The grounds of the German-American Social Club once again came to life Friday night to celebrate all things German as the annual Oktoberfest kicked off with music, food and drinks.
Marking its 26th year, the festival spans two weekends and features non-stop entertainment, including a band from Austria called D'Hirscheggar. In total, 10 bands will perform throughout the event, which also offers German delights like sausage platters, bratwurst, schweinhaxen, leberkaese and potato pancakes.
Also available are imported German beer and wine, spirits and domestic beer.
Fort Myers residents Steven Hayden and Chris Brower came out for the atmosphere Friday.
"They have authentic German bands," Brower said.
"The music," Hayden agreed. "And the food is great."
Attendees of the event for a couple of years, they learned about the festival after moving to the area. Once Michigan residents and visitors to a big Oktoberfest held there, both praised the local celebration.
"It's a smaller event," Hayden said. "But it's good. It's nice."
Brower encouraged anyone who has not been to an Oktoberfest to stop by.
"Definitely come to this one if you've never been," he said.
For the younger crowd, an area is set up with carnival rides, games and activities like face painting.
On Friday, 8-year-old Miranda Kibbe and 3-year-old Brady Schwede got to spend a few hours enjoying the children's area. The two have been attending Oktoberfest since they were in strollers.
"It's great for the kids," grandmother Pat Kibbe said.
"And he loves the beer," she added, referring to her husband, Phil.
Since moving to the area in 1993 from Miami, the family has made it a tradition to visit every year, both weekends. With German in his heritage, Phil Kibbe said he enjoys the festival for multiple reasons.
"The food, and the entertainment," he said.
When asked what her favorite part of Oktoberfest is, Miranda did not hesitate.
"The rides," she said, adding the Dumbo one is her favorite.
Tickets are $6 at the gate and $5 in advance. Children 12 and under are free, as well as those serving in the military and their families. An active military identification must be shown at the gate for entry.
A portion of the proceeds go toward charities in Cape Coral and the surrounding areas. Oktoberfest organizers reported that more than $250,000 has been given away to charities in the past decade.
For Jennifer Curtis and Kyle Fuller, both Cape residents, it was time to unwind and enjoy on Friday.
"I've come every year for seven years," Fuller said.
Asked what she likes about Oktoberfest, she cited the beer and the food.
"And the vendors are getting better every year," Fuller said.
Curtis, a first-timer to the festival, called herself a newbie.
"I wanted to check it out," she said. "It's nice. It's bigger than I thought."
Enjoying the cooler weather, the women said they would recommend the event to everyone.
"It's great," Fuller said. "Come for some fun."
Advance tickets can be purchased at Hess Express gas stations, Trebing Tile & Carpet, the Chamber of Commerce of Cape Coral and the German-American Social Club, at 2101 S.W. Pine Island Road.
Oktoberfest runs today and Sunday, then again Friday, Saturday and Oct. 30. Hours of operation are noon to midnight on Saturdays, noon to 9 p.m. on Sundays and 4 p.m. to midnight Friday. On Sundays, a non-denominational religious service is held at 11 a.m. on the grounds. The public is invited to attend.
According to event organizers, last year's attendance reached 35,265 - the highest number in the past few years. In 2009, an estimated 32,000 people showed up, while about 29,000 turned out in 2008.
For more information, call 283-1400 or visit online at: www.capecoraloktoberfest.com.