Celebrating My German heritage at the Portage County Oktoberfest

The first dance on the pavilion floor at last week’s Oktoberfest featured men in lederhosen and women in traditional alpine dresses dancing a Schuhplattler while holding Seidels. The dancers even drank from their Seidels during the dance, at which point I shouted to brother Stuart over the loud music, “I want to join this group!” Schuhplattler  is a traditional German style of dancing, lederhosen are the short leather trousers worn with suspenders and often with checked shirts, the traditional costumes are known as tracht, or trachten, and Seidels are the famous 1-liter glass mugs that waitresses at German bier halls hoist three to a hand.
I was attending, with my wife and brother, the German Family Society of Akron’s 40th annual Oktoberfest at Donau Park near Brimfield, in Portage County, and after watching a couple dances sitting at a picnic table I stood up to gain a better view, and soon my foot was tapping in time to the polkas and landlers. The high point of the dancing came when dancers in groups of two couples intertwined arms, the men in the center facing opposite directions left shoulder to left shoulder, each man with a woman on his right shoulder, and began twirling until the women lifted off the floor. They kept that up for quite a long time in terms of the effort required to twirl and hoist. (They were not holding Seidels for that dance.)
I bought a new German hat that evening, one I had first seen in Frankenmuth, Mich. It is black and round, with a blue and white braided band, and is made of soft, comforting wool, with a round brim and tall, pointed crown. From what I’ve found so far it is called simply an alpenhut (alpine hat), which is also the name for the more common German hat; a Sepplhut, Seppl being a cartoon-type character; or a Räuberhut, räuber being robber. My guess is it’s more of a hat from the mountain fastnesses than the more common alpine hat, also called a Tyrolean hat, a Bavarian hat, or a loden hut, the last taken from the type of wool used.
My parents bought my first alpine hat in 1983 in Austria. The pheasant feather ornament cost nearly as much as the hat, and my parents’ former Bavarian exchange student gave me a porcupine fur ornament when she visited my dying mother last November. Both are traditional decorations for the alpine hat, and many people adorn their hats with pins, perhaps stemming from the Volksmarsch tradition of earning pins for 10-kilometer walks. I’m afraid my new hat is considered a costume hat, but I like it nonetheless, and I’ll find some setting where I can wear it. I’m still a bit confused by the names, seeing the same names applied to more than one kind of German hat, so my comments here are far from the final word. It may be that the names apply to several styles of hats, much like American cowboy hats include several variations.
After recovering from the shock of the crowds at the Oktoberfest and finding the line for beer moved more quickly than I feared, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and I felt I was engaging in a historical German tradition and one my parents enjoyed. The first Oktoberfest celebrated the marriage of Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Theresia of Saxonia on Oct. 12, 1810, in Munich, four years after Bavaria became a kingdom. Prince Ludwig later became King Ludwig I, and his wife’s name was given to the fair meadow, “Theresienwiese,” Meadow of Theresia. Today most people in Munich refer to the Oktoberfest as to “Die Wies’n” (the Meadow) and the fair area is still on the “Theresienwiese,” which has become one of Munich’s squares. In those early days Oktoberfest was a five-day celebration, but it has expanded to just over two weeks and begins in September. This year’s Munich Oktoberfest runs Sept. 21 to Oct. 6. The Oktoberfest website is http://www.oktoberfest.de/en/.
Many festivals in the U.S. have misappropriated the term “Oktoberfest,” sometimes in ignorance spelling it Octoberfest, and often such celebrations are mere fall festivals. A true Oktoberfest commemorates the culture of Germany, and I take umbrage at those who take the name in vain. It would be like attending an Irish festival that featured nothing Irish. Have your fall festival, but come up with your own name, and leave the name “Oktoberfest” for we Germans.

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