Amid familiar folk tales, lively polka music and heaping helpings of sauerbraten, much of the talk yesterday at the German-American Springfest in Towson was of the Bavarian priest who became Pope Benedict XVI last week.
Americans of German descent, regardless of their faith, said yesterday that they take pride that Joseph Ratzinger is the first German to lead the Roman Catholic Church in about 1,000 years.
"They say in heaven there's no beer," said Hans Steffen, the festival's wine master and entertainment director. "It will probably be different now that there's a German pope from Bavaria."
It was a festive day under threatening skies, where people paused to indulge in hearty food and drink and where there was also relaxed banter about a topic that often is avoided at social gatherings.
Bruno Hallman, who, at 87, calls himself "an old-fashioned Catholic," said the conclave chose Ratzinger to continue in the tradition of Pope John Paul II.
"This man will be a good transition pope who will carry out the directives of John Paul II," said Hallman, who left Germany to live in Poland as a child and has lived in Baltimore for more than 50 years. "I don't think anyone wanted a radical change. So, we have a conservative man."
Bill Kamberger, who manned the beer booth at the two-day festival in Courthouse Square, said the world should give Pope Benedict time to adjust to his new role.
"I think the liberal press is already after him," Kamberger said. "Give him a break. He will do a wonderful job because John Paul handpicked him."
Wayne and Sharon Caple and their son Keith had traveled from Oakland to help at the festival. They collected the $3 admission fees at the gate and kept count of the crowd, which built steadily throughout a cloudy afternoon.
"I think this pope will be a hard-liner, which is fairly typical of the German personality," Wayne Caple said. "He won't change much. Benedict was a big part of the act he is following."
Several German language students from the Harford Christian School in Dublin performed at the festival. They had discussed the new pontiff and what may be his politics in class last week, said Kevin Wuest, 16. Pope Benedict will enhance the German image, he said.
"Unfortunately, people often unfairly associate Germans with the Holocaust," Kevin said. "Choosing a German pope shows people are becoming more accepting. I think this is a real step forward for Germans, both the Catholics and the non-Catholics."
Katrina Rudyj, 16, whose heritage is Ukrainian, said, "It is good to have changes and variations. The pope should not always be Italian."
Zosia DeFrancisco laughed as her lanky son Craig played a dwarf in the students' production of Snow White, performed in German.
"I am Polish and very proud of my Polish pope," she said. "This German will carry on the same ideals because he was very close to John Paul. Germans will feel that same pride."
Germany is probably more Lutheran than it is Catholic, said John League, who helped organize the second annual festival. But, regardless of religion, people will be pope-watching, he said.
"I am not a Catholic, but I think this is really going to be interesting," League said.
Papal matters did not completely dominate the afternoon. The festival, which continues from noon to 6 p.m. today, featured German cuisine, music and crafts. Elli Hein, who had cooked 1,200 potato dumplings and marinated 200 pounds of beef, ladled thick gravy over the sauerbraten, the most popular entree.
"I hope we sell it all," said Hein's cousin Annmarie Horn.
Sales were brisk at the Edelweiss Bakery booth, which offered shelves full of strudels, cheesecakes and dark chocolate tortes.
"No matter what, you have to have dessert," said Sharon Caple.
Diners carrying plates laden with schnitzel, bratwurst and sauerkraut made their way to a picnic area. They lingered to listen to accordion music or made their way to the stage to watch the Snow White play. Harford Christian School student Virginia DeFrank, 17, had adapted the tale and played the lead.
"It is important for people to know what other countries and cultures are like," Virginia said.