It's that time of year to grab a bratwurst and a stein of beer and groove to polka music.

The Columbus Oktoberfest will be held Sept. 7 to 9 at the Ohio Expo Center & State Fair, 717 E. 17th Ave. in Columbus.

The 52nd annual event will be spread through three covered pavilions and is expected to draw more than 35,000 people, said Carla Epler, executive director of the event.

"We're pretty weatherproof, so the rain never dampens our party at all," said Epler, also COO of German Village's Schmidt's Sausage Haus und Restaurant, which produces the event.

Admission is free, but parking at the Expo Center costs $10.

Traditional and modern German food -- from schnitzel and potato pancakes to Schmidt's famous cream puffs -- will be available for purchase.

Those who want to test their appetites can enter the gut-busting cream puff-eating contest, slated for 6 p.m. Sept. 9.

Other contests include the stein hoist at 8 p.m. Sept. 8, and the stone-throwing contest at 3:30 p.m. Sept. 8 and Sept. 9. Men will throw a 138-pound rock and women will toss a 75-pound stone.

"It's amazing," Epler said. "Some of the women don't look like they can pick up this stone, let alone throw it very far. Mighty things come in tiny packages."

Ohio State University fans also shouldn't shy away from Oktoberfest because the Buckeyes' game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, slated for 3:30 p.m. Sept. 8, will be shown on TVs, Epler said.

Fans with tickets to the game still can park at the Expo Center's Central Ohio Transit Authority Park & Ride and take the bus to Ohio Stadium, allowing them to celebrate German-style before and after the game, she said.

A new addition to the festival is Hofbrauhaus Prost Hall, which will replace the Schmidt's Prost Hall; locally crafted beer and wine will be served there.

The Heidelberg Beer Hall, meanwhile, will offer imported German beers and an expanded wine selection.

Live entertainment is a significant part of Oktoberfest, and it includes everything from modern music to traditional German bands.

The Chardon Polka Band from near Cleveland combines both contemporary melodies and vintage sounds, which should appeal to all generations, Epler said.

"They fit in so perfectly with Oktoberfest," she said "They're very upbeat and they get everyone engaged in what they're doing."

As for other attractions, the "kinderplatz" will offer activities for youngsters and families in the Ohio Department of Natural Resources area, and arts and crafts vendors and food demonstrations will be at the Giant Eagle Marktplatz Pavilion.

Geoff Schmidt, a partner in Schmidt's restaurant, said Oktoberfest had to be held earlier this year because of a scheduling conflict. It usually is the last weekend in September to coincide with Oktoberfest in Munich.

For more information, go to www.columbusoktoberfest.com.

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary