While this area isn’t necessarily known for its Bavarian heritage, Oktoberfest is thriving in Asheville. On Saturday, Oct. 13, Asheville’s Downtown Association in association with Harmony Motors presented the fourth annual Oktoberfest celebration along Wall Street. More than 2,000 people attended the event on a beautiful autumnal day packed with activities, food, and beverages.
While most people think of Scots-Irish heritage and of course the Cherokee and other native peoples prior to that, the area has a considerable German heritage as well. By the late 1700s, about a quarter of the population of Pennsylvania consisted of German immigrants. Many of those migrated southward at about that same time. While most of the initial German populations in North Carolina remained east of Asheville, over the years quite a few of those individuals, and their descendants, made their way to Western North Carolina.
Another fascinating WNC connection to German culture happened during World War I. Hot Springs was home to the largest prison camp in the United States, holding about 2,200 Germans, most of whom were civilians comprised of crews and passengers of German commercial ships. Included in the group were members of a German orchestra as well as the crew of the world’s largest ship, the Vaterland. Housed on the grounds of the Mountain Park Hotel, the internment camp dwellers built a German village and musicians held regular concerts.
With a substantial connection to German culture and a bourgeoning brewing scene, an Asheville Oktoberfest event seemed inevitable. Celebrated in places such as Munich for more than two centuries, Oktoberfest events have popped up all around the United States in recent years and seem especially popular in beer-loving areas. “Our Oktoberfest will mix Bavarian traditions with Asheville’s eclectic vibe,” said Adrian Vassallo of the first Oktoberfest back in 2009. Adrian, an event organizer and Asheville Downtown Association member, added back then, “With Asheville’s recent recognition as ‘Beer City USA,’ the timing couldn’t be more perfect to celebrate our local beer scene. Plus, Wall Street is an ideal venue for this event with its old world feel and original cobblestones.”
Adrian said of earlier Oktoberfests, “Our goal is to have a good mix of fun and beer. We want people to come out and have a hysterical time.” That goal has not changed over the years. In fact, it fits in well to the ADA’s mission, which is “to be a voice of the downtown community and to promote and support quality economic, cultural, and residential development of downtown Asheville.”
Any discussion of the area’s economy and culture has to involve the local breweries, so let’s talk about beverages. The opportunity to taste numerous local brews on a beautiful autumn Saturday was definitely a major draw. Asheville Brewing Company, Craggie Brewing, French Broad Brewing Company, Green Man Brewery, Highland Brewing, and Pisgah Brewing all were represented and available to provide information about their beers. Many offered seasonal brews to add to the event’s fall feeling. The first keg was ceremoniously tapped at noon just after an opening parade. Festivities then continued through 6 p.m.
Plenty of food was available, much of it with a German flair (brats, anyone?), while a full slate of events kept participants and spectators alike entertained. Some of the events included a keg roll, pretzel toss, chicken dance, pie race, and costume contest.
The internationally known Stratton Mountain Boys provided yodeling songs, polkas, and other energetic music that had the crowd dancing throughout the day. Several attendees dressed in traditional alpine outfits, making for some memorable images of lederhosen and dirndls.
Organizers say the event is getting better each year and that the 2012 version was sold out. Stay tuned to The Asheville Post for information about the 2013 Asheville Oktoberfest.