Oktoberfest set to begin tomorrow

Thursday, October 13, 2011 - 2:12pm

KENNER, LA (FOX8) -- Six days of oom-pah-pah music, beer and bratwurst, Chicken Dances and German drinking songs over two consecutive weekends are about to begin the Deutsches Haus annual Oktoberfest celebration this Friday.

The first rule is the most important: You must sing and drink before, during and after each drinking song.
The second rule is: There are no non-drinking songs.

And for the first time in 82 years, the singing, dancing and partying will take place in Kenner at the Rivertown Center, after the time-honored historic location on South Galvez Street was sacrificed to the hospital gods for the planned University Medical Center.

Deutsches Haus President Keith Oldendorf said, “I don’t think we have to worry about the people in Kenner not liking German beer. It’s not going to be a problem.” Appropriately, Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni will tap the first keg.

The temporary new location for the Deutsches Haus clubhouse is off Airline Highway on Ridgewood Drive and Fig Street behind Hurwitz-Mintz furniture store. But the lack of parking and space there dictated another location for Oktoberfest. The city of Kenner made an offer the Germans couldn’t refuse, which includes the use of three buildings on Williams Boulevard and an enormous festival grounds site.

“It’s like moving a party at a big old house to a party at a mansion,” he said. The old location had about 30,000 square feet. This setup is three times that size. And there is ample parking at lots in the neighborhoods.

The same homemade German food – the old joke saying it is “the wurst food ever” -- will be available: delicious knockwurst and bratwurst, as well as German potato salad, red cabbage, and some irresistible German deserts that are on no diets anywhere. The food will be prepared in an 18-wheeler portable kitchen set up on a side street.

Beer trucks will maintain a high visibility, with the taps full of Bitburger, Spaten, Hofbrau and Paulander beers. There are about 20 beers to choose from. Which brings to mind and old German saying: “Bier – es is nicht fur das fruhstuck.” Translation: “Beer – it’s not just for breakfast.”

Germans like to sing “Ein Prosit der Gemutlichkeit” or “a toast to happiness” – and obviously happiness is singing, dancing and drinking. After you finish singing that song, they shout, “Oans, zwoa, dries, gsuffa!” Loosely translated, “One, two, three, guzzle.” (Gsuffa at your own risk.)

Designated drivers or cabs are highly encouraged for those who participate in this activity.

But make not mistake about it -- Oktoberfest is and always has been a family event. At one of the buildings on Williams, dubbed Ludwig’s Castle because, well, it looks like a castle, there will be face painting, German nursery rhymes and puppet shows. The kids have always been involved in the dancing, especially the Chicken Dance, which has been called “the world’s stupidest dance” because it involves a minimum of talent and mostly flapping your arms like a chicken and wiggling your butt a little.

Trust me – I’ve done it. If I can, you can. I’m a dance school dropout.

If you’ve never been to a Deutsches Haus Oktoberfest, you will experience a lot of polkas. A polka is a quick-moving lively dance that involves three quick steps and some hops. Not to mention some barley and malt.
You will likely hear such polkas as “Beer Barrel Polka” and “Lichensteiner Polka” and “Let It Be Lowenbrau Polka.” These are all polkas, you may have guessed, particularly if you are sharp.

Another favorite is “The Happy Wanderer.” Loosely translated, “The Happy Wanderer” means, “I have to wander off to the john or I won’t be happy much longer.”

If you’ve always enjoyed shopping for Oktoberfest souvenirs at the old Deutsches Haus, fear not. They will be available in the old Mardi Gras World on Williams, and the Exposition Center will house beer and wine tastings.

If you really want to get in the spirit of things, costume. Guys should wear leiderhosen, those cute little leather shorts with suspenders and Tyrolean hats with a feather. Ladies wear traditional German costumes called “dirndls,” which has always suggested that German is the “buy a vowel language.”

Friday’s hours are 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays are 12 noon to 11 p.m. and Sundays are 12 Noon to 8 p.m. Last year’s festivities drew 24,000 over five weekends, but Oldendorf is confident that figure will be topped in the two three-day weekends. “We’re looking forward to a very big crowd,” he said.

Eventually, the plans are for Deutsches Haus to move back to New Orleans to Moss Street on Bayou St. John, the former site of the New Orleans Police Department’s 3rd District Station. That will likely take three years, which means Oktoberfest will clearly be in Rivertown for more than one year.

So, I asked Oldendorf, is there some master plan to try to cover every area of Greater New Orleans? From South Galvez Street to Airline Highway to Kenner to Bayou St. John?

“You know how Germans are,” he said. “We like to make sure we have an appearance somewhere – and everywhere. Hey, we’re even on the Superdome now!”

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