Competitions, food make MKE Oktoberfest authentic

The Brewhaus Polka Kings will perform at 12:30 p.m. on Friday as part of MKE Octoberfest. Photo via mkeoctoberfest.com
The Brewhaus Polka Kings will perform at 12:30 p.m. on Friday as part of MKE Octoberfest. Photo via mkeoctoberfest.com

With the closing of September, it is officially time to say, “Auf wiedersehen,” to summer and “Willkommen,” to October. The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts and Pere Marquette Park host the free MKE Oktoberfest from noon to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday.

John Hassig, the director of programming and events at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, has been involved with coordinating the event for the last two years. He said the MKE Oktoberfest is able to stand apart from the other Oktoberfest events in the city due to its authenticity.

The first Oktoberfest took place in 1810 to celebrate the wedding of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. The king ordered that the last 16 days of September would be set aside for feasting and drinking. Based on the turnout and crowd enjoyment, the celebration continued for more than 200 years.

Similar to the Oktoberfest layout in Munich, Germany, Milwaukee’s celebration joins two festivals on each side of the Milwaukee River. The festivity opens with the official keg tapping by Mayor Tom Barrett. Hassig said this is done to resemble the Munich festival and to create a larger celebration and impact.

Hassig’s favorite part about programming the event is witnessing the solidarity and tradition.

“It is such a joyful energy and sense of community during this time. People are really just out to celebrate the start of fall and have a good time,” Hassig wrote in an email. “I love seeing all the different traditional outfits and hats, smelling all the traditional foods and listening to some fantastic joyful music.”

Participants must be 21 or be accompanied by someone who is of age to drink. However, an adult over 21 can only bring three guests to the festival. Wristbands will be distributed to eligible drinkers. Guests under 21 are not allowed to partake in events sponsored by MKE Oktoberfest that involve drinking.

With that said, underage guests can enjoy a range of non-alcoholic activities over the weekend. Authentic German food from Sazama’s River’s Edge Patio and Usinger’s Famous Sausage will be made available on both sides of the river. Other events include a bratwurst-eating team relay competition held Saturday, a harvest polka mass in the Peck Pavilion at 11 a.m. on Sunday and Masskrugstemmen, which translates to stein holding. This strength competition tests who can hold a full one liter glass stein the longest. The winner will go on to compete in New York in September 2015.

When guests are not taking part in German competitions or cuisine, they can also listen to local polka bands. Hassig said the festival will play a total of 29 hours of music on each stage.

One band that will be performing at the MKE Oktoberfest is The Brewhaus Polka Kings. Grant Kozera is the leader of the group and plays the accordion. He said he first fell in love with the music genre when his parents took him to a Frank Yankovic gig when he was six-years-old. Kozera said that his band plays what some people call American polka music like “too fat” polka, or Milwaukee polka, a form of Yankovic’s style with a banjo in the group, but modified to play some German and Austrian songs too.

Kozera said his group has performed at many German festivals and likes to share the craft while exposing people to the country’s culture.

“I enjoy people tapping and smiling to the music, and especially dancing to it,” Kozera said. “The children like the tempo and the bouncy happy carefree sound to it.”

Kozera encourages guests to not let the fear of dancing in public keep participants glued to their seats.

“We need to destress and enjoy these days, and sometimes a beer with this music can do the trick,” Kozera said.