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Festival celebrates German tradition

August 22, 2009|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI

If you go



What: Augustoberfest

When: Today, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: Central Parking Lot, downtown Hagerstown

Cost: $5, adults; free for children ages 12 and younger

HAGERSTOWN -- The sounds of accordions and good oom-pah cheer swelled from the massive beer tent.

Men, women and children, many of them dressed in traditional German lederhosen and dirndl, danced along aisles between tables.

Some clapped their hands and others waved their arms in the air, but all wore wide smiles across their faces as they celebrated German culture Saturday in downtown Hagerstown's Central Parking Lot for the 14th annual Augustoberfest.

Marie Straitz, 87, of Florida, clapped along to the German tune "Der Frohliche Wanderer" ("The Happy Wanderer") while her 18-month-old great-grandson, Alistar Straitz, danced around. Marie Straitz, who was in town visiting family, comes from German lineage on both sides of her family. But she said she never had been to a Bavarian festival before.

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"I love it. I think it's fun," Straitz said. "I love the music. I don't know how anybody could sit still and not move."

Andy Hungria, 26, and his friend, Steve Slaughter, 24, both of Raleigh, N.C., said they planned a trip home to visit Hungria's parents in Hagerstown to correspond with Augustoberfest. Hungria said he has been to the original Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. The German festival lasts 16 days, from September into October, and draws about 6 million people each year. Still, Hungria said he thought the Hagerstown celebration, modeled after the Munich event, was "amazing."

"It's very authentic," he said. "The beer, the music, the songs, the way it's set up. It's a lot smaller, but it's pretty close."

While many cities host Bavarian festivals in October, Hagerstown planners host the event in August to set it apart and to draw better crowds and entertainment.

Heidi and Heimet Echo Band and Alt Washingtonia led the spirited tour of German culture and folklore throughout the morning and afternoon. Acts ranged from the deliberate melodies of men playing long, smoothly carved alphorns to maidens gliding in wreath dances. During the shuhplattler, dancers rhythmically stomped and struck their thighs, knees and the soles of their feet. Later in the evening, Die Schlauberger played more modern Bavarian offerings.

Phil Kelly, co-chairman of the Augustoberfest Charitable Foundation, said the group strives to stay true to Oktoberfest tradition.

"We keep it authentic with the big beer tent, only Bavarian-style food, good Munich beer and, of course, the music," Kelly said. "We want it to be like stepping into Munich. That's what we have always been shooting for."

Kelly said Charles Sekula, who is vice chairman of the planning foundation and hails from the Munich area, keeps the event "genuine" and "honest."

Augustoberfest has drawn record crowds for the past four or five years, Kelly said. He estimated nearly 2,000 people attended Saturday.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II called the festival "a fantastic event."

"It gets better every year. People are here from all over," Bruchey said. "It's a great event and it draws a great crowd."

Kelly said Augustoberfest honors Hagerstown's German heritage and supports a student exchange program with Wesel, Germany, which is Hagerstown's sister city.

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