The celebration of all things German moves into the 2100 Park St. location Friday, Sept. 24, through Sunday, Sept. 26, for its 50th anniversary, with the food, costumes, beer, music and dancing of Deutschland and a lineup of entertainment that features world-famous musician and bandleader Jimmy Sturr. The festival is making its debut at the market, having been held for more than 30 years at Liverpool’s Long Branch Park before moving to Clinton Square in 1994.
“Long Branch was beautiful,” recalls Klaus Raith, vice president of the German-American Society of Central New York and Oktoberfest chairman. “But going downtown we got a lot more people. We would draw about 30,000 people in three days.”
Unfortunately, a cold, rainy weekend ruined Oktoberfest last year, leading the group to rethink the location. “It was disappointing to go for much of the year planning for the event only to find that, because of weather, we faced a loss,” explains Jim Kozlowski, treasurer of the German-American Society. “It’s our major fund-raiser for the year. So this year, we were looking at a much larger entertainment tent to protect those who come to the fair from inclement weather and Clinton Square could not accommodate such a tent. So when we were looking for another site, the Regional Market came to mind.”
Oktoberfest organizers are excited about celebrating their 50th year with a fresh start in a new location, protected from the disastrous misfortune of 2009. “I’m really looking forward to it,” Raith says. “The market is beautiful, all kinds of parking. We have a much better facility, a much better layout. We could never put a tent like that—80-by-210-foot—downtown. Everything will be inside one tent. That kind of protects us because last year the rain really killed us.”
Oom-pah-pah!: Scenes from Oktoberfests past include state Sen. John DeFancisco blowing the Alpine
horn in 2006, and general German-flavored revelry. MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTOS
The festival’s new home will host many of the old traditions that have become associated with German culture, including the strong flavors of German cuisine, itself enough to attract many hungry visitors to the huge tent. “We don’t presume to provide all German dishes,” Kozlowski concedes. “But we have sauerbraten and rouladen, a rolled beef, marinated and spiced. We have bratwurst and salt potatoes, which were made popular by a German business, Hinerwadel’s in North Syracuse, and potato pancakes, of course. They’re all reasonably priced. I think the price for a potato pancake has been a dollar for many, many years and will continue to be so. I don’t think we’ll have anything priced over $10. So you don’t have to spend a fortune.”
Dinner can be topped off with a rich chocolate dessert, including the renowned German chocolate cake, and a hearty beverage from the old country. “The beer comes direct from Munich,” Raith points out. “Spaten Beer is the same beer we have at the Oktoberfest in Munich. It’s one of Munich’s brewers. We also have great wine, riesling, liebfraumilch, five or six different kinds.”
Honoring ties to Munich is central to any Oktoberfest as the observance originated there two centuries ago. “This year in Munich is the 200th Oktoberfest,” the German-born Raith says. “The first was to celebrate the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig to Maria Therese in 1810. So we have the 50th and they have the 200th.”
Organizers are taking no chances with living up to the prestige of the Oktoberfest tradition, booking a performance by Sturr, a true giant of ethnic recordings. The 18-time Grammy winner and his orchestra are perhaps a surprising choice for those who know the multi-instrumentalist as the King of the Polka, a style of music and dance most Americans associate with Poland.
“There is a tradition of German polka music that they’ll be focusing on,” Kozlowski says. “They will do German selections. The polka has a tradition in Germany, just as it does in Poland.”
The music schedule, in addition to Sturr, includes both traditional German-style acts and good old American rock bands. The most unusual act is likely the Enzian Bavarian Band that features Raith playing an instrument that is indeed rare in this part of the world. “I play a zither with 40 strings,” Raith says. “There’s nobody around here that plays that instrument.” The zither was made famous in America by the 1949 movie The Third Man. Anton Karas’ haunting theme to the film noir classic is one of the few brushes with fame for the unusual instrument, related to the dulcimer and the autoharp.
The music schedule also features a men’s chorus, Deutsche Gesangverein, on Saturday afternoon, Sept. 25, and a mixed chorus, Syracuse Liederverein, on Sunday afternoon. Local bands Kane and 3 Inch Fury will rock Friday night, while Syracuse favorite Under The Gun follows Sturr’s 4 to 7 p.m. performance on Saturday.
“We find that’s a way of reaching out to those who may not have been exposed to the German cultural influence so much and hope to give them a little taste for it,” Kozlowski explains. “We hope that they’ll come back in the future when the more authentic German music is being played. We hear from our members who go back to Germany that this is also what’s happening in Germany for Oktoberfest.”
Sunday is family day, with clowns and magicians performing. The complete entertainment lineup is on the organization’s website, www.germanamericanscny.net.
Another tradition being honored is that of the German-American Society using the proceeds of Oktoberfest to support philanthropy in the community. The current organization has roots in earlier German-inspired groups dating back to the 19th century. “These were organizations that many German immigrants joined and they did a variety of social and educational services for their members in those years,” Kozlowski says. “As the clubhouse, which was on Catherine Street, was sold, the funds were put into an account that was used for charitable purposes. Last year we gave out almost $6,000 in scholarships to area students who had four years of German studies in high school and who were then pursuing some form of post-high school training for career or college studies. We gave support to two German choruses in the area. We made donations to a local food bank.”
This year, the Interreligious Food Consortium will have a presence at Oktoberfest. “The Oktoberfest is a fall harvest festival,” Kozlowski points out. “And the spirit of sharing the bounty of the harvest can be expressed by donating a canned or other non-perishable food item.”
Although food and drinks sales will provide most of the profits, attendees older than age 16 will be asked for a $3 donation to support the causes. “It’s to help cover some of the increased cost of putting on the event,” Kozlowski explains. “We’ll have daily drawings for door prizes for everyone who provided the donation.” Prizes, some donated by sponsors, include gift cards, cash and T-shirts. Baskets loaded with German treats will also be raffled.
The Regional Market’s typical weekend events will go on as usual, with the farmers market on Saturday and the flea market Sunday, both running from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day, while Oktoberfest organizers plan their festivities around the shopping. “Generally their events start in the morning and we start at noon,” Kozlowski says. “So, while they’re winding down, we’re gearing up and we think there will be people who will go to both. People know just where it is, when you mention the Regional Market. So with the free parking and easy access and bus service, it’s going to offer us a lot of advantages.”
Folk dancing lessons will be held on a parquet floor being assembled just for the dancers, many of whom will wear German costumes. “If people have German clothing, lederhosen and dirndls, they’re encouraged to wear them,” Kozlowski emphasizes. “They have quite a few traditions, ornaments on their headwear like feathers or pins. It depends on where in Germany you’re from, Bavaria as opposed to the Rhineland. You’ll be encouraged to ask people about their hats and where they come from.”
You don’t have to have German ancestry to enjoy the spirited fun of Oktoberfest, says Kozlowski, whose father was Polish-American and who is part German and Dutch through his mother. “I was introduced to the German-American choruses about six years ago and participated,” he says. “It was from there that I got involved with being a member of the German-American Society and was asked to participate more as an officer and board member. I’m German almost by choice. Americans who may not have a strong cultural history with Germany can still appreciate it and can participate and share in the joy of what they bring.”
In other words, there’ll be plenty of gemutlichkeit for everybody at the Great Syracuse Oktoberfest.