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The dachshunds will march again: Duluth Oktoberfestival returns Sept. 16-18

Yes, there will be bier, but organizer Ryan Kern says the Bayfront Festival Park event is a family-friendly fest.

Three men and a woman wearing traditional German attire pose with beer steins in front of the Aerial Lift Bridge.
Revelers at the 2021 Duluth Oktoberfestival hoisted steins at the harborside.
Contributed / Grandview Images
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DULUTH — Yes, the dachshunds will be dressed for the occasion. "It's a costume contest," said Ryan Kern. "They crown a king and a queen."

Kern was describing the March of the Dachshunds that opens Duluth Oktoberfestival as part of a ceremonial procession that begins at Canal Park Lodge and leads into Bayfront Festival Park. There, Oktoberfestival organizers are erecting a "massive, massive tent structure." Come rain or come shine, there will be steins.

This will be the third year that Kern and Kompany, which Ryan Kern leads, will present a Duluth Oktoberfestival. Kern's version launched in 2019, skipped 2020 due to COVID-19, and returned in 2021. This year's event will kick off Friday and run through Sunday.

An older couple dance arm-in-arm in the foreground of a crowded dance floor, while younger people raise their arms in the background.
Dancing the day away at Duluth Oktoberfestival in 2021.
Contributed / Grandview Images

Previous local versions of the traditional German community celebration included events at Grandma's restaurant and a Bayfront event sponsored by Fitger's Brewhouse; Kern said his company inaugurated their event as a successor to the Duluth Hot Air Balloon Festival.

That event launched in 2013 as a spin-off from the Duluth Airshow, which Kern and Kompany also runs. The balloons came to Bayfront for a handful of years, but that was never an ideal venue.

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"It was very contingent on the weather," said Kern. "Hot air balloons launching from Bayfront Festival Park with high winds off the lake was not really conducive as an event in terms of its success rate."

By the time the balloon festival ran its course, the city of Duluth and the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, which runs Bayfront as a venue, had asked Kern to consider mounting an Oktoberfest in the September slot previously reserved for the balloons. "We at that point decided," said Kern, "if we're going to do it, let's do the research. Let's try and learn as much as we can about Oktoberfestivals."

What they learned, said Kern, is that a proper Oktoberfest is about much more than the beer — or bier, as it's known in Germany. "It's like a family fair," Kern said. "We wanted to create the Duluth Oktoberfest ... where you could bring your kids with you and enjoy a weekend together in Bayfront Festival Park."

There's a "Kinderplatz" with games, crafts, and inflatables for kids to play on, and Sunday is a specially designated family day with activities including a petting zoo, a tug-of-war and root beer stein hoisting. Adults get to play games as well; among them a pretzel toss, a barrel toss and hoistings of beer steins filled with the real deal.

Aerial photograph of Bayfront Festival Park, showing large white tent built in front of stage, with Aerial Lift Bridge in background.
An aerial view of Duluth Oktoberfestival in 2021.
Contributed / Grandview Images

The centerpiece of the event is a tent so large, it can't extend straight out from the Bayfront stage. "We have to flip the whole thing on its side and run it basically west to east, because we really need the flat ground and the flat space," said Kern. "It's literally like you're in a huge beer hall."

Duluth brewers craft fine beverages in the German tradition, but the Oktoberfestival beer comes straight from the source. "The Paulaner beverages are all imported from Munich," said Kern. "It arrives on the East Coast and gets shipped to us in Duluth. It's actually beer made in Germany, with German water. It's all German."

Although Minnesota's Scandinavian heritage gets more publicity, in fact Minnesotans of German descent outnumber those with ancestors from Norway, Sweden or Denmark. Duluth Oktoberfest organizers consulted with members of the local German American community in developing their event, and they've been rewarded with attendees who come from as far as Milwaukee to join the ethnic festival.

Several dachshunds race across a grassy field.
Dogs run in the 2021 Duluth Oktoberfestival Dachshund Derby.
Contributed / Grandview Images

Of course, you don't have to be German to wear lederhosen. You don't even have to be human. "We encourage people to dress up their dachshund," said Kern. The dog breed is a symbol of Germany, and in Duluth the dachshunds won't just march, they'll race.

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"We have 32 dachshunds that race in separate heats," said Kern about Sunday's Dachshund Derby. "There is nothing better than seeing a bunch of weiner dogs running as fast as they can."

For tickets, a schedule and more information on the event — which also includes live music and a Markthaus with regional arts and crafts vendors — see duluthoktoberfestival.com.

With International Beer Day coming up Aug. 5, we visited five local breweries to learn how they're tapping styles borrowed from countries spanning the globe.

Related Topics: DULUTHCANAL PARKFOODBAYFRONT FESTIVAL PARK
Arts and entertainment reporter Jay Gabler joined the Duluth News Tribune in February 2022. His previous experience includes eight years as a digital producer at The Current (Minnesota Public Radio), four years as theater critic at Minneapolis alt-weekly City Pages, and six years as arts editor at the Twin Cities Daily Planet. He's a co-founder of pop culture and creative writing blog The Tangential; and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can reach him at jgabler@duluthnews.com or 218-279-5536.
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