The twin cities of Kitchener and Waterloo in Ontario, Canada are the perfect recipe for Oktoberfest celebrations. Start with the City of Kichener, which was largely populated by German Mennonite Farmers in the early 1800s. It was such a German city, in fact, that it was originally known as Berlin up until the First World War. It’s no wonder that Oktoberfest thrives in a city of such German heritage. When you’re living in Kitchener in the 1800s, what else are you going to do with your time off but enjoy some of Jakob’s finest brew? But did you know that KW Oktoberfest has actually managed to grow to be one of the world’s largest? That’s where Waterloo’s huge student population comes in! Add two neighboring universities into the mix, the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University, with a combined 43 000 thirsty undergrad students and you’re sure to sell out every last drop of beer on tap.

Oktoberfest in Kitchener started in 1969 with a mere 70 000 attendees at a single venue. 1970 saw a huge explosion in attendance with a parade, a Miss Oktoberfest pageant, and a poster so controversial that it earned an article in Time Magazine. Why so controversial? It used the words “Canada’s great beer festival”, which prompted a Liquor Control Board of Ontario ban and order for it to be removed from public view. The publicity gained from the controversy made for an instant success, and today the festival has grown to 750 000 – 1 000 000 visitors annually, with events that include a fashion show, Tour de Hans bike race, Dogtoberfest, and chicken chase.

I’ve been attending Oktoberfest since I was a young, impressionable first-year Engineering student at the University of Waterloo. Now when I attend it has become a reunion of sorts – I never know who I’m going to run into from my university days, but I do know that it will surely be unexpected and awkward.

Hanging out with Uncle Hans

Hanging out with the KW Oktoberfest mascot – Uncle Hans

When I arrived in Waterloo, my first Oktoberfest stop was at Concordia Club. This was my second year at Concordia Club and I always manage to enjoy myself, but I think that’s mostly due to the horde of people who I attend with. Schnitzel, sauerkraut, a German polka band and copious amounts of beer make this your typical Oktoberfest experience.  Shouts of “Ziggy zaggy ziggy zaggy oi oi oi!” ring through the air. The main hall holds thousands, but the downstairs is where the best party is at. Authentic German beers and tasty hard liquor are available, with none of this Molson Canadian and Coors Light junk that they serve upstairs. Just don’t let your friends talk you into shots of unflavored schnapps. Trust me, your future self will be thankful.

Night number 2 took us to the Transylvania Haus. Well, not actually to the Transylvania Haus, as that shut down a couple years ago. It seems that the folks at the Trans Haus don’t seem to want to give up on their dream of serving cheap beer at ridiculous prices to clueless university students (duh) so they made the move to a nearby bar called the Stampede Corral. Now it’s known as “Oktoberfest at the Transylvania Haus at the Stampede Corral”. Try saying that when you’re a few tankards in. The best part about all this? The Stampede Corral is a country bar every other night of the year, complete with working mechanical bull. The Corral becomes this hybrid country bar/Oktoberfest venue for a couple weeks of the year, and the execution is flawless. You seriously can’t make this shit up.

Despite the country bar vibe from the outside of the building, the Stampede Corral made for a pretty great Oktoberfest, with German foods and decorations on the inside and the best live band that I’ve seen at any Oktoberfest venue so far. The highlight of the night, of course, was the very non-German mechanical bull situated in the corner of the bar. Have you ever seen university kids try to ride one of those after drinking 12 beers before 8pm? I have, and let me tell you that they should sell ring-side seats to this. The poor kids look like rag dolls as they’re thrown across the bar. Entertainment for hours.

Oktoberfest button which says "I mounted the BULL at the Trans this Oktoberfest"

The prize for my accomplishment

Of course when I gave it a try I didn’t last much longer than the sloppy university kids. I was happy (and a little nauseous) when it was over, but proud of my personal accomplishment of not being sick all over the bar. They even gave me a very classy giant button that brags “I mounted the BULL at the Trans this Oktoberfest!” I’ll add it to my giant button collection and wear it everywhere I go!

If you want to get tickets to Canada’s largest Oktoberfest, be sure to buy early. I mean really early. A lot of the weekend venues will be sold out by mid-summer. Even if you don’t get tickets, however, you can still try showing up at the door as tickets usually only guarantee entry until a certain time of night.

Oktoberfest in Kitchener and Waterloo may not compare to what you would see in everybody’s favorite beer-guzzling, schnitzel eating European country, but it does a pretty damn good job of representing German culture all this way across the ocean. I’m quite proud of my little university town’s claim to fame!

Have you ever been to any Oktoberfest events outside of Germany? What did you think?