Metro Detroit offers a wide range of Oktoberfests

Patrick Dunn
Special to The Detroit News

The history of Oktoberfest goes back to 1810, when the Bavarian Prince Ludwig threw a public festival at the gates of Munich to celebrate his wedding. But the event lives on today in a variety of celebrations across Metro Detroit.

Some of them take a more liberal spin on German tradition than others. On Riday and Saturday, the new CartoBEERfest at Pontiac’s M1 Concourse will feature a German car show and a lumberjack show alongside more traditional offerings like a beer garden and ceremonial keg tapping. CartoBEERfest producer Matt Flynn will also debut the free OktoBEER and BBQ Festival in downtown Ferndale on Oct. 14-16.

Flynn says the new events were inspired by the success of the Royal Oak Beer Fest’s Oktoberfest, which marks its fourth anniversary this year. That event at the Royal Oak Farmers Market features more than 150 beers from 40 breweries, emphasizing seasonal beers and ciders.

“People just want to go out and do different things instead of going to the traditional church in a tent,” Flynn says. “They want to go out and experience ... events that have more than just the traditional German band.”

However, more conventional area Oktoberfest events draw big crowds as well. The St. Joseph Oktoberfest, which held its 11th annual festival last weekend at Detroit’s St. Joseph Church, celebrates the church’s German heritage dating back to the mid-1800s when German-born Rev. Johann Friedland established Detroit’s largest German parish at the time there.

St. Joseph Oktoberfest director Teresa Chisholm says the church originally introduced Oktoberfest as a modest German choral music concert with German food served afterwards. The event’s popularity has grown and now attracts more than 1,000 people. The festivities include German music and dancing, imported German beer, children’s activities and a German-language Mass.

A scene from the 2015 St. Joseph Oktoberfest activities.

“We certainly have a lot of visitors from the German community and people who have been associated with the church over the years, but also a lot of new faces from all over Metro Detroit,” Chisholm says.

At the Dakota Inn Rathskeller in Detroit, Oktoberfest is so popular that it lasts seven weekends. Running every Friday and Saturday from Sept. 23 to Oct. 29, the restaurant’s festivities include German food, music and dancing, with imported German beers on tap.

Dakota Inn owner Karl Kurz is the grandson of the German immigrant who originally opened the eatery in 1933. Kurz says a variety of attendees are drawn to his Oktoberfest’s German traditions.

Servers Rhonda Oginsky, from left, Fay McLaughlin, Dakota Inn Rathskellar owner Karl Kurz, Tory Spangler, and Monica Silva are ready for the annual Octoberfest celebration at the Detroit restaurant. Festivities will be held Fridays and Saturdays, through Oct. 29.

“In Germany, it’s the harvest,” he says. “All the farmers are done with getting their crops in and it’s time to celebrate. I think people are just into that. They’re looking for a reason to change things up a little bit.”

Rochester’s Rochester Mills Beer Co. doesn’t have the German heritage of an institution like St. Joseph or the Dakota Inn, but over the past 18 years, its Oktoberfest has become one of the brewery’s signature events. The pub’s festival features Rochester Mills’ Oktoberfest beer, German music, dance and food, a children’s carnival and pony rides.

Stewart McWilliams, the pub’s director of operations, echoes Kurz’s sentiment that Oktoberfest is a time for people to celebrate fall in whatever way they love best.

“It’s not just about beer,” McWilliams says. “People can bring their kids out. There’s something for the whole family to do.”

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.

Oktoberfest events

Here are a few Oktoberfest events happening in the Metro area:

Dakota Inn Rathskeller Oktoberfest: 8 p.m.-midnight Fridays and Saturdays through Oct. 29. $3. Dakota Inn Rathskeller, 17324 John R, Detroit. (313) 867-9722 or dakota-inn.com.

CartoBEERfest: 5-11 p.m. Friday, noon-11 p.m. Saturday. Free entry. M1 Concourse, 200 South Blvd. West, Pontiac. (248) 202-4662 or cartobeerfest.com.

Royal Oak Beer Fest Oktoberfest: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 8. $15-$20. Royal Oak Farmers Market, 316 E. 11 Mile, Royal Oak. (248) 202-4662 or royaloakbeerfest.com.

OktoBEER and BBQ Festival: Oct. 14-16. Free entry. 124 Vester, Ferndale. (248) 543-1000 or oktobeerfestival.com.