A pilgrimage to Munich to experience Oktoberfest is high up on many traveler’s wish list yet there are many barriers to making it a reality; it’s overwhelmingly busy in and around Munich during the festival and the cost can be prohibitively expensive. Don’t let that get you down. There are several worthy international Oktoberfest contenders, including our favourite in Kitchener-Waterloo, recognized as Canada’s greatest Bavarian festival.

KW Oktoberfest - Banners

The Background

A city in Southwestern Ontario about an hour and a half west of Toronto, Kitchener was such a major hub for German immigration in the mid 19th century that the town was called Berlin until the first World War. A strong German heritage remains to this day, best observed inside the national heritage clubs scattered throughout the region. Today, the city is often referred to as an amalgamated region with its neighbour making it Kitchener-Waterloo, or KW for short.

KW Oktoberfest got its start in 1969 built on the enthusiasm of a few dedicated locals and has since grown to a nine-day festival attracting upwards of one million visitors, making the event the largest Oktoberfest celebration outside of Germany. Although the festival has exploded in size, it has maintained its strong links to the community and continues to be supported and embraced by local residents.

The festival espouses many of the core Bavarian elements that makes the original so popular. Lots of beer, hearty German fare, an official keg tapping, and traditional Bavarian dancing will make you wonder if you’ve been transported from southern Ontario to Munich, albeit briefly as there are some distinctly Canadian elements interspersed throughout the festivities.

KW Oktoberfest - Flags

The Setup

The festival takes place over nine days in October with this year’s event falling between Friday, October 9th and Saturday, October 17th.

Unlike its Munich counterpart, the festival venues at KW Oktoberfest are scattered around the Kitchener-Waterloo area. There are over a dozen official festhallen – “beer tents” offering up food, beer, music, dancing and games. Most are connected to a permanent building of some sort, either a year-round German club or a large venue that jumps on the Bavarian bandwagon during the month of October. The festhallen range from small, intimate clubs for 250 to massive arenas accommodating 4,500 eager Bavarian enthusiasts.

There is a festhallen for everyone depending on what you’re in the mood for. The German clubs put on a more traditional Oktoberfest where you can expect to encounter full oompah bands, traditional dance performances, and authentic German fare. On the flip side the venues converted into festhallen specifically for Oktoberfest are quite a bit larger and tend to cater to a younger crowd looking for a fun, party atmosphere. Below are a few of the more popular festhallen in both categories.

Traditional German Clubs

Alpine Club: Since 1953 the Alpine Club has been a gathering spot for residents with German and Austrian heritage. The club features a large dance floor in the centre of the hall surrounded by tables and seating with capacity for 400 people. The German foods on offer are hearty and delicious, but ensure you save room for dessert – their apple strudel is a must.

KW Oktoberfest - Alpine Club

Schwaben Club: This club accommodates around 650 festival goers throughout its three halls during Oktoberfest making it the second largest club in the region. Friday’s opening party at the Schwaben Club is a packed house of who’s who in the club and community and is great fun. A range of entertaining musical acts ensures a fun and lively dance floor while the kitchen cooks up some traditional delicacies including schnitzel, cabbage rolls, and cakes.

Concordia Club: The largest German club in Canada, Concordia Club was the host of the original KW Oktoberfest back in 1969 and today continues to put on one of the best festing experiences. Concordia is a bit of an anomaly as it incorporates a party atmosphere on the main level and a traditional German tavern in the basement. There is live German folk music, beer, Schnapps, German inspired food and a midway with plenty of games including the popular crossbow range.

KW Oktoberfest - Concordia Club Basement Departful

Hubertushaus:Located on a large rural area in nearby Mannheim, Hubertushaus offers up to 450 Oktoberfest goers a more nostalgic experience. A highlight of the festivities is 46th annual Bogenschuetzenfest, an archery tournament on the morning of the first Saturday. Don’t pass up the excellent cuisine while you’re there, particularly the Rollbraten and traditional sweets.

Transylvania Haus: This year-round club emphasizes the heritage and culture of the Transylvania and Saxon communities. With good food, energetic music, top notch dance performances, and a mechanical bull Transylvania Haus offers a great party and is an ideal spot if you’re looking for the best of both worlds.

Pop Up Clubs

Oktoberfest Haus: This large pop up tent is smack-dab in the centre of Kitchener and is run by enthusiastic volunteers. Plastic tables are set up inside the tent while a large outdoor area out back offers an opportunity to have a drink and some food outside, providing that the weather is decent. A band plays at the front entrance while people come and go all day and all night long.

KW Oktoberfest - Prezel Vendor

Altes Muenchen Haus: Queensmount arena is barely recognizable during Oktoberfest, outfitted just like a true German beer hall with room for up to 2,000. Altes Muenchen Haus is infamous as a top party spot at KW Oktoberfest and caters predominately to a youthful crowd. Don’t miss Rocktoberfest on Thanksgiving Sunday, one of the top events throughout the festival.

Bingemans Kool Haus: With room for 4,500 Bingemans is the largest venue and the biggest party at KW Oktoberfest. Bingemans offers a lot of fun features such as a Jagermeister lounge, a casino, a large licensed patio, and several food areas. Bingemans even offers camping for out of towners or locals who don’t want to miss any of the action.

KW Oktoberfest - Concordia Club Band

The Events

Opening Ceremony: Oktoberfest officially kicks off on Friday, October 9th at 11:15 am in Carl Zehr Square in downtown Kitchener. The keg tapping gets the festival off to a rolling start with help from the festival President, regional mayors, Miss Oktoberfest, and of course, festival mascots Onkel Hans and Tante Frieda.

