Oktoberfest celebrations bring taste of Germany to Ohio

By Mary Beth Breckenridge
Beacon Journal home writer

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Tanzgruppe (the adult dance group) of the German Family Society of Brimfield dances during Oktoberfest. Photo by club member David Hall

Raise a stein and pass the mustard. It’s Oktoberfest time again.

The German rite of fall will be celebrated at festivals all over Northeast Ohio in the coming weeks. Some are modeled after the original blowout that draws millions to Munich each year. Others bear more of a passing resemblance.

In the Akron area, the most authentic Oktoberfest is put on by the German Family Society, which is gearing up for its annual celebration this weekend at Donau Park, its meeting ground in Brimfield Township.

This is the 40th year for the Brimfield Oktoberfest, which started in 1974, the year after the club moved to its present home.

The group prides itself on the authenticity of its celebration, said Rudy Stagl, the interim president. “We don’t bring in the funnel cakes and Italian sausage,” he said.

Instead, the festival features German food, entertainment and activities, as well as a biergarten where festival-goers can socialize and enjoy a brew. Even the intricate table coverings are authentic, provided by women in the club.

There will be one concession to American culture: A 47-inch TV will be brought out to the biergarten Sunday to show the Browns game.

Throughout the festival, German dances will be performed by groups ranging in age from 3 to adult. Stagl said one of the crowd favorites is a dance move called flying, which involves groups of four adults – two men and two women – spinning quickly in a circle until the women’s feet lift off the ground and their bodies are almost horizontal.

Watching it can be a little nerve-wracking, he said. “It’s a tricky dance. There’s times they [the women] get a little close.”

Another crowd pleaser is the beer keg tapping on Friday and Saturday nights, Stagl said. It starts with dancers and festival-goers parading a wooden keg from Germany from the pavilion to the biergarten and ends with everyone lining up for a free glass of beer.

But the biggest draw, he said, is the food. It’s all made by club members.

Around 18 members of the ladies’ auxiliary spend four seven- or eight-hour days preparing German favorites, starting in July, said Helga Hippich, the auxiliary president. Already the group has made more than 4,000 schnitzels and 3,400 cabbage rolls, using recipes that have been with the club for years. They’ll turn 2,000 pounds of potatoes into German potato salad and add their special touches to the sauerkraut, which Hippich said are the festival’s two culinary highlights.

In addition, the men in the club make 1,300 pounds of homemade sausage and will be cooking around 400 rotisserie chickens over the course of the weekend, Hippich said.

“It is all volunteers,” she said. “No one gets paid.”

Hippich said the Oktoberfest has grown so popular that she’s had to increase the food supply each year. Even last year’s storms that raged all weekend and knocked down some of the smaller tents didn’t keep people away.

“It was still a record breaker,” she said. “… They’ll come rain or shine.”

Organizers of the Cuyahoga Falls Oktoberfest and Woosterfest are hoping the same is true for their events, planned for later in September.

The Falls and Wooster events are less traditional in their approaches than the Brimfield celebration. Think street fairs with a German theme.

The Cuyahoga Falls Oktoberfest, Sept. 13 to 15, is marking its 34th year at Riverfront Square. Chairman Mike Thomas said the event will feature three or four vendors offering authentic German foods, as well as German entertainment and German craft vendors from Frankenmuth, Mich. But they’ll share the spotlight with more mainstream acts, foods and activities, he said.

German-style wines will be served, along with Yuengling’s light lager and Oktoberfest beer.

OK, it’s not German beer, Thomas conceded. “If you go with German beer, it gets very expensive, and then you don’t have a very happy crowd,” he said.

Thomas said a highlight of the Cuyahoga Falls fest is Hammerschlagen, a German game that involves driving nails into a log using the spiked end of a special hammer.

As the beer starts to flow, “it gets really comical,” he said. “It’s one of those things you can just stand around and watch all night.”

At the 30th annual Woosterfest, the German flavor will come from German activities, contests and beverages. Unfortunately, it won’t come from German food, said Samira Zimmerly, project coordinator with the Wooster Area Chamber of Commerce, which puts on the event.

Usually the food is provided by Schmidt’s, a German restaurant in Columbus. But this year the dates of Woosterfest — Sept. 27 and 28 — coincide with the Columbus Oktoberfest, and there’s only so much Schmidt’s sausage to go around.

Nevertheless, the downtown Wooster festival will have several vendors offering traditional fair foods. “Hopefully there’s something for everybody,” Zimmerly said.

And there’s more to Woosterfest than just food. Besides entertainment, a cornhole tournament, arts and crafts and a cruise-in, there will be such German offerings as a biergarten and wine area, a beer stein race and a kinderplatz area with children’s activities.

Zimmerly, however, likes the beer stein holding competition, in which contestants vie to see who can hold a full 22-ounce stein at arm’s length the longest.

“It’s funny to see these guys get up there with their egos,” she said. Inevitably they discover holding a beer isn’t as easy as it looks.

And what if German culture isn’t your thing?

St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Massillon has a different kind of Oktoberfest to offer, one with a Mediterranean twist.

The church’s Greek Oktoberfest gets its name not from the German festival, but from the month it’s held. The event is scheduled for Oct. 3 to 5, and the “k” in the name represents the Greek spelling, said Dimitri Verginis, one of the festival’s organizers.

Don’t look for schnitzel and sauerkraut here. The festival will feature Greek foods, beers and wines, dancing by troupes from Greek churches around the region, vendors, church tours and religious elements, including at least one worship service.

October was chosen for the festival because it’s a significant month in Greek history, Verginis said. Oct. 28 is Oxi Day, a commemoration of the Greek prime minister’s defiance of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in World War II. Greece’s refusal to allow Axis forces to occupy parts of its territory prompted an attack by Italian troops, which brought Greece into the war.

And that, Verginis said, is a reason to celebrate.

Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or mbrecken@thebeaconjournal.com. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/mbbreck, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckenridge and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.

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