Cheers?

The Duel of the Oktoberfests

Two festivals are raising a toast in Central Washington—and one of them isn't in Leavenworth at all.

By Allison Williams September 14, 2022

The festival seems simple enough: Mix beer, lederhosen, the sweet sounds of a few accordion bands, and repeat every weekend in fall. For years, Oktoberfest was one of the biggest (though not the biggest) time of year in Bavarian-themed Leavenworth. But a year after the event was canceled, this year suddenly sees a veritable overflow of Oktoberfests.

For more than 20 years, Leavenworth Oktoberfest festival was run by a nonprofit group called Projekt Bayern; authentic German beers only, authentic German bands only. They cited annual attendance upwards of 50,000, and the group funded some town projects, including a cuckoo clock. The large gathering was canceled for Covid reasons in both 2020 and 2021, and the group's latest contract with the city ran out. During the call for proposals for future Oktoberfest oversight, Projekt Bayern was immediately rejected, says Amy Gustin, a rep for the group.

"It's politically motivated," says Gustin. "When [mayor Carl Florea] ran for office, he was running against Leavenworth Oktoberfest." Last year, Florea told us that locals tired of the festival so centered on partying, on beer made across the Atlantic. Projekt Bayern, which had trademarked the named Leavenworth Oktoberfest, decided to take its event to nearby Wenatchee, where it will set up in the city's Town Toyota Center arena. 

But here's where it gets confusing. While a Leavenworth Oktoberfest will be held in Wenatchee for three weekends starting September 30, there will also be an Oktoberfest in Leavenworth...for three weekends starting September 30. Two parties in two different cities.

"Of course we're going to put an Oktoberfest on," says Jessica Stoller of the Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce; their event will incorporate the Bavarian town's Festhalle and a tent in downtown's central park. Local bands will play, and in an echo to the beer-y areas, kids will have a root beer garden and Kinderplatz play zone. 

A smaller footprint than in days past, says Stoller, and more emphasis on local brews. Three local brewers came together to create a special beer for the event, and will also serve their own specialties alongside authentic German pours. Boy Scouts will sell pretzels to fundraise, a longstanding tradition.

But on a site some 21 miles away in Wenatchee, there will also be traditional toasts at what's still being called Leavenworth Oktoberfest—and go later than Leavenworth's midnight closing time. The Projekt Bayern fest will retain some of their classic tenets of authenticity. "Ours is still the traditional Oktoberfest, it's all German beer, all imported," says Gustin. "Only German entertainment." 

Confusing? Gustin notes that they've been marketing the location change for months, though the Wenatchee event is still the one found at the website leavenworthoktoberfest.com. The name game will continue in court; though Projekt Bayern trademarked the name, the city of Leavenworth has already initiated legal action.

In its complaint, the city claims that the registration of the Leavenworth Oktoberfest moniker "is likely to cause confusion, mistake, or to deceive consumers." For their part, Projekt Bayern says the Wenatchee relocation is only temporary, and they plan to find a site in the Leavenworth area for future fests.

For as much as the autumn event is associated with the German-themed tourist destination, it's not actually the busiest time there; Christmas, when the shops and hotels erupt into tiny lights and the whole place feels like a nutcracker's fever dream, draws even more visitors.

Whether ticket buyers will know for sure where they're headed remains to be seen; "Don’t settle for anything less than the 'Original,'" reads the Projekt Bayern ticket website, along with "Don't be fooled by imitations!" Ticket prices are the same across both events, though a shuttle ride from Leavenworth to Wenatchee will cost $20. 

"It's a confusing time," says Stoller of Leavenworth's chamber of commerce, and she says they expect many days to sell out in town. There the event will have the same beer wagon as always, the keg tapping, and the same number of days as years past. "It's still Oktoberfest." 

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