Helen, GA, Oktoberfest offers more than a good beer

Crowds gathered in Helen, Georgia, to celebrate the 46th annual Oktoberfest on Sunday, Oct. 9.

Helen, located about two hours away from Western Carolina University, was packed full of people from all over who made the trip out just for that special German feel of the event.

In 1969, the Georgia mountain town, originally a logging establishment, began its development into the Bavarian alpine town replica that it is today. The buildings throughout the small town are designed to resemble those in the Alpines and the menus at the themed restaurants are set to German standards. Visitors can get a small taste of what it would feel like to be in Germany. What better place to hold the German-originated Oktoberfest than Helen?

Visitors relaxing in the Beer Garden

Visitors relaxing in the Beer Garden

The shops that line the streets were bringing in costumers left and right. At each shop, no matter the means of business, you can purchase Oktoberfest paraphernalia and apparel. German-themed hats are worn on the heads of the attendees that desire to be more involved in the culture.

Throughout the town there are different locations at which the festivities can be enjoyed. At the beer garden in the center of town visitors can sit and drink under a canopy after browsing the shops.

The main festivities of Oktoberfest can be found in the Festhalle. The moment I entered the building I was hit with the smell of bratwursts and pretzels and the sound of accordions and saxophones. Every where I looked there were people in German garb clanking glasses together and tapping their feet. This is where the live polka bands perform while people eat German cuisine and drink beer after beer in a mess hall setting. I was at the heart of Oktoberfest.

Squeeze Box performing the Macarena

Squeeze Box performing the Macarena

The featured performance Sunday night was Squeeze Box featuring Ted Lange and Molly B. They performed classical German and Austrian music along with drinking songs and even the chicken dance to get the crowd involved. At the end of their set, the group pulled one of the kitchen staff workers on stage for a crowd wide birthday song.

Visitors can learn German dances or show off their own moves on the dance floor with friends and family. Pools of people filled the dance floor during each song and took part in conga lines and polka dances. All the while the crowds at the tables would be cheering on the dancers and chanting along with the band.

One attendee had a particular insight into Oktoberfest and its origins.

“Oktoberfest originally started as a fair with rides and the beer as a side of it. It later became that people would come to drink and party,” reminisced Marc Liebermann, a German-native who currently resides in Atlanta. Liebermann has been to the original Oktoberfest in Germany several times and compared it to the Helen event.

“It’s quite small, but the way that people enjoy it is quite similar. They all came in a drinking mood and a dancing mood and they have it quite down like Germans would do. I approve of that,” said Liebermann with a smile.

Liebermann’s wife of 16 years, Honesty, is from America and said that Oktoberfest in Germany was nothing like she had experienced before. “It was awesome, but it was so much to take in. Just looking at the culture and the fact that there is family together and they’re drinking, I came from a family that didn’t really drink, but at the same time it was awesome.”

Ready for fall Helen, GA kicks off Oktoberfest

Ready for fall Helen, GA kicks off Oktoberfest

One of the features of Oktoberfest that has remained the same in Germany and Helen is that it is a family friendly event. Children with wide eyes and smiles joined their relatives in the fun of the day. Outside on the deck of the Festhalle one family was making their own dance floor.  Seven-year-old Phoebe, who was accompanied by her grandparents from South Carolina, loves Helen and calls it her own little Germany, which has sparked an interest in the German language. “I’m going to be an art teacher and a German teacher.” Phoebe’s grandparents are supporters of her passion for German culture and have taken her to Helen’s Octoberfest twice as a result.

Craig, Pheobe’s grandfather, was moved by the experiences he has had in Helen over the past couple of years, “You get to meet people from all over the world, and the agenda is the same. We come together through peace and love at Oktoberfest, yellow, brown, black or white.” This statement appeared to be true as laughter and singing from communal tables filled the room, and dance partners who had never met before were locking arms and truly coming together.

Oktoberfest started on Sept. 22 and ends on Oct. 30.

See more Oktoberfest photos on Imgur

Oktoberfest 2016 Helen, GA