Country music, hot air balloon rides, and Thomas the Tank Engine may not sound like a typical Oktoberfest, but Harvard Square has redefined the German tradition with its own annual celebration, taking place this Sunday.
The 33rd annual festival, expected to draw 150,000 people, will begin with the HONK! parade of local musicians and community groups that departs from Davis Square at noon and ends in Harvard Square at 1 p.m.
The streets of Harvard Square will feature six stages of musical entertainment, including alternative, rock, pop, country, and folk music. The super crosswalk at the heart of the Square will host the main stage, while others will be along Church Street and other nearby streets.
Over 200 stalls will also be scattered throughout the Square, selling crafts, clothing, artwork, and food. True to the German tradition, three beer gardens will offer beer to visitors.
Other entertainment for guests includes hot air balloon rides from the Cambridge Common and a Thomas the Tank Engine train ride for children.
Frank Cardullo, owner of the since-closed Wurst House and founder of Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe, started the tradition 33 years ago to connect to the theme of his German restaurant.
“He took the ambiance of his restaurant out to the street,” said Donez J. Cardullo, president of Cardullo’s and Frank’s granddaughter.
The Wurst House, now the location of Citizens Bank, was a popular restaurant where business people used to hold meetings, according to Harvard Square Business Association Executive Director Denise A. Jillson.
Sheldon Cohen—founder of Out of Town News and former HSBA director—and other members of the HSBA assisted Cardullo with the first event. The HSBA has continued to organize Oktoberfest since.
“We’re delighted to continue the tradition to a whole new group of people, even though we don’t have an authentic German restaurant in Harvard Square,” Jillson said.
Donez Cardullo said the event used to focus more on German traditions. One year, Frank Cardullo organized a showing of Clydesdale horses, popularly used in Budweiser commercials.
Cardullo’s grandchildren, who now run his store, used to host a stall with international food featured at Cardullo’s. But they decided last year to sell only authentic German food.
“Even though Cardullo’s has food from around the world, we decided to go back to the German roots. We wanted to give a nod to our grandpa,” Cardullo said.
The festival will have to adapt this year to the construction on JFK Street, forcing some vendors to Eliot Street, beside the farmers’ market outside the Charles Hotel. Traffic down Mount Auburn Street will also be diverted.
The tradition’s popularity has spiked since the early festivities that drew 10,000 people to the Square.
“It’s getting people into the Square to realize that we are still thriving and changing and tell them to come down more often,” Cardullo said.
—Staff writer Kerry M. Flynn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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