Saint Paul’s Oktoberfest celebrates heritage of North End community


Autumn is a lovely time of the year and the Saint Paul Oktoberfest is the perfect celebration for families to come together and participate in a festival that honors the German heritage of the North End community. This year’s observance is on Saturday, October 13, and the hours are from Noon to 11 :00 p.m. Oktoberfest takes place on the Saint Bernard’s Parish Community grounds at Rice Street and Geranium Avenue.

Whatever the weather, Oktoberfest participants can enjoy the festivities indoors, in a climate-controlled setting. Admission to the grounds is free with German foods and refreshments available for purchase. Bruce Larson, one of the founders of the Saint Paul Oktoberfest, emphasizes that the festival is “family-oriented” and the whole purpose of the event is to have a good time while honoring the heritage of a neighborhood.

The North End of Saint Paul was first settled in the mid to late 1800s and traditionally it has welcomed immigrants. In the 1880s people came from Austria, Germany, Hungary, Sweden, and Poland. They came to work for the railroad, to set up shops along Rice Street, and they came to establish places of worship.

In 1890, the area between Western Avenue and Jackson Street, and Hatch and Maryland Avenues, was known as “ Little Bavaria” because of the many Austrian and German immigrants who had settled there. It was about that time that Saint Bernard’s Parish was founded to minister to the needs of German Catholics.

The first Oktoberfest was held in Germany to celebrate a marriage, and so the North End festival includes a ceremony where couples can renew their wedding vows. Also featured are the traditional bed races where teams compete to win cash prizes for their favorite charity.

A new event added this year is the ceremony of “Bringing Down the Cows. ” According to Oktoberfest planner, Darrel Schenk, the ceremony will illustrate a tradition that is popular in upper Bavaria and Switzerland. Farmers herd their cattle up the mountains to graze in the meadows, continuing to herd them higher throughout the summer as the farmers continue to milk the cows and make cheese. As the days become shorter and the weather grows colder, the farmers begin to herd the cows back down one level at a time. In September, the farmers bring the cows into town with great ceremony to celebrate a successful summer. This year’s Oktoberfest will include two brown Swiss cows that will be led around the block with great ceremony. The lead cow will wear an elaborate headdress made of flowers, and the other cow will be decked out with a flower garland. Bubba, a Saint Bernard dog, that is the mascot of Saint Bernard’s Parish, will lead the cows.

Throughout the afternoon and evening there will be music for dancing and listening, including traditional German, 50s rock and roll, country and Cajun. Performers include Alpensterne, the Bavarian Musikmeisters, Craig Ebel and DyVersa Company, and for the children, the Teddy Bear Band. Also featured will be Eric Ray, the S.G. Edelweiss Dancers, New Ulm Narren, and demonstrations by the Saint Paul Police K-9 Unit.

At 5:00 p.m. Waldler Messe (Foresters Mass) will be celebrated in Saint Bernard’s Church.

Members of Saint Bernard’s Parish and Arlington High School NJROTC cadets play a prominent role in carrying out Oktoberfest. They set up for the entire event, work the day of the event, and do all of the clean-up. It is interesting to note that the majority of the cadets come from families who are new to the country, reflecting the latest tide of immigrants and refugees that have come to Saint Paul and to the North End in recent years.

Sponsors of this year’s Oktoberfest include Arlington High School, Dar’s Double Scoop Ice Cream and Coffee Shop Deutschland, Equity Services of Saint Paul, Kamps Food Market, North End Business Association, Pioneer Press, Saint Bernard’s School, Saint Paul Saints, Saint Paul STAR Program, Schroeder Milk, and Seven Corners Printing.