The city of Cincinnati has, perhaps, the most noteworthy German heritage of any city within the United States. Dating back to the 1700’s the influx of German settlers brought with them talents and abilities that show in the architecture, landmarks and industries that still populate the area to this day.
It seemed only natural that Kings Island would incorporate the city’s vast German influence into its design. Back in 1966, Cincinnati’s Coney Island had added an authentic beirgarten that proved immensely popular with guests. So when conceptualizing the new park, designers decided to not only recreate it, but to dedicate an entire themed area.
When Kings Island’s “Oktoberfest” opened with the park in 1972, it featured the Der Alte Deutsche Bier Garten (using the hand-built tables from Coney Island) and included an authentic German sausage haus. There were a handful of Bavarian-themed rides including the north loading station of the park’s Von Roll Swiss Skyride, The Rotor – an interior-rotating attraction originally installed at Coney in 1969 and Der Spinner Keggers – a brand new “drunken barrels” attraction purchased for Kings Island.
In addition, the “Bavarian Beetle” was the original centerpiece of the area and was one of the three original roller coasters at Kings Island (others were the Racer and Scooby Doo). The Beetle was a small metal carnival-style coaster (originally installed at Coney Island in 1970 and called by its manufactured name “Galaxi”) that was located on the plot of land currently occupied by the Festhaus.
Oktoberfest holds the distinction of being the area of the park that received the earliest esthetic changes. In 1973, the area received two new attractions: The Bayern Kurve – a 55 mph Olympic Bobsled themed ride, and the Flying Dutchman (often referred to as the “Flying Shoes”) - a rotating swing type ride that flew guests 10 feet above the ground. Also in 1973, the Bavarian Beetle had its entrance “spiffed up” with a cartoon-esque Swiss-themed façade added. The very next year (1974) Oktoberfest’s midway was altered to allow for an entrance to the (then) new Lion Country Safari. The Rotor was relocated to the back of International Street, and an additional pathway was constructed behind the Beetle to also connect International Street to the Safari area.
But the biggest changes to Octoberfest came in the 1979 through 1983 seasons. First, following an incident where a 91-year old man rode the Bavarian Beetle and claimed injury, the ride was deemed no longer viable to the park and it was removed. Second, in 1980, the Von Roll Skyride was demolished due to the inability to repair and replace parts. The skyride had experienced an embarrassing malfunction the year prior which stranded riders for hours. Although no one was harmed, the harrowing rescue received national media attention. These vacancies prompted the park to make plans to completely overhaul the area in 1982. Kings Island retired the aging Rotor and shipped Bayern Kurve to a sister park in Sidney Australia. They closed an access path behind International Street to ad “Viking Fury”, a 53-foot-long swinging ship by Intamin rides that swung passengers in an 80-foot arc. When it opened on July 18, 1982, it was the largest ride of its type in the world and cost $650,000 to install.
But most significantly, in November of 1982 (during the park’s very first “Winterfest” event) the brand new Festhaus made its debut. At a cost of $2.5 million, the Festhaus is a 28,000-square foot entertainment and dining facility that seats up to 1,500 guests. It originally featured a 40-foot wide stage (the first show to perform in the Festhaus was “World Cabaret” at Winterfest ’82) and a 330-foot-long hand painted mural of the Swiss Alps. Over 200 hand-crafted tables were built by hand by David Smith of Lebanon, Ohio (who is still building furniture today) and an original stained glass window was installed above the interior entrance. But perhaps the most endearing feature of the Festhaus was its working glockenspiel located above the outside entrance to the facility. It featured five, four foot-tall Bavarian figures that became animated every 15 minutes to the tune of a Bavarian Polka.
Directly adjacent to the Festhaus, a brand new Ferris Wheel was added to help fill a void left by the losses of nostalgic attractions. It operated until the early 1990’s. In addition, the Der Spinner-Keggers operated until 1989, and the Flying Dutchman lasted until 1991 when it was removed and sold to make way for “Adventure Express".
Speaking of which, in 1991, Kings Island broke with tradition and added “Adventure Express” an Aztec-adventure-themed mine train coaster to Octoberfest. It signaled the first time the park would install an alternatively-themed attraction to a previously established themed area (more about Adventure Express in a later blog…).
In 2002, the Sling Shot attraction was added to the approximate area where the Bayern Kurve once existed. Then in 2003, the original Kings Island Beirgarten and Brat stand – “Oktoberfest Gardens” gave way to a complete re-theme. The exterior food stand was converted to “Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Shack” and the beirgarten was re-themed to Lieutenant Dan’s. When the Paramount movie theming was removed, it was again renamed “Outer Hanks” and saw the German beirgarten restored (now called the “Budweiser Moerlein Beirgarten”). Finally, after falling into years of disrepair, the Festhaus glockenspiel was inoperable and the decision was made to remove it prior to the 2014 season.
Today, very little remains of the original “Oktoberfest” themed area. Time, and guest dis-interest, has dictated the change. But without a doubt, its former attractions hold many memories for guests from seasons past.