Open Road

Guten Tag, Amigos

Oktoberfest? In San Antonio? Ja.

By John Lomax September 18, 2013

Achtung, baby!

Looking for Texas's best polka, beer, brats and cheer? You could do worse than head to San Antonio. Yep, the Alamo City. 

Mention "German Texas" to most Texans and Fredericksburg and New Braunfels leap immediately to mind. Those towns have done well cashing in on all things Deutsch, including raucous, lavishly-attended Oktoberfests in each town.

And when most Texans think of Tex-Mex cities, San Antonio leads the way: whirling senoritas in long colorful dresss on the Riverwalk; the majestic Spanish missions; the ramshackle old Mercado and muy autentico taquerias in El Westside Barrio. 

But it just so happens than San Antonio is also the most Germanic of all large Texas cities. Teutonic contributions are still all over town today: the lovely old Victorian mansions in the King William Historic District (once known as Kaiser Wilhelm District), Pearl beer, Schilo's Delicatessen, and the Menger Hotel, among many other landmark buildings and institutions.

You can also hear a distinct Bavarian influence in the polka-based conjunto music that has long served as ambient background noise for the whole town. Only the lyrics are in Spanish; that music is as German as Heidi Klum.

A bootful of brau.

And yet San Antonio is still thought of as almost completely Mexican in culture...

"The German imprint on San Antonio is everywhere, if you look for it, and all but invisible if you don’t care," writes San Antonio business writer Robert Rivard.

And that goes for its relatively unknown (to outsiders, anyway) Oktoberfest.

Rivard goes on to to describe the city's Beethoven Maennerchor, (Beethoven Men's Choir) hosts of the city's yearly Oktoberfest, as "the heart and soul of present-day German culture in San Antonio." The Maennerchor also operates the 147-year-old Beethoven's Halle Und Garten, a German venue/tavern in the King William District similar to the late, much-lamented Bavarian Gardens. (That Feagan Street insititution had been home to years of Houston's Oktoberfests and was run by the Houston Saengerbund, the Bayou City's Maennerchor equivalent.) 

Beethoven's is wildly popular year-round in San Antonio for its cheap German beer, authenticity (right down to a poster of David Hasselhoff) and al fresco good cheer, but never more so than at Oktoberfest, when the party spills out into the streets of King William. In contrast to the near-dominance of oompah and polka bands at other Texas Oktoberfests, the Mannerchor's version features lots of choral singing: men's, children's, women's, and mixed. There's also the 70-piece Beethoven Concert Band, purveyors of everything from "traditional beer drinking favorites to patriotic classics and songs from movies." (Don't worry, there's oompah, too, freunde, and plenty of polka for those of you who wish to celebrate accordion-ly.) Many who have attended fests in the Fatherland claim that this one is among the closest Stateside facsimilies. 

This year's event will be held on October 3 and 4 and October 10 and 11. A suggested $5 donation gets you in. Here is a map.

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