Monday, September 24, 2012

Oktoberfest in Addison

Since 1810, the original Oktoberfest has been held in Munich, Germany, and it’s the world’s largest fair, which lasts seventeen days from late September to October. Visitors of the event can indulge in traditional German staples including food, dancing, and of course, beer. Across the world, German communities conduct their own festivals near the first of October to celebrate their heritage. And let’s be honest, people like an occasion to drink. This past weekend, I visited Addison, Texas for its twenty fifth annual Oktoberfest, and it’s slightly amazing how well the festival integrated alcohol, traditions, and carnival rides into a family event that was fun and suitable for all ages.

Mustache man says, 'Recycle.'

There are very few celebrations more associated with beer than Oktoberfest. According to Wikipedia, there was almost seven million liters of beer served at the 2007 Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. At the Addison festival there was at least a three to one person to beer cup ratio with a large portion of them holding beer mugs in various shapes and sizes. There were two main stage venues, one outside and inside, and both regularly conducted the traditional German toast. And you might not be German or understand the language, but when there was a toast, everyone with a cup raised it, chanted, and chugged.

On the lawn of the Addison Circle Park, the outside performance grounds rested in the back of a crevasse surrounded by shaded trees. Unfortunately, the event started at noon, and visitors were reluctant to sit on the stadium like ridges of the grassy grounds because it was sunny without a cloud in sight. But from the comforts of shade, we distantly watched children and adults dressed in traditional German costumes perform several customary dances. And at the end of one of the performances, they invited all the children from the crowd to form a large circle, and they performed the German (ibid Americanized) chicken dance. My dad was really excited about the chicken dance because it’s the only German song and dance that he knows, and he was slightly disappointed that we only heard it once.

Snoopy was on break so we couldn't get a picture.

After a while we wondered through the grounds past several booths to take a picture of an Addison ambulance truck because my sister’s a paramedic and she’s into that sort of thing. Across from the ambulance sat a bright red triplane behind a small rope and plaque. And even though the festival celebrated traditions predating the Nazis and World War II, it was interesting to note that the only remnant from that era was almost hidden in the corner of the grounds.

A small infinity of tables.

We were slightly hungry so we ventured through the massive tent-like dining hall, and we were greeted with ribbons and several Oktoberfest banners hanging over rows and rows of benches. On the side, there were lines and counters to order food and drinks, and the columns of benches were divided by a stage and dance floor. Since we arrived a little early, the lines were clear and most of the benches were empty so for a few minutes we sat and enjoyed our frankfurters while a German instrument band played traditional songs and children sporadically danced on the dance floor. The dancing was sporadic, not the children. It’s interesting how the instrument band composed primarily of senior citizens catered to the whims of numinous children flailing around. Also, my dad mentioned his frankfurter was dry, but I thought it was fine, and there was a wide variety of other German foods. While I was randomly looking through the Oktoberfest banners from previous years, I was reminded of how long the annual festival has occurred in Addison, Texas. Sure, it hasn’t been there since 1810, but the first banner on the far end of the tent was from 1988, the year that I was born. And just by looking through the faces of eclectic visitors, it’s not hard to believe that some of the attendees were there at the first event, and the festival was as much a part of their history as their German heritage itself.

I added ketchup, mustard, and mayo on my frankfurter.
And I know somewhere that would make someone cringe.

For a while we walked throughout the grounds, and as the day progressed more and more people filed through the fair. Behind the rows of portal potties, there was a sports building with two large screens projecting NCAA football games with several tables and a wine booth. And there were actual toilets; if you’re at an outdoor event, you should always look for buildings with actual toilets. Outside there were craft booths and festival foods, and the park had several fountain sprays where kids played in the water and canals where teens soaked their legs. Across the road there were standard carnival rides such as the zipper, Starship 3000, and the Ferris wheel. Unfortunately, each ride was four coupons, which wouldn’t mean much until you recall that each ticket costs a dollar. To put things into perspective, a bottled water cost three coupons, and a cup of beer cost five. On a lighter note, the organizers of the event found a way to prevent drunk college kids from riding a bunch of rides.

A couple watches children in inflatable bubbles play in a small pool of water. 
I thought of typing something sarcastic, but sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.

Throughout the day we occasionally visited the dining hall, and it progressively became packed as the early autumn’s heat continued. We watched customary courting dances with benches and knee smacking and traditional bell ringing solos from young musicians; all performed in traditional German costumes in a humid tent full of hundreds of spectators with brimming cups of beer. After several performances from local German clubs, there was a young band composed for four siblings, 3rd Generation. Like their name implied, the siblings were third generation Germans living in Texas and performed traditional German songs with a bass, drums, accordion, and fiddle. Admittedly, I don’t know where else a band with an accordion and fiddle would find a gig outside of the Oktoberfest circuit, but even with their rooted Texan accents, their German sounded fluent and jubilant in front of the crowd. And with their upbeat tempo and pleasant banter with themselves and their parents, you can tell they embraced their heritage, and they were proud to represent their culture through their music to both Germans and newcomers alike.

Personally, I would be the first person to tell you that I’m culturally detached from my native heritage. Although my grandparents emigrated from the Philippines, I don’t speak the regional language or know of their customary traditions. And despite the fact that there are several local events celebrating a town or city’s history, there aren’t a lot of festivals devoted to a minorities’ homeland. Sure, St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo are associated with their respective countries, but neither event attempts to inform and embrace it’s traditions with their participants. You just drink. And even though Oktoberfest is associated with drinking, it’s also connected with its culture through food, music, and dancing. It’s a place where native Germans can feel at home and novices can feel welcomed.

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