For the last four decades, Cincinnati’s Oktoberfest — Oktoberfest Zinzinnati — has been marked by a tradition of good food, energetic entertainment, and the world’s largest chicken dance. Since the first festival in 1976, Oktoberfest Zinzinnati has been a three-day-long, must-attend event, bringing together all walks of life from each of the seven hills of the Queen City and beyond. Cincinnati’s Oktoberfest is the largest in the country and the second largest in the world, second only, of course, to Munich’s.
Throughout its run, Oktoberfest Zinzinnati has been a stronghold through many changes in the city, like the addition of the streetcar and a move to Third Street in 2016. This year, visitors will enjoy the brand new SkyStar observation wheel across from the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
Here's a peak at what's to come with this year’s Oktoberfest Zinzinnati.
The Sweet Side of Things
Servatii's employees Mia McKee, Dylan Curran, and Sherri Glover are volunteering at Oktoberfest this year.
Servatii Pastry Shop is almost synonymous with Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, given how long the pastry store has been involved with the festival. “Servatii has been a vendor at Oktoberfest since 1985,” says Mary Von Bargen, operations manager for Servatii Pastry Shop. “It’s always been so exciting meeting new people from all over the world that come to this Oktoberfest.” With an estimated 500,000 visitors every year, Servatii’s has served 16 million people over an accumulated 99 days for the last 33 years of the event.
Known for their massive, six-pound pretzels, Servatii’s also satisfies the sweet tooth with cream puffs, sugar cookies and more. “We sell over 10,000 cream puffs and 15,000 pretzels for the weekend just at our booth and supply several other booths with pretzels and cream puffs as well,” she says. “We also supply strudel at various booths. We love the German tradition coming from a German bakery and are very excited to be a part of Oktoberfest once again this year.”
It’s an immense task, preparing for and participating in Oktoberfest, but Servatii’s loves the tradition. “It is a lot of hours for everyone involved” says Von Bargen, “but we love being a part of it. All of our workers have a wonderful time working and talking to people from all over the country and world.”
Bringing the Heat
Dennis Wittkorn with volunteers Michael Centrullo and Nadine Schindler.
Dennis Wittkorn has spent most of his adult life fighting fires. “I’m a full-time firefighter for the city of Cincinnati,” he says. “Over the years I have spent a great deal of time at the firehouse cooking for everybody.” That habit turned to passion when Wittkorn decided to branch out a bit by opening his own food truck, Flavor Punch.
“I started just so I could share some of my favorite foods with people on the street,” says Wittkorn. While his truck was under construction, Oktoberfest 2016 was in the planning process. So Wittkorn through caution to the wind and sent in an application — in part for the business, but also for his own German heritage. “My father was from Bremen, Germany,” he says. “I grew up on a good amount of German cuisine.”
His first go at Oktoberfest introduced visitors to one of his favorite dishes, the rouladen. “This is a thinly sliced piece of beef that is coated in mustard and topped with diced onion, pickles, and bacon then rolled up,” he shares. “It’s then browned in butter and simmered for over an hour, and then coated in a delicious gravy made from the drippings. I served this up and had a blast meeting folks who had never heard of rouladen or had not had it since their grandma had prepared it.”
Wittkorn was unable to attend the 2017 festival, but he and his food truck are returning this year at the “Katsenjammer Haus” booth — and he says people better prepare for what’s coming.
“This year, I am also bringing my fried pumpernickel pickles along with sauerkraut chowder,” he says of his expanded menu. “We are also serving up a Reuben bratwurst and the "Herman the German" bratwurst, which is topped with spicy brown mustard, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut.”
Wittkorn stresses that should your stomachs be full, it’s easy enough to get a taste of his German favorites beyond Oktoberfest weekend. “You can find us around town in our Flavor Punch Food Truck for some unique menu items, including our plant-based options,” he says.
The Sky’s The Limit
The SkyStar Ferris wheel overlooking the Ohio River.
“Oktoberfest Zinzinnati is America’s Oktoberfest,” says Rich Walburg, director of communications for the Cincinnati Regional Chamber. “Our celebration of Cincinnati’s rich German heritage enjoyed a record crowd in 2017, and with the addition of SkyStar, the nation’s largest portable observation wheel at The Banks, 2018 should be even more spectacular.”
Indeed, beyond the food and beer that visitors have come to expect from Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, the spectacle continues to climb skyward with the SkyStar observation wheel. At 150 feet tall, the SkyStar has 36 gondolas that hold up to six people, and will be in working order for Oktoberfest weekend.
The SkyStar adds to the entertainment value of Oktoberfest, with live German music playing at all hours, festival-like rides and games, and the aforementioned world’s largest chicken dance, with celebrity grand marshals tasked in beginning the dance in front of thousands of participants. (This year’s grand marshals are A.J. Green and Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals.)
Oktoberfest Zinzinnati begins Friday, September 21 and will finish on Sunday, September 23. For more information, visit oktoberfestzinzinnati.com.