Old-World heritage

August 17, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

Sitting at one of the tables in the beer tent in downtown Hagerstown on Saturday, Carol Garrison, 57, and her son were yelling at the top of their lungs.

The polka band leader prompted the crowd with a German chant, and dozens, including the Garrisons, of Ashburn, Va., shouted "Oi! Oi! Oi!" in response.

"We don't know what (the song) means," Garrison said. "We come for the nice town, the German food and the atmosphere."


By 2 p.m., the pair, along with about 300 others, had come to the Oktoberfest in August celebration off North Potomac Street in downtown Hagerstown. It was the second part of Hagerstown's Sister City Weekend. Organizers expected thousands of visitors by day's end.

Visitors could taste, hear and see cultural connections to Germany Saturday. Food vendors sold bratwurst and spaetzle and German beers and bands played traditional German festive music through the afternoon.

The event was based on Germany's annual Oktoberfest celebration, which begins in September. Hagerstown's version is celebrated in August because it's easier to book acts, said Charles Sekula, a chief organizer of the event.

People who attended and event volunteers said the event had a good balance between cultural exchange and the more well-known item associated with Oktoberfest: beer.

Joy Ross, 67, of Hagerstown said Saturday was the first time she and her husband had come to Hagerstown's Oktoberfest, but she was having a good time. She was wearing a traditional Bavarian wreath on her head that she had bought Saturday and a choker with a picture of her father, whose family was German.

"I think it's great that you can celebrate heritage, celebrate ethnicity and have a good time," Ross said.

Joanne Merkel, 66, of Sykesville, Md., had come to Hagerstown as part of the Piedmont Pacers, the organization that led Saturday's Volksmarch.

A Volksmarch, Merkel said, is a noncompetitive walk that is traditionally German and generally associated with festivals.

She said Hagerstown's sister city connection to Wesel, Germany, was a boon for local culture.

"Having a sister city like you do in Hagerstown, this is just a great opportunity to bring out people with German background," Merkel said.

Vic Smith, 56, of Sharpsburg was preparing spaetzle in the food tent. In addition to the fried noodles, the hungry could try bratwurst, red cabbage, sauerkraut or traditionally prepared potatoes.

Smith said he had volunteered to work Saturday.

"I enjoy doing this," he said. "The only thing is I never get to enjoy the bands."

As with any traditional Oktoberfest celebration, it wouldn't be the same without beer.

"The whole idea behind Oktoberfest is when they got rid of the beer," said Brian Garrison, 26, who with his mother, Carol Garrison, has lived in Germany. "So, yeah, it was about the alcohol."

At least one visitor who came Saturday thought the alcohol available was up to snuff.

Ryan Ebersole, 27, of Maugansville, had spent a month in Germany 13 years ago as part of Hagerstown's Sister City program with Wesel. While part of the trip was academic, he said he was able to taste some of the local spirits.

Saturday, he was drinking from a heavy beer stein he had bought that was half-full of Hacker Pschorr, a German beer.

Asked how it tasted, Ebersole said, "Good."

Would he have another?

"I don't know. I'm leaving it open," he said. "Your arm gets tired after holding it a while."

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