Cullman's

Cullman's Oktoberfest centerpiece (Creative Commons/Brian Arnold)

Dreams Really Do Come True: Beer in Cullman reads T-shirts at Cullman, Alabama's first wet Oktoberfest since its inception in 1977.

With a combination of Bible Belt values and strong German routes, it took decades for the once-divided town of Cullman to finally turn over its dry spell. On Nov. 2, 2010, voters approved the sale of alcohol by a close margin, making this year's festival the first time the city will see beer at Oktoberfest!

The first keg was tapped Monday by Burgermeister Michael Sullins, an honorary Oktoberfest chairman, with a crowd of 150 local citizens cheering on.

So what was an Oktoberfest without beer?

In 1977, the first Oktoberfest was created by a church group to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the German event. However, since beer was illegal in Cullman County, the town of Cullman tapped into a keg of root beer - a tradition which continues today, as the keg of root beer was tapped a day prior to its alcoholic alternative.

The official drink of the festival later became Oktoberzest, the county's own brew of (nonalcoholic) sparkling apple cider.

The event usually brings out a small group of about 8,000 attendees participating in car shows and beauty pageants. While those in Germany were drinking seven million liters of beer and riding an assortment of amusment park rides, the big draw in Cullman was a collection of hay bales created to look like a German couple.

German roots

Cullman Alabama, located 50 miles outside of Birmingham, was founded in 1873 by German refugee John Cullmann (the town's namesake, without the additional n). About 10,000 German immigrants followed in Cullmann's footsteps settling the town.

The northern Alabama town kept to its German routes from the start. Cullmann published a German-language newspaper and designed the town with wide streets common in European cities.

Tourism Potential

Previously, many tourist stayed away from the Cullman Oktoberfest after hearing it was beer-free. Baran Tubbs, a former tourism department worker, recounted the negative reactions she received from tourists finding out the event did not involve real beer.

We'd have tourism buses come in for the events, but when they realized we didn't have alcohol sales, they would go to a nearby city like Decatur to stay and have their evening meal, Baran told the Cullman Times. They would just come see the attraction, then leave and spend the night and eat somewhere else.

Town reactions

Many in town couldn't be happier that beer is finally served at Oktoberfest, yet there is often a stigma attached to drinking in a town that has been dry for so long.

I think once people get over being worried about who's going to see them drinking ... it will just grow and grow, Ernest Hauk, chairman of the Oktoberfest committee, told The Associated Press.

Burgermeister Michael Sullins and former Burgermeister Ernest Hauk encouraged responsible drinking in their opening speech.

There is no doubt that this is a historic event, not only for Oktoberfest but for Cullman, as well, Hauk told the Cullman Times. As evidenced by the crowd here, I think we'll see more participation than ever. I feel certain the citizens will drink responsibly.

A brick building near the previous dry Oktoberfest location was converted into a beer garden selling $4 drafts, a bargain compared to the German Oktoberfest's average $12 brew.

Citizens like Frances McElveen, who was among the first in line for a draft, couldn't be more excited about the event.

I think it's wonderful, she told the Cullman Times. I can remember my mom and dad always telling us about when it was wet.

The town's reaction was evidenced in the numbers - the new beer-friendly garden was filled with twice the amount of people as the dry site, located only 50 yards away. Residents dressed up in traditional German clothes and cheered on a stein-hoisting contest, where participants hold their brew raised in the air for as long as possible. Many new residents, who never attended before, showed up to enjoy dancing and German bratwurst.