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Breckenridge reimagines Oktoberfest amid the pandemic

The smell of German cooking flooded the air while polka music danced through the streets and autumn took over in Breckenridge, Colorado. September in Breckenridge not only marks the transition from summer to fall but also marks the beginning of Oktoberfest, a celebration of German culture.

Breckenridge has been holding its own Oktoberfest event for 26 years, celebrating a historic festival that unites people through German culture.

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The original Oktoberfest originated in Bavaria in 1810 as a celebration of the marriage between King Ludwig and Princess Therese. In 1811, the festivities were held again, this time with an agricultural festival added on. In Bavaria, this two-week long festival has continued for 200 years.

“Each restaurant participating in Oktober-FEAST kept the autumn holiday alive through their German cuisine.”

Inspired by the German festival, towns like Breckenridge have honored the celebrations by creating their own Oktoberfest to partake in German culture. Breckenridge shuts down their main street to set up tents that steam with German food and flow with German beers for people to sample.

As COVID-19 has made its impact on our world, it has taken away festivals like Oktoberfest.

The town of Breckenridge made the difficult decision this year to postpone their Oktoberfest celebrations until 2021 due to the pandemic. The celebrations were supposed to take place on the weekend of Sept. 11-13, but it seemed there would be no gatherings of people eager to experience German cuisines this year.  

The town of Breckenridge has, however, created an event to take Oktoberfest’s place for this year. Oktober-FEAST took place on the weekends of Sept. 25-27 and Oct. 2-4. According to the Breckenridge website, local restaurants prepared Bavarian-inspired dishes and the main street opened to the public. Restaurants followed COVID-19 guidelines through social distancing, wearing face masks and limiting parties to eight people.

Several local restaurants offered three-course meals paired with beer or wine.

The Blue River Bistro offered lobster bierocks for their first course, a sakura pork tenderloin paired with a Liesl pinot noir or a Highside Brewing dunkel beer for the main course with a bee sting cake for their dessert.

The Hearthstone Restaurant offered Prince Edward Island mussels for a starter, a Colorado T-bone steak with a German-style lager for their entrée and a chocolate märzen cake for dessert.

Each restaurant participating in Oktober-FEAST kept the autumn holiday alive through their German cuisine.

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Deborah Sterling remembered the authenticity of the food and the feeling from a past visit to Oktoberfest.

“If you could step into Germany for a weekend, that’s kind of what it felt like,” Deborah Sterling said. Having German roots herself, Deborah Sterling enjoyed sampling the authentic sauerkraut and bratwursts.

Each restaurant spins their own take on the German food. Deborah Sterling said that, while the streets were filled with tents cooking warm food, restaurants like Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. would also join the fun, incorporating their specialty foods into German courses.

While the aroma of the town was filled with the scents of Germany’s most popular recipes, polka music played in the streets, emerging from accordions and traveling into the ears of tourists. The music called dancers to its beat and added another layer of authenticity to the event.

Along with the food, beer and music to sample, guests could walk along the mountain town shops, which are often full of surprises.

Miranda Taylor visited the festival and said she found the atmosphere to be like nothing she’d experienced before. Taylor felt an aspect of community from the event as the participants all came together to celebrate the holiday.

“It was just kind of cool how people stepped out of their … modern-day culture and went back into (traditional) German culture,” Taylor said.

The image of the unique shops and buildings of Breckenridge paired with the autumn weather turned the town into a colorful blend of fall hues, creating the perfect scene for the Oktoberfest celebrations.

Andy Sterling visited the celebration with his family and said that he felt that the time of year really added to his experience.

“The mountains are just beautiful, so the city stood out, the city and the ski resort behind the main street stood out,” Andy Sterling said. “It was just awesome.” 

While the chill in the air nipped at their skin, the excitement of the event seemed to take the cold away from visitors. Taylor said that, despite the cold, her focus was on the warm food, the company, the music and the atmosphere.

The vision of this event contributed to the festive feeling captured in the celebration. The feeling seemed to float from one group of people to another along the streets, resembling a German festival.

Like Taylor, Andy Sterling said he felt a unique atmosphere from the people.

“They were super nice, happy like, ‘Yeah, have the beer, have some sausage,’ and so you just walked from gathering to gathering,” Andy Sterling said.

The big crowds and atmosphere that create special moments tend to vary between different festivals and celebrations, but these factors create memories and experiences that last forever.

While Oktoberfest looked a little different this year, it was still celebrated through German dishes, curious visitors and the autumn welcome of the mountains.

Kailey Pickering can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @PickeringKailey.

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