This year marks the 151st anniversary of the end-of-summer festival held by the Cannstatter Volksfest Verein, according to the organization, which is considered one of the country’s oldest German-American clubs.
The fairgrounds in Northeast Philadelphia have been the site of the harvest fest since the 1950s, but previous events took place all over the city — at one point even being held in the Academy of Music, per the club’s website.
These days, it’s the large field on Academy Road in Torresdale that hosts the party, which over the course of three days draws thousands. Some wear festive hats and t-shirts, while others take the opportunity to break out traditional trachten like dirndl and lederhosen.
If you didn’t bring your own, you can pick up an outfit in the festival shops, which sell clothing, hats, German-themed trinkets, and beer steins, aka bierkrüge.
Beer is big here — it’s an early edition of Oktoberfest — and pitchers are available to purchase, with recognizable names like Schöfferhofer and Warsteiner on tap. To go with, counters are packed with vendors offering German and Austrian fare like schnitzel, bratwurst, sauerkraut, potato salad, and of course pretzels, with cheese sauce. (Note: make sure to buy food tickets before getting in line.)
When you first enter, you’ll see the three-story high “fruit column,” a large produce-coated structure with depictions of a German folktale on each of the four sides. The column was built over the course of the past week by volunteers as a way to celebrate the organization’s heritage.
There’s always been a charitable component to the fest, with funds donated to various charities, per the club’s website, but the organization has evolved over its century and a half — most significantly in 1997, the charter was rewritten to allow women to become full members for the first time.
Once you’ve got a pitcher and a schnitzel, you can grab a seat anywhere in the open park-like area. There are plenty of picnic benches, but many choose to sit under the huge tent, where Philly-based band Die Heimatklänge plays upbeat music, ranging from German folk songs like “In München steht ein Hofbräuhaus” to a “Margaritaville” tribute to the late Jimmy Buffet.
There are rides and attractions for kids after you eat, or maybe you left room to grab dessert from one of the vendors. If you’re feeling like another beer, you’ll want to remember this one German word — prost!
Scroll to see more photos from the fest.