Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Kitchener-Waterloo's Oktoberfest - Time for a Change

Article in today's Record: Bavarian Festival is at a Fork in the Road.

Indeed. The Oktoberfest festival, which runs every year around the Canadian Thanksgiving, is a travesty. It's all about tackiness and drunkenness. It attracts people who like tackiness and drunkenness - and it attracts a lot of them. There's a tacky beauty pageant, there are crappy beer halls selling mass quantities of cheap beer, there's a parade. I can't comment on the quality of the parade even though it passes less than 100 meters from my home because it starts at some ungodly hour on a Saturday morning (8 am?) and I don't like parades.

Kitchener-Waterloo has loads of Germans and loads of German culture. German culture is fabulous - there's so much we could be celebrating: good beer, German white wine, the wide range of German cuisine beyond the Oktoberfest sausage, Mozart, Wagner, Beethoven, on and on and on. What does the K-W Oktoberfest festival celebrate of German culture? Oompapa music, lederhosen and cheap beer. It's not a cultural festival: it's a parody.

A long time ago there used to be an Oktoberfest operetta. I recall a charming performance of Der Rosenkavalier. It was sold out. Why was the operetta cut?

My guess is that the problem with the festival is the management, and a focus on short-term profit instead of building a community organization. For example, the operetta was popular among local residents, but wasn't popular with tourists, which is probably why it was cut - and which is completely wrong-headed. That focus probably also explains why we don't have little independent Oktoberfest events sprouting up around town during the festival: restaurants and community groups would be widening the appeal of the festival if the festival's organizers reached out to the community.

Keep the tacky beauty pageant if you want. Keep the beer halls that sell only Blue or Canadian in pitchers. Keep the early-morning parade. And especially, keep the polka music. All this stuff is wildly popular and it brings lots of tourist dollars to our town. But give us something more. Make it part of the community and something that the community can be proud of. As it is, I try to leave town during Oktoberfest. I think its extreme tackiness and focus on a cheap drunk diminishes our German heritage. It diminishes our whole community.



UWHabs said...

"there are crappy beer halls selling mass quantities of cheap beer"

Which Oktoberfest have you been to? All I've seen have been crappy beer halls that sell overpriced beer.

Melle said...

Very true. No one I know who's a local has "done" Oktoberfest in years, generally since the university days (when it's just another excuse to get liquored anyway).

And if, for some reason, one wants loud, sloppy, and lame, I'm sure there's plenty of it at any number of university bars in the area...

Giving it value to the local community would give the entire enterprise stronger and more admirable roots from which to develop, and would enable businesses to use a gimmicky involvement (restaurants could do something like Summerlicious around that time, perhaps with a German theme) to boost patronage the rest of the year.