Premier-of-Ontario-Photograhy

OktoberFEAST: This foodie event takes place during the first weekend of Oktoberfest. Food trucks serving a variety of cuisines line King Street in downtown Kitchener in the heart of the festivities.

Oktoberfest Family Breakfast: On the morning of Saturday, October 10th everyone’s welcome for a free breakfast at Bingemans Kool Haus. Get your fill of pancakes and sausages by bringing a non-perishable food item to support the local Food Bank.

Fusstoberfest: Take part in, or just observe, a life-size foosball tournament happening in the centre of Kitchener on Saturday, October 10th where teams of five battle it out on an inflatable field.

Bogenschutzenfest: Make it to the Hubertushaus at 9:30 am on Saturday October 10th for the annual shooting festival. The Bogenschutzenfest is an archery tournament where participants from far and wide compete to ‘kill’ a styrofoam eagle for the title of King and Queen.

Fun Run: This 5km run is a prelude to the Thanksgiving Day Parade on Monday, October 12th, following the same route through downtown Kitchener. Participants of all ages are welcome and costumes are encouraged. The run is not only a ton of fun but also an excellent way to burn off the beer and pretzel calories.

Thanksgiving Day Parade: A highlight of the festival, this holiday parade occurs on Thanksgiving Holiday Monday, October 12th this year. It is the biggest Thanksgiving Day Parade in Canada and is broadcasted live on national television. There are well over 120 floats, bands, dancing groups and costumed characters that make their way down King Street through both Kitchener and Waterloo. Come prepared with warm clothes and a thermos filled with your favourite warm beverage.

So You Think You Can Tanz: Head over to the Alpine Club on Tuesday, October 13th for the ultimate Oktoberfest dance competition. Showcasing the best of traditional German dance, groups from around the region battle it out for a trophy and, the ultimate prize, bragging rights.

Bavarian Strongman Competition. It wouldn’t be Oktoberfest without an opportunity to show how strong you are by lifting logs, rolling tires, and pulling vehicles. The event takes place in a parking lot near the Hans Haus on Saturday, October 17th at noon.

KW Oktoberfest - Schwaben Club Band

Tickets

Tickets are required to enter the Festhallens. Unless you’re buying a VIP or Prestige Pass, the tickets allow for entry only and do not include any food or drinks.

Tickets are available on the official KW Oktoberfest website and should be purchased well in advance as they are harder to come by and the price gets steeper the closer it gets to opening weekend. If you want to visit several halls over the course of the event, you should probably purchase a Prestige Pass allowing entry to multiple venues. If attending is a last minute decision, you can often find tickets on Craigslist and Kijiji, but the prices are inflated.

Most tickets include a Guaranteed Admission Time, a target time that you should arrive by to ensure that you are able to get inside. You can come later but may forgo your place inside if those without tickets take your spot.

What to Expect

As to be expected, most of the beer on offer at KW is Canadian with Molson, a major sponsor, being the most represented. Also, unlike the Munich equivalent, beer is often served in plastic cups rather than glass steins. Some exceptions include the traditional clubs, which offer a range of Munich and other German beers in their appropriate glasses and a wide variety of traditional German foods to soak it all up.

Most people that visit KW Oktoberfest dress the part. To get into the spirit visit Hans Haus in downtown Kitchener and invest in some Oktoberfest gear. The bare minimum would be to deck yourself out in a felt hat equipped with a colourful ostrich feather and a handful of commemorative Oktoberfest pins. If you want to take your festing to the next level, however, it’s probably time to pony up the dough for some trachten, the traditional national costumes of German-speaking countries.

KW Oktoberfest - Oktoberfest Shop

The distance between Festhallen can be significant and many venues are not accessible by transit. You will need to designate a driver or opt for caps if you wish to visit multiple spots in one night. The municipal buses are free on the Oktoberfest weekends and have special routes between the larger festhallen and downtown Kitchener.

The venues have different operating days and times with some only open on the weekends while others are accessible throughout the entire festival. The festivities at most Festhallen really amp up around 7pm, so if you get there much later without a ticket you risk not getting in, or at least standing in line for a very long time.

October can be cold and wet so dress appropriately. It notoriously rains quite a bit for the nine days of Oktoberfest, so you really don’t want to be stuck in a line or waiting for a taxi for hours soaking wet.

If you’re doing the festivities right, you’re likely to encounter the official mascots of KW Oktobefest, Onkel Hans and Tante Frieda. Make sure you get into the festival spirit and take a Hansie.

KW Oktoberfest - Hans


KW Oktoberfest photos courtesy of Departful, JP Bervoets, Lauren Barth and Premier of Ontario Photography (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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Lauren Barth

Lauren Barth

Lauren Barth co-founded Departful in 2012 and is the Managing Director of Departful Media. Since then she has worked between North America and Europe and has published content in partnership with a variety of tourism boards and businesses based around the world. Lauren is currently based in Toronto, Canada.

Departful is a full service travel agency for busy professionals seeking unique and transformative custom travel experiences. We create memorable holidays that are 100% tailored to our clients, saving them time and energy by handling all of the little details while providing value by leverage our expertise and network of travel partners. We are based in Toronto.

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Departful is a full service travel agency for busy professionals seeking unique and transformative custom travel experience. We create memorable holidays that are 100% tailored to our clients, saving them time & energy by handling all of the little details while providing value by leverage our expertise and network of travel partners. We are based in Toronto.

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