosse
October 1-4, 2015
This festival is officially Oktoberfest USA. Sights and activities include: keg tapping, parade, live music, beer tents, food, and more.
Germantown Hunsrucker Oktoberfest – Germantown
September 26-27, 2015
Festivities include: live music, beer, food, silent auction, classic car display, bake sale, and more.
Oktoberfest – New Glarus
September 23-25, 2016
Festivities include: live music, food, wagon rides, chainsaw carving, beer tent, and more.
Oktoberfest – Lake Geneva
October 10-11, 2015
Festivities include: live music, food, craft booths, wagon hayrides, and more.
September 24-25, 2016
Festivities include: block party, live music, food, crafts, art, classic car show, beer, and more.
MKE Oktoberfest – Milwaukee
October 1-4, 2015
Festivities include: live music, beer, food, and more. Please note, all guests at Oktoberfest must be 21 or accompanied by an adult.
Can’t make it to one of the fests? Grab some German grub, fill your stein, or raise das boot at a local Wisconsin establishment.
Winzer Stube – Hudson
Located on the beautiful St. Croix River, this establishment serves authentic german dishes and libations.
Target Bluff German Haus – Camp Douglas
A unique dining experience featuring contemporary American and Old World German cuisine, located just 30 minutes from the Wisconsin Dells.
Weissgerber’s Gast Haus – Waukesha
Billed as Wisconsin’ most authentic German restaurant. The menu features traditional German fare, homemade sausages, and a house brew. Ask about their Stein Club.
Mader’s Restaraunt – Milwaukee
Dine amongst $3M worth of Medieval Germanic armor, art, and antiques. Mader’s features authentic German Cuisine in a fine dining atmosphere. This establishment has hosted the likes of JFK, Ronald Reagan, Vince Lombardi, and Frank Sinatra in it’s storied 106 year history.
Kegel’s Inn – Milwaukee
Dine in a traditional German beer hall and restaurant amongst beautiful murals, leaded glass, and warm wooden beams. The menu includes a mix of contemporary American and traditional German specialties.
Karl Ratzsch’s – Milwaukee
Enjoy lunch or dinner in a downtown Milwaukee landmark. Established in 1904, Karl Ratzch’s has been serving downtown Milwaukee for over 100 years. Enjoy a variety of Old World favorites or try the Usinger’s Sausage Sample platter.
Old German Beer Hall – Milwaukee
Enjoy authentic beer and giant pretzels imported directly from Munich or take a peek at their kitchen for traditional Bavarian festival food. The Old German Beer Hall boasts the distinction of “the most famous beer hall in the world. and “offers a glimpse of Bavarian social life, and 400 years of tradition and history.”
Lorelei Inn – Green Bay
Enjoy Lorelei’s German-American specialty menu and authentic German beers while you take in a Green Bay Packer’s game. They’re also friendly to Chicago Bears fans, the original owner, Len Haack, was an import from Chicago and a fan of the Bears. Len’s successors, his children, are of course fans of the Packers.
OB’s Brau Haus – Appleton
Take in a unique experience at this German themed Gastro/Brew Pub in downtown Appleton. The menu features a mix of German and American cuisine. Stick around late for a live DJ and light show.
Essen Haus – Madison
Take in live polka, German beer, and a Bavarian inspired menu just minutes from Wisconsin’s Capital building.
Vern’s Dorf Haus – Roxbury
Just twenty minutes north of Madison lies this hidden gem. If you’re looking for something authentic check out their menu of traditional German favorites or show up on the first Monday of each month for the Smorgasbord featuring live polka. The all you can eat fish fry on Friday night is one of the best in Wisconsin and don’t forget to load up on the homemade fritters.
Usinger’s Famous Sausage – Milwaukee
Bring a taste of Germany home with a stop at Usinger’s. The Usinger Family has been producing traditional German sausage in the same location since 1880. Their classic recipes have remained unchanged since.
With Wisconsin’s rich German history, I’m bound to have missed an establishment or two. Leave a comment below and let me know your favorite place to take in Oktoberfest.
Jeff Finup is a writer, motorcycle enthusiast and lover of all things Wisconsin. When he’s not roaming the countryside, you can find him cheering on his favorite Wisconsin sports teams or hanging out at his Northwood’s cabin. You can follow him on twitter: @ChallengeAway