Penticton Oktoberfest will be making its sixth round in the Okanagan this weekend, and its German-born founder remains focused on offering a genuine replication the festival.
“The whole thing has to be real the way we have it in Germany or I don’t want to do it,” said co-founder Bill Kolter.
Kolter immigrated to Canada as a teenager in the mid 1960s, and while he hasn’t been to a German Oktoberfest celebration since he was 18, the experiences were powerful enough that he decided to transplant his native traditions.
“I remember it was fantastic – everything you can think of, you can do there. Just everything, believe me,” he said. “Nothing is barred. I go to parties too, but Oktoberfest is something on its own.”
Leading up to the launch of the inaugural Penticton Oktoberfest in 2010, Kolter was approached by Jennie Loeppky, an enthusiastic event planner.
“She said ‘You’re German?’ I said yes, and she said ‘Let’s start Oktoberfest.’ She helped me all the way through and she’s still with us. We try to do it as authentically as we can. It seems to be working out, so far we have nothing but really good comments.”
Together, Kolter and Loeppky took a holistic approach towards implementing the local celebration authentically, ensuring that Penticton’s event is laden with German foods, styles and formatting, and of course the pinnacle element of Oktoberfest – beer.
“Our beer makes it authentic because we get it from over there,” Kolter said. “At a regular party you wouldn’t have German music, you wouldn’t be dressed like that.”
The common festive attire at Oktoberfest is the lederhosen for men, and the dirndl for the ladies – outfits that are practical for traditional German dancing.
“Germans are very much outgoing as far as dancing is concerned,” he said. “When you go to a club here, the young people will dance; the older people kind of sit down, and have a good time with the band or whatever but they really don’t dance that much. But at an Oktoberfest, older people dance all night – they’ll go home with their feet sore. They’ll need a hot bath.”
However, it’s not just older folks enjoying the European festivity. Kolter said there was initially some skepticism with younger crowds turned off at the thought of oom-pah-pah bands, they are now fully embracing the local Oktoberfest.
“Now they’ve been going for the last four or five years and they’re finding out it’s a hell of a lot of fun.”
The oom-pah-pah band will provide the music for the first portion of the evening, and later will be bands Flashback and the Beerbarrels, which will play more modern music.
Just like the music that’s been booked catering to festival-goers of all ages, the camaraderie is universal and transcends any generation.
“You sit with people that you don’t know, and within an hour you know everybody around you because they all talk to you,” Kolter said. “It’s a very friendly type of thing over there, and that’s what we’re promoting here at the convention centre. Everybody gets to know everybody.”
Adding to the social aspect will be the German food. Among the menu items will be apple strudels, pretzels and bratwursts.
“The food is all German stuff; it has a different taste to it,” he said, adding that even within Germany, food will taste unique to the community it was prepared. In Frankfurt, where he grew up, the bratwursts were made with a rare source of water, which gave it a distinct taste compared to bratwursts from anywhere else.
But he’s not going overboard in following German traditions.
“Other stuff that we eat over there that you wouldn’t eat over here. Like lard,” he said. “When the fat comes out of the bratwurst, that is what we make hard, and that is what we use on bread. Then put salt and pepper on it and mix it with onions.”
He said some people may consider the dish to be unappealing, but “When you’re brought up that way it makes a difference.”
Further enhancing this year’s Oktoberfest is a partnership with Junior Chamber International (JCI) Penticton.
“We’re so happy to have created a partnership with the Oktoberfest Society – another service group in Penticton,” said Brent Fitzgerald, JCI Penticton Oktoberfest Committee Chair. “Penticton Oktoberfest is an event JCI Penticton has volunteered at for a number of years. Last year we took on the role of rallying volunteers and this year, we have continued to grow our partnership with the Oktoberfest Society, by taking on additional components including marketing and licensing.”
Oktoberfest takes place on Oct. 24 from 6 p.m. until 12:30 a.m. at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre. Tickets cost $35 and include the first beer. Tickets are available at the Valley First Box Office (at the SOEC) and Wine Country Visitor Centre, or online through valleyfirsttix.com. Proceeds from the event will support local charities.