‘Prosit!’ Oktoberfest hits K-W

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(Photo by Nick Lachance)

Hundreds of people held their glasses high and cheered at Kitchener city hall last Friday at the official opening and keg tapping of the 44th annual Oktoberfest festival, the largest version of the traditional Bavarian festival in North America.

With the smell of grilled sausage, the sounds of polka music and festival-goers in traditional German dress, the official kick-off to the K-W staple was nothing but enthusiastic.

“I’ve been coming since I was a little boy, and my parents have been taking me since we were little and it was more of a family thing and we never stopped going. It was just fun,” said Shawn Batte from London, Ontario who was born and raised in Kitchener. With his wife and uncle beside him, Batte noted that he hasn’t missed the opening since he started going when he was a child.

“I’ve been coming to the openings ever since it started. My uncle has been coming for 44 years, this particular event,” he added.

Like many around him, Batte proudly wore his German lederhosen and displayed a giant smile, most likely eager to take part in the activities that were occurring later that night and throughout the week. King Street, which was closed for the kick-off and over the Thanksgiving long weekend, had various vendors, amusement rides and beer tents.

To assist in the keg tapping were Scott Cozens and Sheldon Smithens, hosts of the television show Canadian Pickers that airs on the History Channel. Also in attendance was the 2012 Miss Oktoberfest, Lindsay Coulter.

“I’m really enjoying it, going to all the different events are a huge privilege and to be the ambassador for Oktoberfest. It has been a very big honour,” explained Coulter, a third-year geography and environmental studies student at the University of Waterloo. “It’s a lot of fun.”

As it was for Batte, Oktoberfest has been a huge tradition for Coulter.

“I’ve been going to the parade as long as I could remember and when I turned 19 I started going out to some of the festivals,” Coulter continued. “And I was on the marketing committee before I became Miss Oktoberfest.”

In addition to the official keg tapping, there was the annual Thanksgiving Oktoberfest parade on Monday where an estimated 150,000 people were in attendance. The parade also collected food donations for the local food bank.

The celebrations end on Saturday, but the tradition doesn’t die there. Without a doubt, Oktoberfest will be back projecting the same numbers next year. According to Batte, the marketing and the effort put into the celebrations is what keeps it so strong each year.

“It has clearly changed with the times, you see the marketing and it draws on different people,” concluded Batte. “It’s good— it keeps the tradition alive.”

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