When the Maryland Oktoberfest celebrates its 30th anniversary this weekend at the 5th Regiment Armory, Barbara McCrea will be swirling on the dance floor just like she did that first year back in 1969.
McCrea was 16 then. She and her friends would dance the polka and waltz taught to them as children by their German parents and grandparents.
This weekend, though, she and her husband, Joel, will be performing as part of Immergruen (evergreen), a German folk dancing troupe. And when the deep hem of her dirndl swings with the oompah music, few will realize the time it took to dress in the traditional peasant garb.
Dressing in an everyday dirndl isn't quite as intricate, but when it comes to putting on the layers of the Sunday Best "Fest Tracht," it takes well over an hour. There are stockings and bloomers, a full slip, an embroidered pleated skirt and puffy-sleeved blouse, a jacket and a white bibbed vest with wooden boning that resembles a corset, and then there's the lace shawl that has to be properly pleated and pinned before the corners are tucked into the front of the vest. There's the felt hat that's decorated with handmade golden-threaded braids and tassels. And, for a finishing touch, 5 yards of silver chain to which coins are attached are woven into the vest - signifying a woman's wealth.
"A woman was wearing her dowry on her chest," explains McCrea. "The more the chains and jewelry, the richer she was."
When finally dressed, McCrea's petite frame supports about 15 pounds to 20 pounds of clothing - valued at about $3,000. But the weight doesn't prevent her from dancing the schuhplattler with her husband, who's wearing embroidered lederhosen - bibbed shorts made of leather. A felt hat adorned with a fancy feather tops off his costume.
Mr. McCrea's leather pants show the wear from being slapped during the strenuous schuhplattler, a routine that is based on the colorful mating ritual of the grouse. Dancing in circles, the men jump in the air and slap their leather pants while the women spin like perfect tops.
"For an Irish Scot, he does a mean schuhplattler," says Edith Hagen, a member of the Oktoberfest committee and Mr. McCrea's German mother-in-law.
Just like many Baltimore area families, the McCreas are deeply steeped in German heritage. And what better way to share that heritage than at the Maryland Oktoberfest?
"We try to bring a bit of Bavaria to Baltimore, and you don't have to be German to enjoy the festival ... it's for Americans who, for a few hours, want to experience and share in the German culture," said Frank W. Pramschufer, a lifetime director of the German Society of Maryland and one of the organizers of the first %J Oktoberfest in 1969.
He said the family festival was started 30 years ago to reignite a common interest among the city's 12 German clubs, whose memberships were declining. "It worked; we put on a festival for a standing-room-only crowd. Afterward the clubs in the area grew to 18," said Pramschufer.
That first year, crowds were lining the sidewalk to enter the festival. "The fire marshal was positioned at the door, and whenever two people were leaving, two more were admitted," Pramschufer remembered.
While Maryland puts on its 30th Oktoberfest, the festival's big cousin in Munich dates back to 1810.
It all started with a Royal Bavarian wedding. The crown prince of Bavaria, King Ludwig I, married Princess Therese of Austria, and all over Germany there was merrymaking, beer drinking and dancing. The celebration was so successful that Ludwig declared a festival each year at harvest's end.
After bringing in the crops, you dance a lot, eat a lot and have a general good time.
Jack Carew, president of Mrs. Minnick's Salads, is marinating 1,500 pounds of beef for the sauerbraten that his company will sell at this weekend's festival.
Though the original recipe goes back to his grandmother, it was revised by his mother, who put together the spice selection that Carew bottled and now sells as the main ingredient for sauerbraten.
Carew also hand-rolls about 3,000 potato dumplings and cooks 400 pounds of red cabbage for the Oktoberfest. "And there are no leftovers," he said with a laugh.
If sausages are more to your liking, you can take your pick from weisswurst, knockwurst or bratwurst.
"About 25,000 wurst [sausages] are consumed each year, along with 2,500 schnitzels," said Bob Sheppard, president of the Marland Oktoberfest and the Deutschamerikanischer Burgerverein von Maryland, an umbrella for all German-American organizations in the state.
Let's not forget the goulash soup, roasted pork, potato salad and potato pancakes, hard rolls with smoked salmon, hundreds of bottles of wine, strudel, black forest, plum and funnel cakes, and roasted sugar-coated almonds sold by community organizations.
"And it's all washed down with 200 half kegs of beer ... about 3,000 gallons," added Sheppard.