Say ‘Oktoberfest’ to any adult and the first thing that likely pops into his or her head is likely beer, beer, beer. Not exactly a kid-friendly image, right? But there’s so much more to Oktoberfest than drinking and you don’t even have to go all the way to Munich to experience it for yourself. Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest in Ontario, a 9-day celebration of all things German, is so much more than sloshing steins. There’s plenty for families to do, too – all before the beer revellers come out to play.
Here are seven options for families:
1. Opening Ceremonies
North America’s largest Bavarian festival opens with a bang (and a spray from the official keg tapping) at midday in downtown Kitchener at the corner of King and Frederick streets. Grab a pretzel and take in German dance performances amid all the fanfare of opening the festival. Don’t forget to wave to the official mascot, Onkel Hans!
2. Oktoberfest family breakfast
On the first Saturday of Oktoberfest (on Thanksgiving weekend), local radio stations serve up a hearty breakfast of sausages, pancakes, apple cider and coffee at Bingemans in Kitchener, all in support of the local food bank. Join neighbours and friends at long tables to dig into your breakfast, then take your kiddos to the dance floor to polka the morning away.
3. Thanksgiving Day Parade
Not to snub Santa or anything, but the annual Thanksgiving Day parade in Kitchener-Waterloo might just have a leg up on the ol’ guy’s procession through town. The weather is typically better and the enthusiasm for the community is high. Get a feel for the different German clubs as they parade through town between other popular bands and floats. The annual parade draws over 150,000 visitors.
4. Bogenschuetzenfest & The Running Boar
Bogen-what? This archery competition is the longest continuous-running family and cultural event at Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest. It’s hosted at Hubertushaus partly in conjunction with its Family Day on opening weekend, where visitors of all ages can grab a bite of authentic German food, enjoy some polka and see a keg tapping (root beer for kids!)
5. Off to the Races
There are barrels of fun to be had at the annual Uptown Waterloo Great Oktoberfest Barrel Race. In these relay-style races, teams of four push – you guessed it – a beer keg. Kids can participate in their own heats pushing cute little wheelbarrows or just get in on the fun by cheering on other competitors.
6. Cook Like Oma
Bring a donation for The Food Bank of Waterloo Region to the Kitchener Market and leave with the knowledge of how to make pretzels and other traditional food – just like the best of the best, Oma! The Oktoberfest mascots will come by afterwards to check in and see how you fared (if there’s anything left).
7. Blast from the (German) Past
Head to the Ken Seiling Waterloo Region Museum for an afternoon presentation celebrating German traditions, all part of October’s German Pioneer month. Follow up by browsing the museum’s permanent main gallery, which highlights many of the ways the Waterloo Region has been shaped by German settlers.
Individual German clubs sometimes also offer family-friendly events in their halls. Check-in with them to ask what they’re planning or visit the official Oktoberfest site for a full calendar of events.
By Adrienne Brown
Adrienne Brown is a freelance writer based in Ontario. She hopes to pass her love of learning and for travelling to new places to her three sons, one adventure at a time. She has a particular interest in exploring Canadian destinations and is willing to try almost anything once.