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A band plays live at Oktoberfest

Big Bear Lake Oktoberfest Returns

Posted: 09/12/13 | By Matt McCabe

Big Bear’s annual Oktoberfest offers a unique experience to groups of all ages and backgrounds.

Big Bear Oktoberfest

Oktoberfest is beloved tradition dating back to 1810 and has become a favorite event for both Big Bear locals and visitors in search of good food, good music and good times with family and friends. Having spent almost my entire life in Big Bear, I’ve been to a good number of Oktoberfests; but never have I been more impressed with the Oktoberfest as in the last few years.

As soon as you go through the entry gates you are given a wristband indicating if you are of drinking age or not since it is an event for all ages (before 9pm). But beyond the formalities of getting into the festival, you get a great view of the Budenstrasse (The Avenue of Booths). This is a major part of Oktoberfest and provides all festival participants with a great chance to peruse the offerings of local vendors, play a few of the carnival games or event to get a quick bit of festival fare such as funnel cakes or roasted nuts.

Don’t worry, you can also get a cold beer at the first of three beer gardens, located right at the beginning of the Avenue!

Big Bear Oktoberfest dancers

Beyond the vintage clothes, old time photos and handcrafted dolls or chocolates; you’ll find the aroma of German delicacies, and of course, the ruckus of lively German music. I remember the first time I went to an Oktoberfest as an adult. The booming chant of, “Zicke, zacke! Zicke, zacke! Hoi, hoi, hoi!” fills the air as the Bürgermeister Hans Bandows leads the cheerful crowd in another timeless tradition unique to Oktoberfest just before they chug as much beer as quickly as they can.

My last Oktoberfest adventure was with a mixed age group. Three of us were over twenty-one with our fourth member being a bit below the legal drinking age. As such, we decided to go to the Sunday afternoon session of the Oktoberfest. The Convention Center has made great strides in establishing Sunday as the day for families wanting to try out Oktoberfest. They have all the same musical acts as well as food options. They also have child oriented contests in the main hall including pretzel eating and boot holding.

They also hold shows for the Polka Tots on various weekends. Founded in 1973 by the prior year’s Oktoberfest Queen, The Polka Tots are our local Oktoberfest’s official dance group that focuses on involving children from ages 2 to 12. They get out on the dance floor and put on an adorable act for the many visitors there. Last year they performed in about five weekends of the event.

Big Bear Oktoberfest band

Saturday is also a great day for families, though anyone under the age of 21 can’t enter after 6 PM, though they do allow families with children who enter before 6 PM to stay inside. The party inside the hall really starts to get going around 6 PM, so I suggest showing up a bit early to avoid long wait lines. I also suggest getting your food ASAP, so you can really experience the charm of a genuine Oktoberfest. My personal favorite is the German Sausage sandwich. The sandwich is amazing! Imagine a bratwurst nestled in a warm and soft pretzel bun. I’m watering at the mouth just thinking of it! There is also your choice of polish sausage or knockwurst. If you like you can also go with their German meal which gives you a choice of sausages along with sauerkraut, pretzel dinner roll and German potato salad.

Of course I know what you might be thinking, “What about the beer?!” Don’t worry friends, the selection of beer is outstanding. They offer a good selection of domestic beers (Ever have a Lemon Shandy? They’ve got one. Try it!) But of course it’s not Oktoberfest without authentic German beer; which they’ve got. While their Dunkel’s are great, I personally suggest getting either a Pilsner (if you like it a bit on the lighter side), or either of their Oktoberfest beers. These imported beers are the same beer you could get at Oktoberfest in Munich, so you can be certain they are outstanding!

A new addition to the Oktoberfest is that there are now three beer gardens. One of which will have a few TVs so sports fans in attendance don’t have to miss an important game. The other two will be featuring unique important beers on tap. It is, of course, worth mentioning that they have huge Bavarian style pretzel. They are so good! Again, my mouth is watering! They also have a respectable selection of traditional American food if you’re feeling a tad less adventurous. I should clarify there is more to Big Bear’s Oktoberfest than just food, beer and music.

How about some contests to test your stout and vigor?
That’s right, the log sawing and the only stein-carrying contest in the United States is back again! Our local Oktoberfest also gives visitors the chance to ride Samson the mechanical bull. You can also have a chance at a safety minded drinking contest. Folks daring enough to try and reign supreme at beer drinking can take a stab at downing some non-alcoholic beverages the fastest. As for the ladies, there is the above mentioned stein-carrying contest. However, be forewarned, the world champion of stein-carrying resides with Big Bear and has gone undefeated for 39 years! That’s right, the world record was set in 1974, at an astounding 21 steins!

Big Bear Oktoberfest festivities

Amidst the music performed by authentic German bands, outrageous contests, and tantalizing food; it is easy to get a bit lost in all the merriment that the 43rd annual Big Bear Oktoberfest has to offer. As such, the fine folks at the Convention Center have made arrangements for a complimentary shuttle to provide door-to-door service from the event venue to your home starting at 6 PM on Saturdays. For the first time, they have expanded shuttle service to offering pick-up service that will take you to Oktoberfest on Saturdays only, starting at 2 PM. The pick-up service ends at 6 PM and runs about every 30 minutes or so. The pick-up location is still TBA. If you’re not much for drinking, the Convention Center hasn’t neglected to take good care of the ever important designated driver. Just mention at the gate that you’re not driving and you’ll receive a special wrist band that indicates you’re the designated driver in your group that will let you get free water, soda and coffee. Thus allowing everyone to have a great, yet responsible, time out.

Clearly, Big Bear’s locals take a lot of pride in the hard work that results in this Oktoberfest. And isn’t an undue sense of pride. This is a tradition that pays homage to the devoted work ethic that represents an entire generation and was a way for two German immigrants to let their children know about their heritage in a joyous and loving way. It is a celebration that dates all the way back to the marriage of two German Royals at the end of a hard fall harvest that was the sign of a well-earned winters rest. In the end, Big Bear Lake’s Oktoberfest is really a celebration of friends, family, and love. So when you get there, look for me. I’ll be the guy surrounded by family and friends, joining the crowd in a cheer of “Ein Prosit” (One Cheers).

Gut trinken!
Matt McCabe