There are more than a dozen local Oktoberfest celebrations this month but there’s only one Oktoberfest, say German expatriates living in Tampa Bay.
Everyone we spoke to agreed with Nadine Kowalke, who grew up in Germany and now lives in Wesley Chapel.
“If you want to experience a real Oktoberfest, make the trip to Germany at some point,” she said. “Because the beer here does not taste the same.”
Feelings toward local fests ranged from “it’s fine as long as people are having fun” to “the use of the word ‘Oktoberfest’ in connection with these festivities is an insult to every German.”
Markus Lacher lives in Brooksville but spent most of his life near Munich. He attended Oktoberfest every year starting at 16, the legal drinking age in Germany, and said he does appreciate that people in the United States “try.”
“It’s still fun to go to Oktoberfest here, but you can’t replicate it, just like you can’t have Busch Gardens in Germany,” he said. “First of all, it should start in September. … I’m a real lederhosen guy.”
And speaking of lederhosen, Lacher said Americans should not wear them if they don’t have German roots and don’t own the “real thing.” His own lederhosen, for example, are more than 25 years old and made from tanned leather preserved with grease.
“They cost something like $2,000, and have my family crest on them,” he said. “Germans who come there and see you in the lederhosen, they can tell instantly if it’s fake. If it has the wrong family crest we might ask, ‘How is your family?’ It’s not needed.”
People shouldn’t get so caught up in “imitating” their idea of an authentic German Oktoberfest, he said. The beer games held at some local Oktoberfests aren’t familiar to him, he said, because in Germany it’s not about competition but celebration.
“I mean, we do have once a year a competition where we drink beer as quickly as we can,” he said. “But that has nothing to do with Oktoberfest.”
German-born Beatrice Ramjattan, who has lived in Tampa since 2001, pointed out an interesting side effect of celebrating Oktoberfest at the German American Society in Pinellas Park, the area’s longest-running Oktoberfest celebration.
“It’s mostly older Germans who came here in the ’50s and ’60s from being married to American GIs,” she said. “So when you go to that celebration now, it’s like a time warp, like Oktoberfest in the ’60s. Old music, old outfits. If you go to Munich now, it’s a lot of new, popular music. It actually caters to the younger population.”
Susanne Nielsen, who in 1998 began hosting a Tampa-area German-language radio show that’s now a podcast, said she loves the family-friendly vibe at Oldsmar’s celebration and its “wiener dog derby,” even though such an event is not part of Munich’s celebrations.
“It just happens to be a German type of dog,” she said.
In Germany, her perception was that many Germans saw Oktoberfest as a “tourist thing.”
“The Oktoberfest in Cape Coral has two bands flown in from Germany, and I have friends in Stuttgart who love those bands,” she said. “They actually fly here to Florida to see them play, because Oktoberfest in Munich is too crowded.”
Contact Christopher Spata at [email protected] Follow @SpataTimes.