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Ein Prosit! Oktoberfest Comes to Providence

There are many holidays on the American calendar that are meant for drinking — New Year’s Eve, St. Patrick’s Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Whacking Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas, to name a few. While the original meaning of some of these days are lost in a frothy amber puddle of celebration, it is important to remember that they were all started for a reason and some deserve reverence. Breaking that trend is the fall favorite, Oktoberfest, well known to most Americans as the best holiday for breaking out your lederhosen or dirndl, eating some wurst and singing Bavarian songs about beer. But few people know where Oktoberfest came from or why we’re celebrating it.
The origins of Oktoberfest go back to Bavaria in the early 1800s under Crown Prince Ludwig I. It was originally a celebration of his marriage to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hidlburghausen, also of Bavaria, that lasted five days and was celebrated on the fields just outside of Munich. It seemed only fitting to invite all the citizens of Munich to witness this royal union. One of the most notable events of the five-day celebration was the horse race in which 30 horses raced around a 2-mile track. The horse race drew some 40,000 spectators and was the reason the festival survived the early years.
The next year, 1811, the horse races continued, an agricultural fair was added and the celebration continued, even though there was no wedding. The Oktoberfest continued from year to year and got larger with each incarnation. After a few years, other events were included such as tree climbing, bowling, swings and carnival booths. As the festival grew, the planning passed to the town fathers and it was extended to its current length of 17 days and the start was moved to the late days of September. Toward the end of the 1800s, booths containing tree climbing and bowling gave way to more musicians and the large beer tents we are used to today. In 1877, the parade of brewers and Oktoberfest staff started, which helped showcase the musicians and beer trucks of the time (think Budweiser horse teams). In the 1900s, Oktoberfest was cancelled a number of times due to world wars and other conflicts over the years, but it has managed to remain generally the same. The only major loss was the horse races in 1960.
The American version of Oktoberfest stays remarkably close to the real deal, if not scaled down just a bit. Many US towns hold their own version with all the basics — wurst, bier and music. Most notable in Rhode Island is the International Oktoberfest, which takes place on October 17 through 18 at India Point Park in Providence. It’s by far the largest around and has plenty of beer, food, local bands and some traditional German music. The German American Cultural Society in Pawtucket also throws their own version. I’d write about it now, but I’ll be going in a few hours for the first time to do, um, market research. If it’s anything like their open Fridays at the Rathskeller, it’s sure to be a blast since they make their own authentic food, have an excellent German beer selection and provide live folk music.
German polka will be found in any abundance at a good Oktoberfest, but what if you want to get in on the action? The good news is that there will be multiple rounds of “Ein Prosit,” literally translated “A toast.” This song was a must for us to learn on the German beer tours around Munich. The lyrics are very simple:
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit                    [A toast, A toast]
Der Gemütlichkeit                        [To cheer and good times]
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit                    [pronounced: ayn pro-sit]
Der Gemütlichkeit.                       [pronounced: dir gay-moot-lich-kite]
OANS! ZWOA! DREI! G’SUFFA!  [One, two, three, drink up]
And of course, it all ends with a Ziggy Zoggy Ziggy Zoggy, Oy, Oy, Oy!
The 23rd annual International Oktoberfest on the Waterfront takes place on Saturday, October 17 from noon to 8pm and on Sunday, October 18 from noon to 6pm at India Point Park in Providence. For tickets and festival information, go to  This event is for those 21+.