Dirndls and lederhosen on men, women and children of all ages were abundant this Friday and Saturday at the Sacramento Turn Verein (STV). Friday evening and all day Saturday the organization, founded in 1854 as a gymnastics club, hosted its 44th annual Oktoberfest.
The Turn Verein is a place “where folks with German ancestry and people with an interest in German culture congregate.” From the atmosphere this weekend, the STV has made it easy for families in the Sacramento area to keep their German heritage alive and thriving.
Surrounded by Bavarian blue and white, nearly every moment was filled with great German food, entertainment and company. Differing from typical Oktoberfest celebrations, real German beer brought in from Munich and sausages piled high with sauerkraut were only the tip of the iceberg.
The Gruber Family Band was a great addition to the weekend’s events. The band played throughout, integrating various competitions for Oktoberfest participants, a women’s stein holding contest and a children’s yodeling contest included. Nearly all of the participants wore traditional German dress. One got the feeling that the parents of the young yodelers have been training them for years.
One tiny participant, still too young to officially compete as a yodeler, was 17 month old Riley. Her mother, Cyndi McCluskey, found Riley’s tiny dirndl online. When asked if this was a family tradition, McCluskey responded positively.
“Every year!” She said.
Perhaps Riley will be ready for next year’s yodeling contest.
Later on Saturday night, a supposed men’s stein holding contest was announced. Eager participants gathered only to find that they would actually be participating in a yodeling contest. The results were quite extraordinary, really; the final yodel-off involved some mighty fine yodeling.
The Alpentänzer Schuhplattler, a traditional German folk dancing group, performed numerous times throughout the event. Their dances included a grand march, German hat dance, wooden pole dance and a maypole dance, among others.
Friday evening, the 2011 Turn Verein Oktoberfest maxed out at around a thousand people. This doesn’t usually happen on Friday evening, explained Heinz Ludke, Recording & Financial Secretary of the STV, though they usually reach maximum capacity sometime Saturday evening each year. Already at 4:00 on Saturday, the crowds were larger than usual. The Main Festhalle was full already at 4:30 and only got more packed as the night went on.
A lively rendition of “The Beer Barrel Waltz” really got things going Saturday night. Along with the lulling winding and unwinding of the maypole led by the Alpentänzer Schuhplattler, this perfect Oktoberfest only got better as the night went on.
There were German sing-a-longs and American sing-a-longs, the chicken dance and then the young folk dancers were up again. The dance floor cleared and the strapping young lads remained. There was dancing and box jumping, followed by a go at the Bavarian Hat Dance that broke out into a mock fight between two shirtless lads in lederhosen.
At times, if you found a spot on the dance floor you were lucky; a seat was a near impossibility.
In the upstairs hall, the mood was a bit more modern, with AKAlive rocking the room.
For a quiet escape, you could visit the Kaffeehaus for a cup of Jo(han) and a piece of cake.
Joann Schuler, a member of the Turner Harmonie, the choir that performed several times this weekend, helped man the Kaffeehaus. She seemed delighted to be a part of the event and was perfectly willing to discuss German culture, family stories, and best of all – she offered tips on the best German desserts at the Kaffeehaus.
The fruit basket dessert came highly recommended, as did the Black Forest cake, of course, and the Bienenstich, which Schuler described as containing, “almond and honey and creamy yumminess.”
One of the best parts of the event was the family feeling that filled the air. Everywhere you looked there were children, and large families congregating, usually three generations strong.
“Last time I was forced to wear lederhosen at the age of seven,” said Jordan Hess of Sacramento, “and now at the age of 27, I get to enjoy the beer!”
Hess’s parents were married at the Turn Verein and his grandfather participated in the STV soccer league in the 70’s. Saturday night it was just him and his younger sister Aubrey, who recently returned from a lengthy study abroad in Bremen.
Outside, both sides of the hall were flanked by a beer garden. While the white plastic chairs in the Turn Verein Biergarten were less charming than the wooden picnic tables in Bavarian beer gardens, everything else about the event certainly held its own.
I’ve been to the Hofbräuhaus, to a beer hall in southern Bavaria and a biergarten in Munich’s city park, but I never imagined that I would find such an enjoyable event right here in the middle of Sacramento.
“Durst ist schlimmer als Heimweh!” reads a sign in the main Festhalle.
“Thirst is worse than homesickness.”
There are many Oktoberfests that excel in celebrating drinking delicious German beer a liter at a time, but the Sacramento Turn Verein does much more than that – although there was plenty of good beer to go around. They show off the marvelous methods of celebration in Bavaria, bringing out German American families and friends for a night of celebrating what they are and what they have, a shared German heritage.
Late Saturday evening, while the rest of The Gruber Family Band took a break, Michael Gruber played “Amazing Grace” on what can only be described as a super-length beer bong. I had been there for almost six hours and I wanted to go home so badly. At the same time, I knew that if I went home, this magical German world would disappear.
Until next year.