October and Fest make for a pretty cool union in everybody’s mind, don’t they? They go with German beer, bratwurst, pretzels, Dirndl, Lederhosen, and oom-pah music. You might think of the Munich Octoberfest. Import it to the Pacific Northwest, and you have it authentically right here. Only … you wish, but you don’t.
Even for many Germans, the Munich Octoberfest has become so cliché, they leave it to the tourists, the VIPs, and the would-be ones who want to make it into the yellow press. My hometown, Stuttgart, hosts a similar event starting at the end of September (with a hardly smaller twin version in spring) – but the charm it held in my childhood is long gone. These days it’s all about the craziest rides and about dancing on benches and tables in the beer tents. I’ve been there, participated, and gladly retreated. Octoberfests of that caliber are not my cup of tea.
But there are other October fests that are very much so. Germany is not all about beer fests in October. For one, my mother country – just like Washington State – is fairly big, if underestimated in high quality wineries. Vineyard regions like Baden, Wurttemberg, the Palatinate, Moselle, Rhine, Saar, Saale, Unstruth, or Franconia (and forgive me, if I forgot a region!) feature wonderful Weinfeste (pronounce: “vine-fass-tuh”) in their romantic villages and small-towns. They are usually announced with banners across the main roads and pennants spanning roof-to-roof all through town. The market place, usually in town-center, with a church, town hall, and most often the local firehouse, will be turned into an accumulation of booths of different colors and decorations, a band stand, and hundreds of simple benches and tables.
No entrance fees, no off-side areas for those who want to drink alcoholic beverages. You may have to pay a fee for your glass – you may keep the glass if you like it; you can also hand it back and retrieve your money. You get your food, your drinks, you ask whether the seat you’d like is free, and plop down next to anybody. You are a stranger to this town? You will soon be involved in some friendly chat in a local dialect. You will stay way longer than you had originally intended. You will taste local food specialties fresh from the oven, the BBQ, or steaming casseroles.
Age doesn’t matter; law compels vendors only not to sell alcohol to minors. Kids may sit with you as you are enjoying your wine or beer, though. Hours last till midnight, inside barns or other buildings even longer. Depending on the region, you may see different costumes (if any). You might listen to accordion music (not everything October fest is oopm-pah) or currently popular music. You may see some dancing, traditional and disco. Some October fests even have a tombola, a merry-go-round, bumper cars, and a shooting gallery. But mostly it’s about being neighborly, while celebrating this year’s harvest with food and drink. The village makes for a different backdrop at every single October fest, be it dedicated to wine, beer, cabbage, potatoes, or other produce.
As a German, I prefer authentic Washingtonian fall fests in Washington State. Their ambience cannot be reciprocated anywhere else either. I love my Apple Squeezes. I’d love October wine fests, too – thinking some neat Washingtonian dishes, served with a crisp Wenatchee Riesling or a mellow Columbia River Merlot. Unfortunately, I have never run into an October wine fest over here. If you know of one in Washington State, would you let me know, please? I’m sure I’d plop down right next to you if there were seating, too.