Since we couldn’t make it to Germany this year, we did the next best thing. We popped down the highway to Kitchener (once known as Berlin), which has Canada’s largest German community, and the second largest Oktoberfest celebration in the world. The first, of course, being Munich itself.
Jessica had been to the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest before, but only to a couple of the big festhallen. Josh was a first-timer, and we knew we wanted to get that holy grail of tickets: to one of the city’s authentic German clubs. They sell out early each year, so you have to be quick on the draw.
Luckily, we found a pair of tickets to the Schwaben Club. They had two rooms running for the ‘Fest: the larger Main Hall, and the smaller Schwaben Hall, where we ended up. It didn’t disappoint.
All colourful pennants and half-timbered-style ceiling, the hall had everything that comes to mind when you think of when you think of Oktoberfest. Beer? Oom-pah-pah band? Servers in dirndls and lederhosen? Guests in dirndls and lederhosen? Sauerkraut, schnitzel and bratwurst? Jawohl!
ZWEI BIER, BITTE!
We have to admit: we worried about finding good beer with the Molson sponsorship. But fortunately we found two interesting options in the Hall: Big Rock Brewery’s Traditional Ale and Rickard’s Lederhosen. Big Rock’s “Trad” is a medium English brown ale with a nutty malt flavour. Definitely not Oktoberfest-style, but a tasty brew. Lederhosen, on the other hand, is a traditional märzen (the iconic lager of Oktoberfest). It didn’t quite measure up to some of the craft märzen‘s we’ve had this autumn, but it was welcome at the Fest – and undeniably in style.
One of the benefits of being at a proper German club was that we had options. The Schwaben Club continues to run their open-to-the-public Bier Keller (cellar beer bar) downstairs during Oktoberfest. And they’ve got a good variety of offerings from Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr. We both went for Paulaner’s Hefe-Weizen as a change from our upstairs brews.
Oh, the food. Another major benefit of going for an authentic club – real, homecooked German food. It must have taken forever to bake all that Apfel-Strudel, not to mention tenderizing all that schnitzel. But boy, was it worth it. Beyond the main meal options (schnitzel, sausage, sauerkraut, potato salad, coleslaw, strudel, etc), they also came around with baskets of warm pretzels, which we definitely indulged in.
The Schwaben has what we think is the ideal ‘Fest vibe: a blend of young and old – the university students, the grey-haired crowd, and beyond. We ended up chatting with a group of folks from another Schwaben Club in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and then a group of recently-legal university students who’d never heard of sauerkraut. Everyone got along, chatted at their long tables. And dance.
The dancing brought everyone together. Lots of accordion, horns, polka, chicken dance, and the regular necessity: Zicke-Zacke-Zicke-Zacke-Hoi-Hoi-Hoi!
At 11pm, the lights turned on, and we thought we were kicked out. But no! Instead, a special and unexpected treat: traditional German dancers folk-dancing away to German techno. . . and Du Hast.