Oktoberfest is an annual fall celebration in Germany which is not actually held in October, but in September––”because in Europe, September is much warmer,” explains Hilda Hoffman, manager of the German restaurant Old Heidelberg in Bethel, Connecticut. Oktoberfest in Germany is well-known for its copious amounts of eating, dancing, and delicious beer-drinking. But just in case you can’t afford a sixteen-day-long vacation to Munich this year, Old Heidelberg is hosting its own Oktoberfest for three weekends in a row. The festival began last weekend on Friday the 13th and will continue every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday until September 29. Starting hour for the two remaining Fridays is 5pm and 12pm for Saturday and Sunday.
The first thing you’ll encounter when you arrive at Oktoberfest is the ticket booth, where you can buy tickets for individual food and drinks as opposed to paying one flat admission fee. Choices for food include the wurstplatter, a combination of bratwurst and various sides; kassler rippchen, a smoked pork chop meal; schwineshaxe, a type of pork shank; and half a roast chicken. There are also hot dogs for the kids, and a variety of carnival-esque food to choose from, like pretzels and popcorn. As for drinks, your options are wine, light beer, and dark beer (all German, naturally.) One beer ticket costs $6, or you can pay $18 for a fairly large pitcher. In addition, the ticket booth is flanked by stands of commemorative merchandise, like “Oktoberfest 2013″ beer mugs, t-shirts, and even genuine candy from Germany.
After paying for tickets, guests enter the biergarden, where the festivities are held. There is live music ranging from traditional yodeling and accordions to, strangely enough, Italian music (probably at the request of one of the lively tables enjoying their pitchers of Hofbräu Dunkel.) To ensure that the kids are happy and occupied, a bouncy house is set up for them in a location where parents can supervise from the tables.
There is definitely something to be said for the overall jubilant mood of the festival. The restaurant’s motto is “guten essen, gute freunde,” which translates into “good food and good friends,” and Oktoberfest is unlikely to disappoint in this regard. The staff couldn’t be friendlier, and the owner of Old Heidelberg mingles with the guests, graciously thanking them for coming. When you go up to get a drink and hand over your ticket, the woman in charge of the beer and wine will thank you with an enthusiastic, “Danke!” At one point, I actually lost one of my drink tickets, and in the spirit of making sure everyone was having a great time, she generously gave me another one (this isn’t to say that you should pretend to lose your drink tickets to get free ones.)
If you can’t make it to the festival but still want to try out the restaurant, the weekly buffet night on Tuesday is an optimal time to go, when pans of steaming food are lined up on the side of the beer garden for customers to help themselves to whatever they want. The containers aren’t labeled and it’s hard to see the food in the dark, so what you actually end up selecting may be a bit of a surprise––but ultimately a pleasant one once you taste it. The buffet includes both the menu’s traditionally German food, like wiener schnitzel, and more familiar American options, like barbecue wings. The food has a uniquely home-cooked feel; it’s easy to imagine the dishes being made from old family recipes handed down for generations.
One of the most unique aspects of the restaurant is that it doesn’t feel like a restaurant––it’s more like you’ve been invited to dinner at the home of family or friends. There is no bar, but this sort of makes sense when you realize that the inside dining section is meant to resemble the dining room of a cozy house. Customers are given a choice of sitting inside or outdoors, and if you opt for outside, you’ll be led to the umbrella-covered beer garden surrounded by candles and tiki torches.
Located at 55 Stony Hill Road in Bethel, the restaurant has been around for a little over ten years, and is themed around creating a true German experience. “We’re one of a kind,” Hoffman says. “It’s a German authentic restaurant… there really isn’t any other around. We’re very traditional. People come here to relax and have fun.”
For more information, visit Old Heidelberg’s website at oldheidelbergct.com.