Best of Denver

Beers to Ya

Ein Prosit der Gemutlichkeit!

What exactly does it mean? It's hard to translate, but the German expression sums up Oktoberfest on Larimer Square: oompah, beer and lederhosen.

"It basically means 'warmth and happiness,'" says Kirsten Becker, a spokesperson for the Larimer Arts Association, the nonprofit group that produces the September 5-8 event. "We always see a lot of lederhosen and dirndls around."

The festival kicks off at 6 p.m. on September 5, with the official tapping of the wooden keg -- Beck's Oktoberfest, of course -- using a wooden hammer and stake in the traditional manner. Presiding over the opening ceremony is the Munchner Kindl, the official hostess and guardian angel of Oktoberfest.

The origins of the festival date back to 1810, when Prince Ludwig I married Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen in Munich, Germany. To celebrate the nuptials, Maximillian I, Ludwig's father, threw a huge wedding feast in a meadow on the outskirts of town, where guests ate, drank and celebrated. Now an annual tradition, more than ten million people attend the Munich Festival each year. Denver's version, with a little less history, is celebrating its 33rd year, making it one of the longest-running festivals in town. Once Larimer Street transforms into Theresienwese (the name of the official site in Munich), it blossoms into the second-largest Oktoberfest in the nation: About 300,000 people turn up annually at the four-day festival.

"The streets are just packed with people dancing and celebrating," says Greg Curtice, a member of the Austrian Connection band, which has played at the festival for fifteen years. "When you see 1,000 people doing the polka or dancing in a conga line, you know they're having fun."

So raise your beer stein and head downtown. The festival is held on Larimer Street between 15th Street and Speer Boulevard, and 14th Street between Market and Lawrence streets, and vendors go through more than 500 kegs of beer and 7,000 bratwursts every year. The festival also feeds another appetite: There are at least a hundred opportunities to do the chicken dance, especially at Sunday afternoon's Sea of Accordions concert, where about a hundred accordion players, ranging in age from five to 75, will fill the air with polkas and traditional German tunes.

"Once you hit the first chord, it just changes everybody's attitude," says Alice Aman, who has taught accordion lessons locally for 51 years. "It's really the best kind of music, it gets everyone smiling and dancing."

For munchkins only, the Kinderplatz kids area boasts a climbing wall, face painting, storytelling, traditional dance lessons, a bouncing castle and more. For adults, there is the Alexanderplatz, a European marketplace that features traditional crafts like cuckoo clocks, nutcrackers, beer steins and more. And Ja! Oktoberfest will also feature Bier Gartens and German food. "Obviously Oktoberfest will always celebrate beer," says Becker. "But we're also here to promote art education and awareness."

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Julie Dunn
Contact: Julie Dunn