Prost to Oktoberfest
by Claire Fleming | published Oct. 7th, 2016
"Prost!" in German roughly translates to "Cheers!" or "To good health!"
"Prost!" in German roughly translates to "Cheers!" or "To good health!" and is a word you commonly hear at Oktoberfests worldwide as people raise their drinks in the air. Two of these such festivals will take place in Rochester this year.
Both Irondequoit and Fairport put on Oktoberfests this September and October. Irondequoit Oktoberfest ran September 9, 10, 16 and 17. Fairport Oktoberfest ran September 30 through October 1.
You might be wondering, "If it's called 'Oktoberfest,' why is it happening in September too?" The short answer is that the timing made more sense for the original Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany.
According to the official website, Oktoberfest in 1810 in Germany was originally held October 12 – 17. As celebrations became more popular each year, the festival was prolonged. It began in September and still ended in October. StartingOktoberfest start earlier allowed for better weather. September days are a bit warmer in Munich, and people were able to enjoy the outdoor festivities for longer.
"Having the event in September is especially important here in Rochester, where sometimes it seems like it could begin to snow at any time of the year," said Mike Spang, director of Special Events for the Town of Irondequoit.
"Having the event in September is especially important here in Rochester, where sometimes it seems like it could begin to snow at any time of the year."
Now, as Munich heads into their 183rd Oktoberfest, the tradition still stands and has found its way to American Oktoberfests as well.
Along with running dates, American Oktoberfests incorporate other German traditions into their festivities.
"German culture is pervasive to the extent that it's, you know, from your Budweiser to your Miller — which are all German breweries — to hamburgers and hot dogs, you know, it's all German," said Scott Winner, an event coordinator for Fairport Oktoberfest. "Those are just some minor examples, but significant ones because they are just so woven into our culture."
Spang mentioned how Oktoberfest in Irondequoit has grown but still keeps its German roots. "What once was a gathering of folks under three small tents is now a massive operation with a one-acre tent with numerous vendors, with bands direct from Germany and a few domestic bands that draw thousands of people each of our four nights over the course of two weekends," he said.
German traditions, including official Oktoberfest beer brewed in Munich; the Shuhplattler dance; authentic German folk songs; yodeling; and food including wurst, schnitzel and strudel are available at both Fairport and Irondequoit Oktoberfests.
Irondequoit Oktoberfest invites Hilby the Skinny German Juggle Boy from Berlin, Germany to light up the stage with juggling, unicycling and jokes. Master yodeler Richard Brandl from Bavaria will also join the Irondequoit fest on its second weekend.
Both Irondequoit and Fairport Oktoberfests incorporate American traditions in their festivals. In Fairport, each night at 9 p.m., an American rock band will take the stage, and a whole different crowd will join the party. As the fest changes from German music to rock-and-roll, people who may not have normally taken part in a German tradition suddenly become a part of it.
"The people who come in at night may be walking into something they have never experienced before," Winner said. "When people come and see and hear and sing, they may start to recognize the things that they haven't noticed before, things that they thought were American but, oh, that's German in its roots."
Irondequoit brings in American culture through its food and drink. Along with German beer, food and desserts, Irondequoit's Oktoberfest also adds Sam Adams and Genesee Brew House to its taps and offers American snacks like chicken fingers and mozzarella sticks.
Oktoberfest is all about the assimilation of cultures.
"Each year our bands make a point of doing covers of American songs — there's nothing like hearing rock songs on accordion," Spang said. Oktoberfest is all about the assimilation of cultures, and the music is just one of the ways Rochester Oktoberfests bring those cultures together.
One of the most important aspects of Oktoberfest — especially for Americans — is the beer. Authentic Oktoberfest beer can only be brewed in Munich breweries. The breweries that can produce Oktoberfest Beer are Augustiner-Brau, Hacker-Pschorr-Brau, Hofbrau, Lowenbrau, Paulaner and Spatenbrau. The two offered in Rochester Oktoberfests are Hofbrau and Paulaner. All six beers are offered at Oktoberfests in Munich and are the only beers on tap.
Hofbrau beer contains 6.3 percent alcohol by volume, and the beer that gets imported to America is the same beer that is featured in Munich's Oktoberfest. The most popular beer from Paulaner during Oktoberfest is Marzen, which, according to Paulaner's website, is brewed in March in order to have best flavor by Oktoberfest. While Marzen is most popular in both Germany and America during Oktoberfest, it is available in America year-round.
Although there's lots of beer, there is no shortage of food at Rochester Oktoberfest. One main vendor for both Irondequoit and Fairport Oktoberfests is Swan Market, a Rochester-owned and operated company that has been around for over 80 years. Swan's is owned by a man named Barry who apprenticed with Master Butchers in Germany. Barry strives to make everything he sells as authentic as possible. At Oktoberfest, Swan's sells Schnitzel, all kinds of wursts – smoked and fresh – along with tangy German potato salad, cabbage and, of course, sauerkraut.
One thing you should not be surprised to see at the fests is traditional German clothing, lederhosen and dirndl. Lederhosen is traditional German wear for men, usually made of leather and worn with knee-high socks and a white shirt. A dirndl is a traditional dress for women with a bodice, skirt, blouse and apron; think Hansel and Gretel.
While Oktoberfests in Rochester are both American and German, one thing that permeates all Oktoberfests is "ein Prosit," a song that is sung as a toast. With beer in the air, the crowd sings loudly, "Eins, zwei, drei, g'suffa!" which translates to "One, two, three, drink!" as everyone drinks as much beer as they can.
Oktoberfest is full of dancing, laughing, singing, and lots and lots of beer. When you go, don't forget to say, "Prost!"