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Oktoberfest this weekend to celebrate German Heritage

Contributed photo

By Graham Dodd

An hour east of Grinnell, over 30,000 people will come together this weekend to celebrate their German heritage with music, games, parades and beer.

The Amana Colonies host the oldest, and one of the largest, Oktoberfest celebrations in Iowa. This year will be the unincorporated community’s 51st Oktoberfest.

The festival’s director, Savannah Collier, is optimistic about the event possibly drawing record numbers.

“Every year it grows,” Collier said. “It just gets bigger and better every year. We typically get between 30,000 and 40,000 people over the weekend. I’m hoping that everything runs smooth and we have record breaking numbers.”

Contributed photo
Contributed photo

Collier is not native to Amana, but under her leadership, the festival continues to grow every year.

“I graduated from Iowa State [University] with a degree in hospitality management and event management,” she explained. “I run all of the events, all of the festivals that go on in the Amana Colonies. I came here because I thought the community was really neat. It’s unincorporated, so there is no city government or anything like that. So it is just very different from other areas.”

Part of the festival’s draw is its ability to tap into the German heritage many Iowans share.

“The Amana Colonies were originally settled by German immigrants seeking refuge from Germany. They came over to America and created the Amana Colonies. Oktoberfest is a big German tradition, so it kind of came along with our heritage,” Collier suggested.

The tradition involves the entirety of the Amana Colonies’ community.

“The whole community puts this on. All of the different merchants around town have different things going on within their stores. There’s some demonstrations at the woolen mill and at the furniture shop. There’s live music at some of the restaurants. We have Iowa’s only working woolen mill,” Collier stated. 

Traditional German music plays a central role at the festival. Many venues will feature live music all three days, from noon until late at night.

“We have four main bands coming, they are mostly Polka type bands, but they play other stuff too towards the evening,” Collier said.

Collier listed some of the events that she said might appeal especially to college students.

“We have games on Saturday that are pretty fun,” she began. “We have a keg toss and log sawing competition. We do a game called Naglehauen, which is like the Hammerschlagen game where you drive the nail into the stump. There’s both hammers and beer at this competition, so of course it’s really safe,” she said with a hint of sarcasm.

“Then we have the Eisenmann competition where they have to hold two steins of beer out and extend their arms for however long they can, so I guess that is kind of appealing to a younger crowd.”

Collier welcomed the idea of Grinnell students attending, saying she believed the festival to be a good environment for college students to spend their weekend.

“It’s just a lot of fun celebrating German heritage. It is just a great kickoff to fall. We have food, music and beer, and all sorts of stuff that I think appeals to college students. I mean, everybody likes to get out and listen to music.”

Tickets are sold at the gate. Prices are 10 dollars for a single-day pass, 15 dollars for two-day passes.

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