Oktoberfest in Cullman: Bridging Bavarian roots and Alabama traditions

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The stage was lined for the kids’ stein hoisting contest Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, at Oktoberfest. (Tribune file photo)

CULLMAN, Ala. — As autumn leaves transition to golden hues, Cullman takes on a distinctly Bavarian atmosphere, embracing its roots in Oktoberfest, a renowned festival that originates from Munich, Germany. 

The festival’s history dates back to a horse race in 1810, celebrating the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Sachsen-Hildburg-hausen, according to Drew Green, director of the Cullman County Museum. 

Originally a modest celebration, Oktoberfest evolved into a grand harvest festival. “By 1818, beer became a staple, drawing millions to Munich annually,” Green said. 

The festivities halted during wartime but returned in full form by 1949, and decades later, the spirit of Oktoberfest made its way to Cullman in 1977. 

“Cullman’s celebration started as a one-day event in honor of Sacred Heart Church’s centennial,” Green explained. “By 1982, it had expanded to a week, cementing its place in our community’s calendar.” 

Cullman’s Oktoberfest is more than just revelry as it honors John Cullmann, the city’s founder from Frankweiler, Germany. In a significant move this year, the Cullmann family is slated to attend. 

Although Oktoberfest traditionally began in October, it now starts in September. “The shift allowed for better weather, a nod to the festival’s Munich roots,” Green added. 

This year, as Cullman readies for Oktoberfest, attendees can expect a melding of traditions, from Bavarian origins to Alabama adaptations. 

Green noted that German culture remains deeply woven into Cullman’s identity, with German once being the primary language for services at St. John’s church until the 1930s. By 1932, English became dominant, but the community’s German lineage persisted. 

Green emphasized the festival’s significance, stating, “It’s a chance to honor our history and appreciate our roots,” he said. “Having the Cullmann family back after years highlights its importance to us.” 

Oktoberfest also serves an educational role, said Green, as many might be surprised that Princess Therese of Bavaria was once engaged to France’s Napoleon. 

Munich’s Oktoberfest has only been canceled 24 times, often due to wars or epidemics. Green said such resilience reflects Cullman’s spirit. Attendees this year can anticipate a rich cultural experience, from arts and crafts to stories from the past. 

Green stated Cullman’s Oktoberfest is a celebration of heritage and community. As preparations continue, each element — from food to music — will embody a piece of history that’s shaped Cullman into the vibrant community it remains today. 

Cullman’s Oktoberfest officially runs Sept. 28-30, but Oktoberfest events begin Sept. 21. For a full schedule, visit www.cullmanoktoberfestival.com/oktoberfestschedule 

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