More Than Beer, Brats and Oompah Bands
Although every kind of music is played at Oktoberfest, German bands are always a favorite.
This weekend, (Sept. 20, 2014) more than 600,000 people are expected to pack Fifth Street downtown for the 39th Oktoberfest Zinzinnati. Every Cincinnatian has heard that the local festival is second only in size to the Munich Oktoberfest, but the fact that Oktoberfest is organized by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber makes it unique in the world of chambers of commerce. In no other large city does the chamber of commerce take the lead in organizing community festivals.
Oktoberfest didn’t start with the chamber. In the early 1970s Helmut Maurer, the President of the Germania Society, proposed a citywide Oktoberfest in an editorial in the Cincinnati Post. That proposal didn’t get traction until 1975 when the committee organizing the local commemoration of the United States Bicentennial embraced the concept.
The German American Citizens League took responsibility for organizing the first Oktoberfest in 1976 with the support of the four local breweries—Hudepohl, Burger, Wiedemann and Schoenling. The event drew a modest crowd of 25,000.
Within a few years, the Downtown Council partnered with the Citizens League to grow Oktoberfest. In stages, the Downtown Council affiliated and then became part of the chamber.
Over the years the event has evolved on many fronts. In 1994 the Crown Prince of Bavaria served as the first Grand Marshal. That same year, the fest set the first of many world records for the largest Chicken Dance with 48,000 participating. Four years later, Al Hirt, a CCM grad, helped 25,000 people form the largest ever Kazoo Band playing When the Saints Go Marching In.
So why does the Chamber commit so many resources to organizing Oktoberfest and Taste of Cincinnati? Simply put, world-class cities produce world-class events.
An event of this size certainly has business implications, generating significant business and visibility for the restaurants and vendors, as well as traffic for hotels. But perhaps even more importantly, it also raises the city’s profile. Two weeks prior to this year’s event, Oktoberfest had already produced over 400 mentions in the national and international press. They include Oktoberfest and Cincinnati being mentioned by USA Today and by National Geographic Travel as top places to travel to during the month of September—not just in the U.S., but in the entire world.
Although every chamber is involved in the economic and political life of its city, Pat Sheeran, the Vice President for Corporate and Community Programming of our chamber, thinks that the “Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber believes that it also has a role to play in creating a sense of community and local pride.”
So come downtown this weekend. Drink a beer and eat a brat. Listen to music of every stripe, German and otherwise. Join the Chicken Dance. But above all, enjoy each other and build community.
By Dan Hurley, local historian, host of the weekly “Local 12 Newsmakers” program and former director of Leadership Cincinnati for the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber.
This is the ninth in a series of 12 essays about the history of the Chamber and Cincinnati business, to commemorate the Chamber’s 175th