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The Scarlet & Black

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Feven Getachew
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Michael Lozada
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Harvey Wilhelm `24.
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Thirsty Iowa families celebrate a German tradition

This Saturday, my boyfriend Charlie and I decided to go for a relaxing dinner date at the Amana Colonies. When we arrived at the Ox Yolk Inn, a middle-aged woman vomiting in the bushes and wearing a massive Bavarian hat informed us that this was no ordinary weekend—indeed, it was Oktoberfest in the Colonies!

Oktoberfest is a 16 to 18 day festival that began in 1810 to celebrate the wedding of King Ludwig I and Princess Theresa of Hildburghausen. Though Oktoberfest is now celebrated all over the world, the original event is held in Munich and runs from late September to early October, drawing in more than five million attendees every year. As most Americans know, the festival is characterized by copious amounts of beer and plentiful German delicacies such as würst and sauerkraut. This year, Munich is hosting a particularly special Oktoberfest, for 2010 marks the 200th anniversary of the festival.

The Amana Colonies, which began with a group of Germans who immigrated to Iowa in 1855, have kept their German roots alive by celebrating an abbreviated Oktoberfest annually. This year, the event ran from the morning of Friday, October 1 to the following night and boasted art exhibits, crafts and games for children, several plays, a parade, live music, traditional German cuisine and—of course—a beer tent.

Oblivious to the packed schedule, Charlie and I spent most of our time munching on German roasted nuts and simply basking in the festive atmosphere. Unbeknownst to us, we were not the only Grinnell students to partake in the event. The German Department provided a bus for interested students, one of whom was German Language Assistant Lina Weber. According to Weber, around 12 students traveled to the Colonies at 9 a.m. and stayed until 5 p.m., watching the parade, dining and window shopping—but not drinking beer.

“We bought some to bring home,” Weber said.

Weber, who is from Berlin, Germany, explained that she has never been to the actual Oktoberfest in Munich, so she cannot say whether or not the Amana Colony’s version of the event is completely authentic. However, from what she has always understood about Oktoberfest, one difference did occur to her.

“In Germany everybody just gets super drunk in a tent,” Weber said. “Here it was more of a family thing … more kids.”

Perhaps too many kids—Weber’s favorite part of the day was the parade, which featured fancy old cars, floats with various autumn displays and a veritable shower of sweets, but the horde of hungry kids hindered her candy intake.

“We were screaming, but nobody threw us anything.” Weber said with woebegone eyes.

Remembering the retching woman outside of the restaurant, I suggested that perhaps the students left on the bus before the real debauchery began. Weber was unconvinced.

“In Germany, they start getting drunk early. People are definitely less drunk here.”

The Amana Colonies, which began as a religious commune and still, according to their website, define themselves as a “thriving community bound by religious faith,” probably do not see this as a downfall of their Oktoberfest. Indeed, they can certainly pride themselves in creating a fun and—comparatively—family-friendly version of the German tradition.

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    Bruce AndersonOct 12, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    Great story, Maia! We haven’t made much of our German-American heritage, but you DO realize Granny A is 100% Grade-A German-American stock, right (making you 25% German-American)?!?

    When I was a wee lad I attended the Stiftungsfest (Founders’ Day Festival) in Norwood-Young America (Grandma A’s home town) several times. I don’t remember anyone retching in the bushes — it must be a less beer-guzzling-oriented event than Oktoberfest.