This year marks the 29th Annual Oktoberfest in Frankenmuth, Michigan – I’m not quite sure why it took 144 years to adopt this tradition in Michigan’s most German town but I’m happy they finally did. Before we get into it, here’s a little history on Frankenmuth and Oktoberfest.
Frankenmuth, Michigan is endearingly referred to as Michigan’s Little Bavaria and was founded by a group of German missionaries in 1845. Franken represents the region from which the missionaries hailed in Germany and Mut means courage in German. I don’t speak German and could be wrong but maybe they just added the “h” at the end because Frankenmuth sounds far better than Frankenmut…just a thought. From the town’s humble beginnings, it has grown to a population of 4,400 people and has never lost its German roots.
The original Oktoberfest began in 1810 when a prince married a princess and all of Bavaria met in a field in Munich to celebrate. To this day, that very field is where the annual Oktoberfest is held. After the wedding, Oktoberfest was carried on the following year with a focus on agricultural shows and horse racing. Over the years carnival rides were added along with a few small beer stands. By 1896 people realized they enjoyed drinking way more than agriculture and horse racing and those beer stands turned into beer tents and the Oktoberfest we know and love today was officially born.
Still with me? Good, let’s dive into this.
As soon as you arrive in Frankenmuth it seems as though the whole town smells like fresh flowers and slow-roasted, candied almonds. As you walk up and down the flower-lined streets passing German-themed restaurants and gift shops you can’t help but feel the excitement in the air. Shops are selling everything from traditional steins and hats to lederhosen T-shirts and German flags. Traditional music is coming from all directions and the streets are packed full of smiling faces (I waited 10 minutes to get the photo below without a ton of people or cars in it…the town really was packed ;)).
It was pretty warm out and I was wearing jeans for some reason, so I decided to make my way to the hotel for my 3 PM check-in and to shower up. Now when booking your Oktoberfest accommodation, there are plenty of options but when you go to Frankenmuth Oktoberfest, you kind of have to splurge on a room at the Bavarian Inn Lodge. This place has 13 acres on the Cass River AND the event takes place just behind the resort. This way, drunken stumbles home won’t involve a bridge or a river swim. The lodge has authentic food, decor, music, drinks, a full arcade, mini golf, and waterslides. Once I got to my room, I settled in until my drinking buddies arrived.
My friend Kim arrived first, so we planned on hitting happy hour in the Lorelei Lounge & Schnitzelbank Bier Garten in the Bavarian Inn Lodge while we waited for the other two. However, it turns out a 6:01 PM arrival doesn’t count toward discounted happy hour prices when the flyer says, “from 4:00 – 6:00 PM.” Since I was going to be drinking beer all night, I decided on a Bloody Mary to get some vitamins in before making the transition to beer. The lounge is pretty small and cozy – it almost feels like a slightly outdated bar in your friend’s parent’s basement. There are fun signs, trinkets, and exposed wooden beams and a fireplace to bring the ambiance together. Once John and Katie arrived, we dropped their stuff in the room and headed off to the Oktoberfest tent.
The closer we walked to the event, the louder the polka music got. When we arrived at the tent we paid our $10.00 admission fee which allowed for unlimited entries for the remainder of the day. Once past the ticket counter, the event staff stamps a glow in the dark image on your hand that should look like a pint but just looks like a glowing blob on your left hand (maybe they got started early). To the right were multiple food stands offering up all of your favorite German fare such as brats, pretzels, and schnitzel along with shops selling t-shirts, hats, flags, traditional lederhosen and more.
There were yard games and just beyond the tent were what appeared to be adult jump castles (although children under 12 are admitted free), maybe…just maybe those are for them. Either way, the jump castles were deflated, presumably due to high winds. We decided to hang a left into the beer tent and walked up to the ticket counter where we converted cash into event tickets. These tickets were good for drinks only as the food could only be purchased with cash (and maybe credit card from some vendors).
The beer options at Frankenmuth Oktoberfest were Hofbrauhaus and Labatt Blue Light only. For non-beer drinkers, there was a selection of Jack Daniel’s Lemonade & Punch, Smirnoff Ice Raspberry, and Wine. They also had O’Doul’s for the semi-retired partygoers and a small selection of pop for the designated drivers and non-drinkers. The drink portion of the event was run on a ticket system where each ticket cost $1.00, which kept it simple (plus as the night went on, it’s easier to find tickets on the ground). If you decide beer is your poison, you must choose from the following options:
16oz Cup – 5 tickets
Mass Refill – 10 tickets*
48oz Pitcher – 14 tickets (One-time purchase)
Pitcher Refill – 12 tickets
*The “Mass,” which I initially thought stood for “massive” since it’s equivalent to roughly three 12oz beers is actually a German word describing the amount of beer in a “regulation mug.” (I LOVE that Germans have a regulation mug size, it must help filter out all the posers drinking out of pint glasses). A souvenir/beer Mass will set you back $20.00 and the refills are 10 tickets each. Essentially, you’re snagging nearly 3 beers for $10 so if you’re attending Frankenmuth Oktoberfest all weekend it might be a good deal. If you’re one of those folks that can proudly drink all your friends under the table, it is probably also a solid investment. I started to break down the math but realized I’m not good at math and that I was also at Oktoberfest so I ordered a pitcher with 4 cups and walked back to my table.
Frankenmuth Oktoberfest Thoughts
This event was a blast, we drank, laughed, drank, ate, drank and listened to music and drank some more. Occasionally throughout the evening, the dance floor cleared and a well-choreographed, traditional German dancing troupe would take over the floor and put on quite a show. A number of different bands made their way to the stage and played a healthy mix of traditional music and cover songs that had the whole tent singing. Overall this was a great event that I would definitely recommend to anyone interested. Experiencing so much German culture and having such a great time with only a short 1.5-hour drive from metro Detroit is well worth the effort.
Celebration dates for Frankenmuth Oktoberfest this year were from Friday, September 21 – Sunday, September 23, 2018. I’m not sure about other hotels, but the Bavarian Inn Lodge required a 2-night booking if Saturday night was part of your plan. As this was not my first encounter with Oktoberfest, I knew without a doubt that 1-night was more than enough time to eat and drink my fill of German fare. That said, I decided on Friday night which was a little less busy. When I was leaving on Saturday around noon there were people lined up around the corner to get in.
- Saturday is the main day of the event. I walked out of the hotel at 11:30 AM and there were already lines around the corner trying to get into the Oktoberfest tent. If you want more of a casual experience, guaranteed seating and shorter lines definitely go on Friday. If you want the full experience with a lot of other people on Saturday, plan on arriving early.
- I cannot speak for other hotels in Frankenmuth but the Bavarian Inn Lodge requires a 2-night minimum if one of the nights is a Saturday. I don’t speak for everyone but from my liver’s experience, one night is enough.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. I would bring water from home and have it available in your hotel room for when you get back. You can and should also drink water at the event.
- Have a beer or two, then fill your plate with some authentic German cuisine. This will ensure you have a solid base if you’re trying to close the place down.
- Book early because the rooms fill up quickly.
Have you been to a Frankenmuth Oktoberfest yet? If so, what did you think of the experience?
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