The Kitchener City Hall German Traces in Kitchener-Waterloo
The second-biggest "Oktoberfest" in the world
The twin cities of Kitchener and Waterloo have had significant German presence since their founding. Visitors to the area can see signs of this heritage throughout, such as German clubs and restaurants, but the time of year when this history shines through the most is October. Every year, Kitchener-Waterloo puts on a nine-day "Oktoberfest" celebration. The Kitchener-Waterloo festival sees over 700,000 visitors annually and is the second-biggest Oktoberfest in the world, after the one in Munich, the original home of the fall festival.
Oktoberfest was started in 1810, when Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. The citizens of Munich were invited to join in the festivities celebrating the royal marriage, which lasted five days and included horse races. These races were made into an annual event, which was combined with an agricultural show the following year. This grew into the Oktoberfest of today, which is celebrated around the world.
The Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest had somewhat smaller beginnings, but has also grown in prominence. The Concordia Club, Kitchener-Waterloo’s oldest German club, put on an Oktoberfest event for its members in 1967 to mark Canada’s centennial. The first event attracted 2,500 visitors, and when the club organized celebrations for a second year, that number grew to 4,000. This showed the potential for a city-wide festival, so in 1969 organizers worked with the area’s German clubs to hold the first Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest. It was an immediate success with 70,000 participants, and it continues to be one of the region’s biggest events. The German clubs continue to join in by hosting “Festhallen”, where attendees can eat, drink, and mingle. There are also sporting events, concerts, a parade, and more.
Every year, the opening ceremonies for the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest take place at Carl-Zehr-Square in front of Kitchener City Hall. The ceremonies include a keg-tapping to officially start the festival. In past years, this job has been done by the Ontario premier and the Canadian prime minister, among others. Even when it’s not the season of Oktoberfest, you can still see evidence of the area’s German heritage around City Hall. Near its front entrance, there is a 44 foot long art piece by Kitchener artist Marshall Ward. This piece consists of bronze casts of 2,000 thumbprints, 1,000 taken from Kitchener residents and 1,000 from Berlin residents. This installation represents the history and friendship shared between the two cities.