- Cullman, Alabama


September 25, 2011

Community heritage comes to forefront in Oktoberfest

CULLMAN — This year marks the 30th anniversary of Oktoberfest, a much anticipated annual event in downtown Cullman. The community celebration is recognized as the harbinger of fall, when crisp apples, colorful pumpkins, gourds, mounds of sweet potatoes, and other local fruits and vegetables are ripe for harvest.

The convivial atmosphere, entertainment, various vendors and a multitude of scheduled events brings in lots of tourists, as well as giving Cullman Countians a place to gather to celebrate the changing seasons and their German heritage.

Oktoberfest comes at just the right time of year, the first days of sweater weather, a time when farmers can take a break from a long hot summer of hard work, and when people are ready to relax and catch their breath before winter sets in.

 According to Ernest Hauk, spokesman for the Oktoberfest Board, “The idea of a German festival was conceived around 1978. The local historical society had begun having Sunday afternoon ceremonies at the museum gazebo, with speeches about local history and a German band. This sparked an interest in our history among the community,” Hauk explained.

Hauk recognized Edna Earle Arnold, Mary Carson Glasscock, and other members of the historical society at the time, as being instrumental in getting the festival off and running. Cullman’s first Oktoberfest was held October 9-17, 1982.

In the early days the vendors set up on the streets and in tents near the same area where the Festhalle Market Platz now holds pride of place in the city’s revamped warehouse district.

“Once the Festhalle was built everyone moved there,” Hauk recalled. “When it first began there were sometimes gatherings of 20-25 people, now there are times when several hundred people are gathered during the days of the festival, although that number fluctuates from daytime through the evening depending on what activities are scheduled.”

The festival attracts people for any number of reasons — some love to hear the German music and dance the polka, others like the authentic German food offered by various vendors, restaurants and other organizations. Some people just like to socialize, sitting at the outdoor cafés and watching the people who come to shop as they browse through the offerings at the Festhalle Market Platz and the Sacred Heart street sale, or take part in the many other activities.

 “Oktoberfest endears people to this community, focuses on our pride and heritage and has been carried on by people who want to preserve that legacy,” said Hauk.

Hauk has become a driving force on the Oktoberfest Board, and is just one of the keepers of the flame, so to speak, of the background and history of the festival, the city and the county. Oktoberfest is not a function of the City or the County of Cullman, but rather of the Oktoberfest Board, a non-profit organization whose members rotate in and out about every four years. 

This year, the board which governs Oktoberfest was faced with the dilemma of whether or not to serve beer at the festival. Since the city voted to serve alcohol in licensed businesses in the city, this has been a hot topic among the citizens of Cullman. “The Oktoberfest Board discussed it at length, and out of respect for both those who were opposed to and in favor of the vote, we wanted to ease into this new realm slowly and carefully, making sure that we did it the right way,” Hauk explained. “Since this is the first year, and we don’t really know how it will effect Oktoberfest, we decided to abstain from serving alcohol.”

Hauk did not rule out serving beer in the future, but for now, the status quo prevails, at least in the open, public areas of the festival near the Festhalle Market Platz. There will, however, be a biergarten in the Rotunda, sponsored by Smith Farms. Beer will also be available at four other venues during Oktoberfest.

“I think the whole idea is just a great way to make sure that we don’t ever lose our heritage,” said Hauk. “So many people have been involved over the past 30 years and lots of them have learned that oral history was the best form of passing down traditions through the generations. Many of these volunteers worked hard to emphasize that our German heritage was a thing to be proud of.” That oral history will come alive during Oktoberfest with Stories From The Past Living History Cemetery Tour, hosted by the historical society, which will also host walking tours in the city. Visitors can travel by bus from the Festhalle Market Platz to the cemetery or join the city walking tour.

 The ribbon cutting will be the first Saturday of Oktoberfest at the Festhalle Market Platz and opening ceremonies will be Sunday, Oct. 2.

This year’s festivities will reflect the 30 years of tradition, with the election of the burgermeister being one of the most cherished traditions. There will be hearty German fare served up with flair at several venues over the course of the week. The Boy Scouts will serve meals as well as TP Country Club, the All Steak Restaurant, Rumor’s Deli, The Downtown Grill, Al’s Doghouse, Design and Dine at the Painted Bisquet, Sacred Heart Catholic Church, St. John’s Evangelical Protestant Church and St. Paul’s School will all be participating in these much anticipated evening meals for the whole community.

The downtown area, ravaged by the spring tornadoes has worked hard to clean up all the debris and most stores now have sparkling windows filled with merchandise to tempt visitors to Oktoberfest, with extended shopping hours, children’s activities, and music on Friday evening. There will be something for everyone as the festivities continue throughout the week, such as the barbecue challenge, which is new to the festival. Sanctioned by Governor Bentley as an annual event, this promises to be a crowd pleaser, with plenty of barbecue dished up by several local barbecue experts. Sponsored by the Bama Club, this event will be held at the fairgrounds. There is a $5 admission fee at the gate.

Of course, where two or more German descendants are gathered, there are always bratwursts around somewhere, and this festival is no exception. Not only will there be brats for sale by vendors, but there is a time-honored contest to see who can eat the most of the juicy treats.

On the first Saturday there will be a car show, Girl Scout Night is on Tuesday. One can enjoy the sounds of German folk music throughout the week with Die Mitternaechters and Terry Cavanagh and The Alpine Express, along with Wolfgang Moritz — a favorite of the crowds that flock to hear his accordion renditions of traditional German songs. The Wallace State Singers, Cullman High School Chorus and East and West Elementary Singers will also add their voices to the festivities. The Cullman Community Band will perform at 5:30 p.m. Monday.

There will be a photo contest, which must reflect Oktoberfest in some way. Cash prizes will be awarded to the top two winners, and a T-shirt goes to the third place winner. The photos will be used in magazines to promote Oktoberfest.

On the second Saturday the Cullman County Arts and Crafts Fair will be held at Depot Park. There will also be a shred-a-thon, and a student art show, sponsored by the Cullman Arts Counsel, both 5- and 10K runs, as well as a weiner dog race and kinder art park. The conclusion of the week-long event will be the Burgermeister Ball, held the second Saturday of Oktoberfest, at the McGukin Civic Center.

Each Wednesday during the month of September, there will be polka classes at the Donald E. Green Senior Center from 7 to 8 p.m., sponsored by the First United Methodist Church. No admission will be charged for this activity.

Schedules will be available outlining the events at the Cullman County Museum, and from local merchants. For more information, contact the Cullman County Museum, 211 2nd Ave. N.E.; 1-800-533-1258; or visit Cullman County Museum on Facebook or Twitter.

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