CULLMAN — Sixteen-year-old John David Watson came from Jasper Saturday to enjoy the first day of Cullman Oktoberfest, and he wasn’t going to let a little something like 50-degree temperatures ruin his fun.
“Aside from the fact that’s it’s really cold, this is great,” Watson said while wandering downtown with his brother and uncle. “It’s really cool to see the clothes and the music. The atmosphere is great and everyone has been really friendly.”
Several hundred turned out for the Saturday festivities, including the ceremonial ribbon cutting and first-ever beer keg tapping at Festhalle Market Platz, the event’s official downtown home.
Oktoberfest board member Ernest Hauk said turnout has been solid, despite the low temps.
“We had a great start with the [Sacred Heart] German festival at 6 a.m. and it looks like folks are really coming out to support the event,” he said.
Hauk and outgoing honorary Burgermeister Michael Sullins tapped the keg, which was filled to the brim with Samuel Adams’ Octoberfest brew. Though a beer keg was tapped for the first-time last year at the nearby Smith Farms biergarten at the Rotunda on Clark Street, this is the first time beer has been an official part of the festivities under the Oktoberfest board.
The Cullman festival has been known nationally in recent decades as the largest “dry” Oktoberfest in the country. Alcohol sales were only introduced last year, following the 2010 legalization of alcohol sales in the city by a referendum vote.
For Hauk, it’s a change that couldn’t have come soon enough.
“Last year was awesome because we were able to introduce beer at the festival, and this year it’s just incredible to finally have beer at Festhalle,” Hauk said. “This is truly an Oktoberfest celebration now.”
Germany native Gabriele Wooten visited the area for her first local Oktoberfest Saturday. Wooten said Cullman’s festivities were obviously on a smaller scale than the traditional Oktoberfest in Germany — but she said Cullman’s event definitely has that authentic charm.
“The atmosphere seems great,” she said, spending time with friends under Festhalle. “The one in Germany is great, but you actually have to make reservations a year in advance to get into some of the beer halls.”
Karen Naramore, a Birmingham resident, brought her family up for the festival after seeing it advertised in the area.
“We’ve never been, but we always to go the Birmingham Oktoberfest, so we thought it could be fun to check this one out,” she said. “So far, so good, it’s been a lot of fun.”
With much of the crowd bundled up in jackets and gloves, interim Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce President Leah Bolin joked the cool weather could be a positive selling point — noting it’s a lot like authentic German weather.
“It feels a lot like a cool day in Germany to me,” she laughed. “But, it’s been a great day. There are folks lined up down the street shopping and it looks like a great turnout for everyone.”
Festivities continue Sunday with the official opening ceremonies and root beer keg tapping at 1:30 p.m. at Festhalle Market Platz. The downtown festival runs the remainder of the week.
‰ Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.