By Joanna O’Leary
If you don’t have to be Irish to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, you certainly don’t have to be German—or even travel to Germany—to raise a glass during Oktoberfest, Munich’s month-long celebration of beer, pretzels, sausage, and more beer. Though its exact origins are the subject of some dispute, most historians think the first Oktoberfest was a city-wide celebration of the October 1810 marriage of German crown prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. In the 200-plus years since this inaugural celebration, the festival has evolved considerably to include horse races, farm shows, and carousel rides. Eventually beer and food stations became stalwart features, and today the annual Munich Oktoberfest attracts more than 6 million visitors.
German-themed fetes and festivals are also held around the world, including deep in the heart of Houston, Texas. And because H-town is just that cool (and also thanks to a sizeable influx of German immigrants in the nineteenth century), there are multiple venues in which you can swing from a stein and eat some twisted, salted dough. The season starts with Oktoberfest Houston, held at the end of September in Eleanor Tinsley Park. This one-day event features numerous vendors selling more than 50 types of beer as well as candy apples, bratwurst with sauerkraut, pretzels, strudel, and German potato salad. There is also a solid lineup of entertainment, from bands and German folk-dancers to games (such as Giant Jenga and Connect Four) for kids and those young at heart.
More extended Oktoberfest activities are held at King’s Biergarten, which hosts a three-day party (October 7 through 9) at its Pearland location. The fun kicks off with a Friday keg-tapping ceremony with local politicians including Friendswood mayor Kevin Holland, Pearland mayor Tom Reed, Texas state representative Ed Thompson, and Texas state senator Larry Taylor. After fueling up on standard Oktoberfest grub such as sausages of multiple varieties, soft pretzels, and German beer from Spaten, Hofbrau, and Paulaner, attendees can participate in strongman and arm-wrestling competitions or kick it medieval style in the jousting ring. A photobooth is available to memorialize the occasion (should you get too, er, betrunken to remember). Your admission ticket also enters you in a drawing for full accommodations for two at Oktoberfest 2017 in Munich, Germany.
In some ways, it’s always Oktoberfest time at Rudi Lechner’s, Houston’s oldest German restaurant. During the month of October, however, this quaint dining establishment pulls out all the stops with food and drink specials and live music on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Indeed, it is the fabulous fare that ultimately puts Rudi Lechner’s in another league with regards to Oktoberfest eats, thanks to the restaurant’s authentic production of classic German food that is unparalleled in this city. Highlights include the curry wurst in tomato sauce, bratwurst, käsespätzle (egg dumplings baked with cheese and fried onions), and jäger schnitzel (a sautéed veal cutlet breaded and bathed in an earthy mushroom sauce). End your meal on a sweet note with the palatschinken (lighter-than-air crepes stuffed with apricots and raspberries topped with powdered sugar) and a shot of peppermint schnapps (good for digestion). Finally, ladies, if you’re feeling lucky, try your chances at Rudi’s “Miss Oktoberfest” drawing held each Wednesday in October. Three contestants from each week’s drawing are entered in the grand-prize drawing for airfare to Munich, courtesy of Lufthansa.