Oktoberfest on Tap

With strong beer, hearty foods and good friends, you can join a German wedding celebration that's nearly 200 years old.

October 09, 2002|By Joanne E. Morvay | Joanne E. Morvay,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

So you couldn't make it to Munich and your hopes of celebrating Oktoberfest are dashed for yet another year.

Don't cry in your beer.

You can still celebrate. Combine hearty food and strong beer with friendly company in an outdoor setting and you've got your own Oktoberfest -- without the trans-Atlantic flight.

Harry Peemoeller, an instructor at Johnson & Wales University's Norfolk, Va. campus, says holding an Oktoberfest celebration is a great way "to enjoy the last comfortable nights outside."

Before you head for the patio, a little history. After all, when you're the host, it helps to know what you're celebrating and why.

It's generally recognized that the first Oktoberfest was held in mid-October 1810 in Munich, Bavaria. Bavaria was then its own kingdom in what is now southern Germany. Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen, and his father marked the occasion with a five-day party in a meadow just outside the city limits.

All of the king's loyal subjects were invited to eat, drink and be merry with the happy couple. The celebration concluded with a horse race. The event was so well-received that the citizens assembled at the same spot the next year for a party, horse race and an agricultural show to celebrate the year's harvest. And so, a tradition was born.

Over the years, beer tents were added as well as amusement rides. The music by the German oom-pah-pah bands became a centerpiece of the celebration. With winter looming and sometimes dropping in unexpectedly in the form of freak snowstorms or extended cold snaps, the festival was long ago moved to a two-week period spanning late September and early October.

The Munich event was eventually recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest festival in the world. It attracts about 6 million visitors annually, a mix of locals and tourists who consume about 5 million liters of beer and more than 200,000 pairs of pork sausages, according to the Munich Tourist Office.

This year's Oktoberfest, which ended Saturday, marked 169 years of toasting the harvest with a stein full of beer. (Oktoberfest was actually canceled at various times, because of war, disease and other tragedies.)

As Germans emigrated to other lands, they brought the Oktoberfest tradition along. Though there is only one Oktoberfest in Germany, there are many celebrations of smaller stature across this country and throughout the world.

Erwin Asam and his wife, Carol, held their 25th Oktoberfest last month at their Bavarian Inn in Shepherdstown, W.Va. More than 2,000 people turned out for the day of German music and dancing and, especially, the authentic German food.

Asam is a Munich native, and the inn's Oktoberfest centers on a platter he long ago dubbed "Sauerkraut Garnished." The sampler-style platter, which appears on the inn's dinner menu, includes sauerkraut cooked according to the inn's recipe, a bratwurst, a knockwurst, a weisswurst, a smoked pork loin and whipped potatoes.

Bratwurst, perhaps the best-known German sausage in this country, is a mixture of beef and pork. Knackwurst is a large smoked beef sausage, sometimes accented with pork. Weisswurst is made from veal, milk and parsley.

The sauerkraut must be mild, "with nothing sour about it," Asam says. Sauerkraut served at American sporting events is not the real thing, he says. You can start with a mass-produced kraut, however, and modify it to render the true dish, he says.

If kraut and German sausages aren't to your liking, Asam suggests taking your Oktoberfest menu upscale with a traditional fall entree like Jaeger Schnitzel, a veal cutlet or veal steak cooked "hunter style" with shallots and a fresh mushroom sauce.

The inn accompanies the dish with spaetzle, the well-known German potato dumplings, and cooked red cabbage.

Wienerschnitzel, a breaded, pan-fried veal steak, and sauerbraten, a marinated beef roast served with a ginger-accented gravy, are popular as well, Asam says.

More adventurous hosts may want to take a lead from the inn's game menu, offered October through March. Roasted pheasant and Hasenpfeffer, marinated rabbit cooked in the traditional Bavarian style, are two entree possibilities, Asam says.

Peemoeller, with Johnson & Wales, suggests beef roulade, or beef rolls braised in a red-wine gravy. Serve them with a side of Bavarian cabbage, green cabbage sauteed with bacon, onion and caraway seed and braised in dark beer.

Peemoeller, who was raised in Hamburg, in northern Germany, has fond memories of the Oktoberfests he journeyed down to Munich to enjoy in his youth.

He was "amazed," he says, the first time he saw the women who work as servers in the tents carrying the large trays of ornate ceramic steins, each stein filled with two pints of beer. The camaraderie was awe-inspiring as well. "You sit on long benches and you don't know who sits next to you, but after a few beers, of course, everybody gets to know everybody."

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