A Guide to Zinzinnati, America's Biggest Oktoberfest

| © Chris Breeze / Flickr
Laura Dorwart

If you like your Oktoberfests big, bold, and packed with beer, you’ve got to check out Zinzinnati, the biggest Oktoberfest in the U.S. Held for three days every year in Cincinnati, over half a million revelers pack into The Queen City each September to celebrate the city’s Germanic heritage.

Over 575,000 people party at Cincinnati’s Oktoberfest each year. The celebration, which pays tribute to Southwest Ohio’s German heritage, is so big that it’s earned itself its own nickname: Zinzinnati. First held in 1976, Zinzinnati is now the biggest Oktoberfest held in the U.S., second only to the original festival in Munich, Germany. It’s held each year at the end of September, and revelers hail from all ends of the country and across the globe.

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Zinzinnati kicks off each year with the Running of the Wieners, a quirky tradition in which 100 dachshunds race 75 feet to the finish line on the first morning of Oktoberfest. The dachshunds are outfitted in little hot dog costumes, and medals are awarded to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners. (Plus, the whole thing’s pretty cute.)

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Immediately after the Running of the Wieners come the Gemuetlichkeit Games, an equally offbeat contest that looks almost like a cross between Field Day and the Beer Olympics. Participants compete in a beer barrel roll and a beer stein race, which is exactly what it sounds like: a race that requires runners to clutch a big ol’ beer stein in each hand without spilling it.

Zinzinnati sprawls across six full blocks of downtown Cincinnati. The streets are packed with local food and gift vendors, souvenir stands, outdoor cafes and beer gardens, and live music venues.

Of course, every Oktoberfest needs its beer, and Zinzinnati fulfils the booze department in spades. Browse booths with a $12 beer mug (refillable for $8), or have a smaller draft for $6. You can also hit up any number of beer sampling stations along the Oktoberfest route.

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German and German-inspired food, along with Cincinnati classics such as cheesey hot dogs and chili, are served up in hearty portions all day and night at Zinzinnati. Cincinnati prides itself on generously heaped servings, and Oktoberfest is certainly no exception.

Zinzinnati-goers gobble up almost 25,000 potato pancakes, over 3,500 pounds of sauerkraut, more than 23,000 soft pretzels, and about 20,000 cream puffs every year. But all that food is nothing compared to the truly impressive eating for the bravest of brat fans at The World Eating Brat Championship, held on Sunday of the festival weekend.

Don’t worry, though: You can dance it all off at the World’s Largest Chicken Dance, held every year on the last day of Oktoberfest since 1994, when 48,000 chicken dancers set a Guinness World Record.

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Zinzinnati partiers are often decked out in traditional German clothing (or, ahem, dachshund or beer stein hats), and the streets are filled with German folk dancers and the sounds of polka, along with other German or German-inspired live bands. Live music rounds out the revelry of Zinzinnati, with concerts big and small held on a variety of stages throughout the weekend.


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