LA CROSSE, Wisc. (WLAX) — As Oktoberfest got underway in La Crosse, organizers reflected on the event’s importance over the past 60 years.
The history of the celebration can be traced back to Munich, Germany in the early 1800s, and is a heritage that has become a part of the fabric of La Crosse.
“Since the fall of 1961, Oktoberfest has the privilege of sharing its pageantry and its tradition with the City of La Crosse,” Kelly Wilde, 2021 Oktoberfest president said. “In return, the City of La Crosse has shared its comradery and its fellowship with the entire world through the spirit of Gemutlichkeit.”
The story of La Crosse’s Oktoberfest began in the late 1950s when community leaders wanted to provide a positive experience during a time of struggle for the city.
“La Crosse was hurting, we lost major manufacturers, things just didn’t look as positive,” 2017 Festmaster Brian Rude said. “So they decided we needed a community festival, and with a brewery in town and the German heritage in La Crosse, it was a natural.”
The event has grown year after year since its inception. Today, it is an event that draws attendees from across the nation.
“Down here on the fest ground I’ve talked to people from Washington state, Ohio, Idaho, and they’re here celebrating in this heritage, Rude said.
According to Rude, a common misconception about Oktoberfest is that it is all about drinking.
“It’s not,” he said. “It’s all about Gemutlichkeit, which is the spirit of fellowship, which drives Oktoberfest.”
The event creates an annual economic impact of around $15 million for the Coulee Region with the average patron spending more than $200 while attending the festival.