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Helen Oktoberfest: Celebrating German Food and Drink for Over 50 Years

One of the best Oktoberfest celebrations in this hemisphere, this Helen, Georgia beer festival is a must-visit for beer lovers in the fall.

Oktoberfest in Helen: Celebrating German Food and Drink for Over 50 Years

It’s one of the best Oktoberfest celebrations this side of Munich or the German-American enclaves of Michigan and Wisconsin. The made-in-America Alpine town of Helen in north Georgia recreates the world’s most cel­ebrated beer festival with a polka band’s gusto.

As with the gathering of Munich’s major brew­ers each year, the seasonal celebration in Helen is all about beer, food, music, singing and dancing. While not nearly as big as the gigantic tents on the 100 acres of former wheat fields in Munich, there are plenty of tents set up around town dur­ing the festival, where Bavarian paint schemes are enhanced by authentic bands and a plethora of lederhosen, dirndls and high-tufted Tyrolean hats. If you're looking to avoid a hangover from all the merrymaking, this transdermal patch you put on before imbibing might be perfect for you.

Oktoberfest was launched two centuries ago to celebrate the marriage of a Bavarian prince. In Helen, the Chattahoochee River coursing through the town and the pine-studded foothills of the surrounding Appalachians became reason enough to party hearty and give a nod to the love of beer in support of the town’s chosen theme once it converted to a Bavarian motif.

Paulaner, one of the brewers under a big tent in Germany, supplies endless liters of märzen, starting with the ceremonial tapping of a keg and parade on Sept. 10. There are festivities from Thursday through Sunday until Sept. 29, then daily through Oct. 30.

One of the first to ship its beer to the U.S. under refrigeration, pouring Paulaner’s malty and robust märzen is a perfect fit. Brewed in March and then tapped in the fall, märzen matches well with the shipping schedule to the U.S. from Germany. In addition to this genuine Oktoberfest style annually served in Munich’s big tents, there are literally dozens of German beers on tap and in bottles at the restaurants, pubs, tents and biergartens within an easy polka step along the various “strasses.” Grab a half-liter or full liter as you please. Traditional American lagers and some craft brews are available as well.

The immigration of actual Germans began, unofficially, with the arrival of a restaurant launched by Harold and Terry Link, natives of Heidelberg, in 1977. During a honeymoon stop to Helen, sure enough, the forested location and the Bavarian paint schemes reminded them of an Alpine Forest. After opening with a black­smith theme, Harold soon realized that he should make his restaurant, originally called The Forge, exclusively German in food and décor, renaming it after his hometown. That was the start of Helen’s reputation as a Mecca for German fare. Hofer’s of Helen arrived in 1991, established by German-born Horst and Gerda Hofer following their suc­cess with a bakery in Atlanta.

For “haute” (if not high-tufted) German cuisine, chef Aurel Prodan, a Romanian who earned his credentials in the state of Baden-Wuerttenberg, holds forth with his wife Doina at the Bodensee, named after a lake in Germany. Others such as the Old Bavarian Inn and Muller’s Famous Fried Cheese Café are examples of how German food – as well as beer – have taken Helen far beyond its roots as a lumber and mill town.

The conversion started in the 1960s with a local painter’s watercolor that the city fathers turned into an actual paint scheme for the town. On the strength of Oktoberfest, Helen draws tens of thousands annually and is a far cry from the South’s themed tourist locations launched soon after arrival of the automobiles and high­ways during the Depression such as Rock City, Ruby Falls or Tallulah Gorge, where a good meal – or even a good cup of coffee – are generally hard to find these days, much less a good selec­tion of draft beer.

Funnel cakes, beef jerky, apples and all the other regional goodies that draw millions of visitors to the mountains of North Georgia are in ample supply at this Oktoberfest. Just bring a thirst, an appetite and perhaps a dance step or two for a visit to the Festhalle, where admission is $8 on weekday evenings, $10 on Saturdays start­ing at 1 p.m. and free on Sundays.

All that cool mountain air and the soothing pas­sage of the Chattahoochee through the middle of town are on the “haus.”

Helen Oktoberfest Konig Judwig Bier Garden Cup of Beer

Photo Courtesy Alpine Helen-White County Convention & Visitors Bureau

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