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Oktoberfest in El Cajon: A Half Century of ‘Gemütlichkeit’

NONPROFITS: German American Societies’ Celebration Returns

It’s time to break out the lederhosen and get ready for bratwurst, soft pretzels and steins filled with traditional German beer at the annual Oktoberfest in El Cajon.

The family-friendly party held over two weekends, mostly in a giant beer garden next to the German American Societies clubhouse building in El Cajon, has long been considered the most authentic event celebrating and promoting German culture, language, music and food and beverages in San Diego County.

The event, the meatiest fundraiser for the German American Societies, is also popular for its traditional German games and raffle contests, vendor booths and craft booths, and a kids’ zone for the younger crowd.

This year’s celebration, which is the 50th for the organizers, will be held Friday, Sept. 30, Saturday, Oct. 1 and Sunday, Oct. 2, and on Friday, Oct. 7, Saturday, Oct. 8 and Sunday, Oct. 9. Both weekends feature live entertainment and folk dancing in the beer garden by Guggenbach-Buam, the band that has since 2003 been flying in from Germany to entertain the thousands of revelers.

From 8 p.m. until midnight on both Saturday nights, the German American Societies’ clubhouse will be open for dancing with live German music by the Gordon Kohl Band.

Mike Anderson
Chairman
Oktoberfest in El Cajon

“This is our 50th year so we’re trying to really celebrate the event with a special logo, souvenirs, and hopefully some special guests such as past committee members, and a second, smaller ceremony and tapping of a wooden keg to celebrate current and past committee members,” said Mike Anderson, chairman of the committee that organizes and hosts Oktoberfest in El Cajon for the nonprofit German American Societies of San Diego.

About 800 volunteers work on the event that typically draws 2,000 to 3,000 on Fridays and Sundays and about 4,000 attendees on Saturdays.

With sauerkraut, Rotkohl (red cabbage), goulash soup, cucumber and German potato salads, potato pancakes, bratwurst, kielbasa, Leberkäse, “ox on the spit,” pretzels and German pastries, there’s no lack of food on site.

Organizers say there will be 12 German beers on tap of various varieties, including Warsteiner, Spaten, Weihenstephan, Hofbräu, Veltins, Köstritzer, Paulaner and Stiegl. Beer styles include pilsner, hefeweiss, dark, helles, radler and Oktoberfest. Anderson said the club sold 350 kegs of beer last year, and more than 400 kegs in 2019.

German Marketplace

Nearly two dozen vendors at the Oktoberfest in El Cajon marketplace area will sell items you might find in a German open market, he said, including clothing, such as the traditional dirndls for ladies and lederhosen for men (and women), plus children’s sizes.

Anderson said that several German immigrants started the club in 1965 but didn’t have a home until purchasing the current site on South Mollison Avenue in 1971, and the club eventually also bought the vacant lot next door.

“The stated purpose of the club, ‘To foster good fellowship, mutual respect and goodwill … among all persons interested in enjoying the ultimate in German and American culture’ continues today,” said Anderson, a real estate agent in San Diego. “Oktoberfest is only one, although by far the biggest, event our club hosts to promote German culture, food, beverages and activities to anyone interested.”

Oktoberfest in El Cajon
FOUNDED: 1972 in El Cajon by the German American Societies
HEADQUARTERS: 1017 S. Mollison Ave., El Cajon
BUSINESS: Nonprofit German-American Societies fundraiser and celebration of the culture and heritage of Oktoberfest
REVENUE: Down about 25% from 2019 to 2021; event raises 75% or more of the German-American Club’s funds for operations, events and activities.
EMPLOYEES: 1 (Operations Manager)
VOLUNTEERS: 800
WEBSITE: germanclubsandiego.org
CONTACT: 619-442-6637
NOTABLE: Club backing the event formed in 1965 to share the tradition, culture, food and celebrations of Germany

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