What’s got beer, the chicken dance, lederhosen, polka, more polka, sauerkraut, bratwurst, cleavage, bouncers and a petting zoo? It’s Oktoberfest, baby—Big Bear’s annual celebration of all things German, especially if those things have anything to do with downing copious amounts of beer. This year’s edition is the 37th annual and runs on weekends from September 15th till October 27. Started in 1969 by German immigrants Hans and Erika Bandows, Oktoberfest at Big Bear Lake still offers up great German grub and the bier to wash it down with.
And all in a setting that is, well, different. On the outside of the lodge vendors sell German (and non-German) crafts, while children entertain themselves on the bouncer or pushing fistfuls of feed onto smallish goats at the petting zoo. On the inside adults compete in events like the Queen Stein carrying contest and perform the chicken dance while downing the suds (the more suds that are consumed, the funnier this is). This mix of adult and children behavior could at first seem a bit off-putting, but is harmless. In fact, this is one of the ways the festival steers close to its European roots.
One of the other ways of course is the Nahrung (in American English, Grub). If you on any level like German food-they got it. Sauerkraut? Pfft, sauerkraut, they’ve got sauerkraut coming out the kolben. Now, I’m not a huge fan of the kraut normally, but the German chefs serve it up right up on the mountain, adding bite-size chunks of bacon, onions, and juniper berries, making for the perfect complement for the vast array of sausage products on the menu. I went for the German sausage sandwich, with Polish sausage as my meat of choice. This definitely qualifies as one of those “sandwich as a meal” type of deals, as it comes loaded with the aforementioned kraut and pickles.
The actual entrées come with your choice of bratwurst, knockwurst, Polish sausage or chicken, along with a side of the obsequious sauerkraut and German potato salad. All of the meat is succulent, peppered and seasoned to perfection, and works in harmony with the other main attraction at Oktoberfest—namely, the beer. This year the folks at the festival are offering up a host of less adventurous brew options including Jack’s Pumpkin Spice, Red Hook Ale, Amber Bock and (ahem) Bud, but why go to Oktoberfest if you’re not going to drink German beer? There four varieties on tap including Warsteiner Pilsner, Dunkel, and a specialty Oktoberfest brew, not to mention my personal fave—the King Ludwig hefeweisen, deliciously fruity and delicious. After getting into the Oktoberfest spirit you can search out that certain fourth meal that is usually relegated to midnight drive-thrus—drunk food. The pretzels are excellent, fresh and doughy with thick chunks of salt and very unlike the dried stale twists that often pass for pretzels in the States. No? Then the pickled eggs and ham hocks will pimp your buzz.
If you’re driving up the mountain for the day it makes king-hell good sense to book a room for the night or designate a driver. But it’s well worth the trip to, if nothing else, tell the random passerby Du hast ein Vogel (“you’ve a little bird in your head”).
Big Bear Lake Oktoberfest, weekends through October 27. Saturdays $10, Sundays $5; Children under 12 free; 909-585-3000; For more information and directions visit: HYPERLINK "http://www.bigbearevents.com" www.bigbearevents.com