Bier, Brezels & Brats

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Oktoberfest returns to Columbus this weekend, so we thought we'd take the opportunity to find out more about the country where it all started. We found out how to do the most stereotypical German things you can think of (like dancing the polka), researched some long-held Deutsch myths and found out the answers to all your burning questions, like why in the heck is Oktoberfest held in September?

How to be awesome at dressing like you're German

If you're imagining millions of German men are knocking their steins together right now and wearing knickers like these, think again.

No, Germany isn't stuck in the 1800s. But for Oktoberfest, of course, it's all about the costumey "tracht." That's what they call the dirndl, for women, and lederhosen, for men.

How to be awesome at making soft pretzels

First, make some pretzel dough (you can find plenty of recipes online). Let the dough rise for a few hours in a warm place, then divide it into 8 to 10 pieces.

Now comes the fun part: Making pretzel shapes! Roll each piece into a long, thin rope, about a half-inch thick. Take one end of the rope in each hand and flick the soon-to-be pretzel a couple feet in the air. Snap your wrists towards each other to twist the ends together (just one time - too much twisting will lead to a crazy-looking pretzel), then quickly drop the dough onto the counter. Gently press the ends into the bottom of the pretzel, and you're done. If you're not up for fancy flipping, you can just twist the dough ropes into pretzel shapes on the counter.

After you prepare the pretzels, mix one tablespoon of baking soda into one cup boiling water. Brush each pretzel with the baking soda solution, then place on a greased baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse salt, then allow pretzels to rise again. Bake in a 450 F oven for about 10 minutes or until golden. If you want mall-style pretzels, brush with melted butter.

How to be awesome at dancing the polka

The polka is a lively, hop-filled dance that's a surefire crowd-pleaser at Oktoberfest and wedding receptions. We'll assume here that you're leading, but if you're the follower, just reverse the steps.

Stand with your feet together, your right hand on your partner's waist and your left hand holding your partner's. Start with a little hop off your right foot, then step forward with your left foot. Now step forward with your right foot, and bring it together with your left. Hold for a beat, keeping the weight on your left foot.

Now, repeat, but in reverse. Do a little hop with your left foot, then step forward on your right foot. Step forward with your left foot and bring it together with your right. Hold for a beat, keeping the weight on your right foot.

Repeat, and repeat again!

German myth-busting

True or False?

Germans drink more beer than any other nationality.

False. At about 30 gallons per person annually, beer consumption is declining but is still among the highest in the world. Technically, though, Germany ranks third in beer consumption per capita, behind the Czech Republic and Ireland.

Germans are obsessed with beards.

True. They organized the first World Beard and Moustache Championship in 1990 and have been known as the global powerhouse since. Competitors are judged in eight different categories of mustache, four varieties of partial beard/goatee and five types of full beard, further divided by the beard's style.

Germans invented sauerkraut.

False. Though the sour cabbage dish is very popular in traditional German cuisine, Chinese laborers actually ate it as standard fare while building the Great Wall of China more than 2,000 years ago. It eventually made its way to Europe, where Germans adopted it as a favorite.

Germans live on sausage.

False. As mentioned above, Germans do eat other kinds of foods, like sauerkraut. But it's true, they sure do eat a lot of sausage. More than 1,500 different types of sausage are made in Germany, and the average German consumes 67 pounds of it per year - amounting to half the country's annual meat consumption.

Germans love David Hasselhoff.

True, sort of. Hasselhoff's music is popular in much of Europe, but only one of his songs (1989's "Looking for Freedom") hit No. 1 on Germany's pop charts, and just two others cracked the top 10.

Why is Oktoberfest held in September?

The original Oktoberfest was held on Oct. 12, 1810, in Munich, Germany, to commemorate the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. The celebration included a horse race, which was run again the following year, and the festival soon became an annual event.

Later, the festival was lengthened and the date was moved earlier. The reason? The end of September in Bavaria often has very good weather (the high temperature in the first week of Oktoberfest averages 86 F, making for very thirsty festivalgoers).

These days, Oktoberfest traditionally takes place during the 16 days leading up to and including the first Sunday in October.

Oktoberfest by the numbers

1.6 million gallons of beer are served at the Munich Oktoberfest

6.2 million visitors travel to Munich for the fest every year

72 percent of visitors come from the German state of Bavaria

15 percent of visitors come from outside Germany

60 percent of Oktoberfest visitors are 30 or younger

12,000 people are employed to put on the annual festival

100,000 seats fill Munich's Oktoberfest halls

Helpful German phrases

Yes: Ja (yaw)

No: Nein (nine)

Please: Bitte (bit-tuh)

Thank you: Danke (donk-uh)

Good day: Guten tag (goo-ten tahk)

Good night: Gute nacht (goo-te nahkt)

Good bye: Auf wiedersehen (auf-vee-der-zane)

Quick guide to German beer

If you go to the official Oktoberfest in Munich, you can sample the Oktoberfestbiers. Supplied by the "Big Six" breweries - Spaten, Lowenbrau, Augustiner, Hofbrau, Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr - these beers have been served at the event since 1818. Here are a few German beers you might run across in Columbus (and at Columbus' Oktoberfest).

Ayinger: Look for the Celebrator, so dark it's almost black, with a dark chocolate and toffee flavors

Beck's: A crisp and light pilsner that tastes best when it's ice cold

Bitburger: The Premium Pils is a hoppy-tasting pale lager with a dry finish

Hacker-Pschorr: Their Dunkel, or dark, Weisse is a deep amber beer with clove and cinnamon flavors

Hefeweizen: Several brewers make these pale-colored, sweet-flavored wheat beers. Watch for ones from Paulaner, Franziskaner and Erdinger

Krombacher: The Pils is a slightly bitter, malty pilsner

Paulaner: The Original Munich Lager is a sweet golden lager with a citrusy taste

Spaten: Their Oktoberfest brew is a clear amber lager with a smooth-tasting mix of malt and hops

Warsteiner: Their most popular beer is Premium Verum, a light gold pilsner that's heavy on the hops

A brief history of Germany

The German Empire, previously just a loose affiliation of states, became a unified country in 1871.

Germany, part of the Central Powers, lost in World War I and signed the Treaty of Versailles, which led to a string of unstable governments and left the country a bit of a mess. Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor in 1933.

Almost immediately after, fighting between the country's two parties led Hitler to take totalitarian control, and then to attack Europe. Germany lost World War II in 1945, and 11 million people died during the Holocaust.

Parts of Germany were controlled by other countries after WWII, and they were brought back together as East Germany and West Germany; the Berlin Wall was built the separate the former capital city. The divided country reunited in 1990.

Sources:,, Wikipedia, Polka Time,,,