Copyright © 2019 Federation of Students, University of Waterloo operating as Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association
Oktober with a 'k'? But 'y'!?
A festival on the horizon
Because it's German! Some of you have probably been religiously preparing for Halloween even before fall reared its pumpkin spice head. The tricks and treats are what you live for. However, I bet that there are others of you who look forward to an entirely different celebration: Oktoberfest in Kitchener-Waterloo.
If you have somehow managed to live under a rock since coming to Waterloo, Oktoberfest refers to the world's largest Volksfest, which combines a beer festival with a carnival-like atmosphere. Tracing its roots back to Bavaria in 1810, this annual celebration of German beer, traditional foods, and fair amusements has attracted visitors globally. While the original two-week festival runs annually in Munich, Germany towards the end of September, similar Oktoberfests have spawned around the world.
A heart away from home
Did you know that the world's largest Oktoberfest, outside of Germany, is found right here in Kitchener? With close to 700,00 visitors each year, the abbreviated nine-day Kitchener–Waterloo Oktoberfest features exciting activities such as keg tapping with our festival's mascot Onkel Hans, musical performances, and a televised Miss Oktoberfest beauty pageant! But what makes the KW celebration so unique? Executive Director of K-W Oktoberfest Inc., Alfred Lowrick believes, “KW Oktoberfest is a civic festival owned by the citizens of the Region. Unlike most Oktoberfests in the world, it is decentralized with many Festhallen spread throughout the city.” And its popularity is clear enough. Their KWO Thanksgiving Day parade is nationally broadcast to over 1.4million viewers each year and over 150,000 viewers watch from the sidelines of the parade route!
The popular festival owes its start to its strong German roots. In 1967, the local Concordia Club [external link] organized its first Oktoberfest to celebrate German heritage for Canada’s 100th Anniversary. Motivated by this sort of recognition, the local Chamber of Commerce formed the KW Oktoberfest in 1979 to likewise honor the Region’s German heritage. And we – the student community – have been crucial in growing the popularity of the event! As evidenced by celebrations like St. Patrick’s Day on Ezra Street, the KWO organizers believe we know how to enjoy a good party. Above all though, their festival is focused on providing a safe environment for all patrons and organizing events at their Festhallen that are focused on our demographic.
Fitting German heritage into Waterloo Region
But why Kitchener-Waterloo? As Alfred Lowrick says, “our strong German ancestry in the Region makes KWO a far more authentic festival than most others you will find.” While many Germans immigrated along with British colonization, a large contingent came to settle in southwest Ontario in the early 1800s. Many of these were Pennsylvania Dutch Mennonites fleeing the U.S. In 1871 this culminated with over half of the population of Waterloo County with German origins and in Kitchener, German was the dominant spoken language!
In fact, the original town name for Kitchener was Berlin, sharing a namesake with the capital of Germany. However, due to anti-German sentiment coming out of WWI, the city officially changed its name in 1916 to honor the highly decorated and successful British army officer Horatio Herbert Kitchener. Regardless of the name change, you can still find locations around town with German-influenced names and a large variety of German markets, stores, and restaurants.
The KWO is a great time to have fun with your friends, make new acquaintances and indulge in amazing food and music. If you are interested in joining the celebration, this year’s Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest is taking place from October 11-19. You can find visitor information, event details, and tickets on their website [external link].