In 1810, Munich, Germany held its first ever Oktoberfest to celebrate a royal wedding with a horse race. During this first Oktoberfest, participants focused more on the beer and other culinary choices than the celebration itself.
Not a lot has changed since then, as cities all over the world now celebrate the beer festival. The Oktoberfest held at ArtsQuest’s SteelStacks is no exception.
Over two weekends, from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2 and Oct. 7 to 9, ArtsQuest is celebrating its sixth annual Oktoberfest with authentic German events and a constant flow of beer.
“Obviously there’s a lot of Oktoberfests, but for ArtsQuest to put on a pretty traditional one with a bit of a Pennsylvania flair, we think that it’s very good for this community,” said Curt Mosel, the senior vice president of marketing and corporate partnership for ArtsQuest.
ArtsQuest, a non-profit organization, has a mission that revolves around urban revitalization through arts and culture. It accomplishes this in the Lehigh Valley with almost 65 percent of its events being free and open to the public, Mosel said. Oktoberfest is one of these events.
Marketing the events and festivals that ArtsQuest holds to Lehigh students has been a challenge, Mosel said, and Oktoberfest is more difficult because of the focus on alcohol.
“We’d love it if students would come and embrace this event more,” Mosel said. “It’s kind of a tricky one because it’s a festival that does somewhat revolve around beer, so there’s sensitivity to student life and knowing that the majority of the students may not be 21. There’s a lot for students to do but it’s been a bit of a challenge for us to get onto that student radar and make an impact.”
Visitors can enjoy events such as weiner dog races, the Great Lakes timber show, Freak Out! and the celebrity skills challenge, all for free. Those over 21 also have access to the four biergarten tents.
The only ticketed event is the Brewer’s Village, where visitors can sample beer from 20 different Pennsylvanian craft breweries.
A favorite event for both participants and viewers is the celebrity skills challenge, which took place Oct. 1 and was broadcast on Service Electric. During this event, local companies and media partners bring teams comprised of four to eight participants.
These “celebrities” compete in four German-style events, including stein races, barrel racing, brat tosses and the traditional event Masskrugstemmen, where participants face off to see who can hold up steins filled with beer for the longest time.
Adrienne Washington, the assistant vice president of community and regional affairs, represented the Valley’s Spin Radio as a participant in these games. Although her team did not win the games, she said they had a great time and got to know some of the other community members better.
“As a new resident of Bethlehem, I finally got to experience an Oktoberfest,” Washington said. “This was a great way to participate in the weekend activities in a fun way.”
Leah Di Carlo and her two children, Gia, 7, and Giovanni, 5, come every year to cheer on their husband and father Al, who represents Service Electric during the challenge.
“I enjoy having my family here,” Di Carlo said. “Every year we come to support my husband, who works for Service Electric, and for the kids it’s a fun family day for us to come out and support the Service Electric team as well as all of the other teams that participate.”
Visitors also enjoy the Hasselhoff-off competition, which will take place Oct. 7 and 8 at 8 p.m. Participants celebrate the German icon David Hasselhoff with a costume and impersonation contest, slow-motion running and German karaoke. The winner gets a prize pack, which includes a pair of iconic red swim trunks.
The food Oktoberfest offers also brings people back year after year. Traditional schnitzel and spaetzle platters, apple dumplings, brat reubens, potato pancakes and many other authentic dishes are available through both ArtsQuest and other food vendors.
There is a wide variety of beer options open to the public. There are two tents dedicated to Yuengling, which is a major sponsor of ArtsQuest and the official beer of SteelStacks. They also have the Tour of Europe, which features different beers from six countries in Europe. Both Sam Adams and Weyerbacher craft beers have tents set up as well.
ArtsQuest recognizes that although there may not be a large population of first-generation Germans in Bethlehem, it is important to celebrate the heritage of those who may be second or third generation with a fun and authentic event such as Oktoberfest.
“What’s interesting about the history of Bethlehem is that because of SteelStacks, there were so many different ethnic groups living in pockets,” said Emily Cummins, the public relations coordinator for ArtsQuest. “Those pockets do remain — we have the Pennsylvania Dutch a little further from us — but I think that maybe not people who are straight from Germany, like first generation, but a lot of people have German heritage. I think it’s a day for people to embrace that, even if they have no German heritage.”