Oktoberfest events begin in late September through October in cities and towns with a historic German heritage. The celebration is particularly meaningful in Hermann, Missouri, known for its German traditions, museums, and award-winning wines and vineyards. Located on the steep banks of the Missouri River, the area resembled the Rhine Valley in Germany. Like its Bavarian counterpart, this wine-growing region is known as the Rhineland. Celebrating Oktoberfest in the Missouri Rhineland is a way for the community to reconnect with Old World traditions of German foods, crafts, music and dance in an environment where visitors and local residents are equally welcome.
Hermann was founded in 1837 by a Philadelphia school teacher, George Bayer. Acting as agent on behalf of the German Settlement Society of Philadelphia, he was instructed to find land in the western frontier where the people could build a city that would be “German in every particular.” Bayer purchased 11,000 acres along the Missouri River. The terrain was some of the steepest and most rugged land along the river bank, yet it had beautiful scenery.
When the first group of the Philadelphia Germans arrived, their excitement changed to dismay and anger when they saw the terrain. They had envisioned their new city as flat and spacious. Even though the region was not what the settlers had expected, they wanted to live where they could maintain traditional German culture. They wanted to be self-supporting so some of them planted grapes on the steep hillsides. Within 10 years, visitors arrived by steamboats from St. Louis for Hermann’s first wine festival or Weinfest. By the end of the 19th century, Hermann was a bustling river town and could claim the nation’s second largest winery which is still in existence today, Stone Hill Winery. The wines have won numerous gold medals from competitions around the world.
Hermann’s prosperity declined significantly during World War I, Prohibition and the Great Depression. Wine production went from 3 million gallons a year to nothing during that time. Today, the seven wineries are part of the Weinstrasse or wine road, offering tours and 20 miles of scenery overlooking the Missouri River.
Oktoberfest began in Munich, Bavaria, Germany to celebrate the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig, Oct. 12, 1810. All the citizens of Munich were invited to attend the outdoor festivities. The celebration ended with horse races in the presence of the royal couple. The next year, the races were held again along with farmers promoting local agriculture. A few years later, carnival booths became part of the festivities with prizes of jewelry, porcelain and silver. The festival kept expanding with more arts and crafts and, later, amusement park rides.
Hermann also offers a lot during Oktoberfest. In addition to winery tours, this German heritage community has over 100 buildings that are on the National Register of Historic Places. These were built in the 19th century by settlers and make up the Deutschheim State Historic Site. One of the buildings is the German School, erected in 1871, which taught classes in both English and German. The exhibits contain styles of dress, items brought from Germany, books, children’s toys, plus a clock made by a German clockmaker that has been running since 1890.
Traditional festival activities, such as bands playing polkas and folk songs, dancers in folk costumes, are announced in both English and German. These performers and artisans travel throughout the state celebrating Oktoberfest, bringing a touch of the Missouri Rhineland to other communities. For more information on Oktoberfest in Hermann or throughout Missouri, the links are provided below.
By Cynthia Collins
All photos courtesy of VisitHermann.com