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Augustoberfest retains family spirit

August 22, 2010|By KATE S. ALEXANDER
  • Annika Emshoff of Frederick, Md., tries to balance a wizard's hat that she and her mother made Sunday at Augustoberfest in Hagerstown.
Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

It began as a family reunion, a way to celebrate German heritage and to recognize Hagerstown's connection with Wesel, Germany.

Now, 15 years later, Augustoberfest continues to unite folks across the globe in Bavarian camaraderie.

"It was my idea," admitted Charles Sekula.

As he stood at the perimeter of the two-day festival Sunday, a pulsing accordion playing steadily in the background, Sekula said that aside from its size, not much of Augustoberfest has changed.

Sekula, a native of Germany who owns the Schmankerl Stube Bavarian Restaurant, said the event was born when the late Jane Burhans, wife of former Mayor Winslow Burhans, told Sekula she was looking for a way to make her family reunion memorable.

"I said 'Boy, do I have an idea for you,'" he said. "Oktoberfest in August."

Today, more "bier" might flow, more bratwursts might sizzle, more people might attend and more tents might fill the city's central lot than that first event in 1996, but the spirit of Augustoberfest remains as it was 15 years ago, said Karen Giffin, director of public relations and marketing for the City of Hagerstown.

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A true Augustoberfest, or Oktoberfest, is a celebration of German culture, Sekula said.

Germans are hardworking people who also party hard and enjoy socializing, he said.

Around him, people engaged in conversations over steins of Spaten beer and authentic German cuisine like spaetzle and sauerkraut. Others danced to the lilting music of Die Schlauberger, Heidi and Hiemat Echo Band and Alt Washingtonia Schuhplattler Verein.

"We always want to meet new people," Sekula said of his culture.

All the proceeds from the event go to support the Augustoberfest Charitable Foundation, which partners with the City of Hagerstown to host the event, said Giffin, who is also on the Augustoberfest committee.

The foundation supports an annual student exchange program between Hagerstown and Wesel. It also sponsors a scholarship in Jane Burhans' name, she said.

Sending local students to Germany and hosting students from Wesel brings the two cultures even closer together, Sekula said.

"That (exchange program) is worth every penny of this," he said, gesturing to the tents filled with activity.

The Augustoberfest committees strive to keep the event authentic, and while it is expensive, it is made possible by the generous donations from many sponsors and volunteers, he said.

Augustoberfest also featured activities for children, a brunch, a traditional Volksmarch and 14 vendors, Giffin said.

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