November 21, 2019

By Darick Charbonneau, Spoke News

Oktoberfest is fast approaching, and organizers are hoping its 50th anniversary celebrations are going to be wunderbar.

Kitchener’s Oktoberfest celebration started off as a small part of the Centennial celebrations of 1967, when the Chamber of Commerce gave the Concordia Club $200 and a mandate to develop a tourism event that would attract visitors.  It was a huge success, with over 75,000 visitors drinking 215,000 litres of beer and eating more than 22,600 kilograms of sausage and pigtails, along with other German and Waterloo County food.

Recognizing the success of the event, it was elevated to a civic festival and, in 1969, the first ever Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest was born.

Since then it has grown, perhaps bigger than its initial founders dreamed it could. In the 50 years since its founding, it has grown to become Canada’s second biggest festival after the Calgary Stampede, and North America’s largest Bavarian festival.

Art Sinclair, vice-president of public policy and advocacy at the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, says of the benefits of Oktoberfest extend to the entire region.  

“Annually, the festival brings in approximately $21 million to the region, including $3 million alone to hotels and restaurants,” said Sinclair.  “In addition, $1.5 million is raised for local non-for-profit organizations, which benefit the community with things such as swimming pools, skating parks and public spaces to name a few.  Perhaps more importantly, 124 year-round jobs have been created because of Oktoberfest, in areas such as marketing and at hotels.”

“The fact that it has been able to continue for as long as it has is a pretty good testament to the community effort that has gone into this for over half a century,” he added.

It is a sentiment shared by Stjepan Rihtaric, a massage therapist who lives in Kitchener.

“I was born and raised on KW Oktoberfest!” proclaimed Rihtaric.

 

Stjepan Rihtaric and Samantha Gillespie pose in their new Hosen and Dirndl purchased in Munich, Germany, on Sept. 26, 2018. (Photo by Darick Charbonneau, Spoke News)

He frequents the Concordia Club, where a massive Festhall is assembled every year to accommodate the legions of revellers that arrive for the festivities.

“Its capacity is 3,950, though there will be more lined up outside waiting to get in,” said Ruth Rajna, the manager at Concordia Club. The club hires an additional 250 temporary staff every year to make sure their guests’ needs are met.

The Concordia Club’s massive festhall that is assembled annually to accommodate thousands of revellers a night. (Photo by Darick Charbonneau, Spoke News)

There is a new Festhall located at Lot42 called OktoberfestHaus, which is believed to be the biggest yet.  For the first time, OktoberfestHaus will feature a cashless payment system. Attendees will receive a wristband which they load with funds, then simply tap to pay for drinks or food.

“What we are trying to do is make a facility that, as we need to bring other Festhalls in, whether through lack of volunteers … or for different reasons, we can bring in those groups under one house and continue with Oktoberfest,”  said Margot Jones, the president of KW Oktoberfest Inc.

In celebration of its 50th anniversary, KW Oktoberfest is featuring, for the first time, a German Erdinger beer.  For the second time, Rogers Hometown Hockey will be at the opening celebrations and there will be a raffle draw, with the top prize being a 2018 Porsche Boxster.

“We’re even bringing in a Grambacher dance group from Germany — they do the traditional dance with whips!” explained Jones.

“I want to invite you all to the festival. We’ve got plenty of tickets still available and we’re looking forward to a fabulous, fabulous festival for the 50th,” she said.

Oktoberfest runs from Oct. 5-13.

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