Pretzels, polkas and more to enjoy during Augustoberfest at Hagerstown's City Center

August 25, 2012|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI |
  • Lynn and Steve Moe of Mt. Airy polka to the music at Augustoberfest in downtown Hagerstown on Saturday.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

Julius Light was not born when German immigrant Jonathan Hager arrived in Hagerstown in 1739.

But he was a young man when the U.S. military bombed Wesel, Germany, in 1945, destroying 97 percent of the town’s structures.

Light, now 85, of Hagerstown, served in the U.S. military during World War II and is of German descent.

He also was around several years after the war, when Wesel reached out through a program called Operation Democracy seeking to initiate a friendly relationship with an American town. Hagerstown responded, officially becoming a sister city to Wesel in 1952.

And Light has been around for the past 17 years at Hagerstown’s City Center as the town celebrates both its German heritage and its affiliation with Wesel at the annual Augustoberfest.

“We’ve been here since it started,” Light said, referring to himself and his daughter, Cathy Wants, 56, also of Hagerstown. “We love the music, the beer, the friendships with the people we meet here.”

Wants said the festival has become “a great father-daughter tradition.”

Augustoberfest is Hagerstown’s answer to Oktoberfest, the 16-day celebration of Bavarian culture attended by millions annually in Munich, Germany.

Karen Giffin, community affairs manager for the city of Hagerstown, said Augustoberfest organizers transform City Center to look like the Munich festival.

“It’s a great way to experience Bavarian culture and have fun with it. And it’s a tourist draw,” Giffin said. “People come from Baltimore, Washington D.C., Pennsylvania. We are very proud.”

A tall arch welcomes visitors — roughly 3,000 of them Saturday and Sunday — into massive beer tents decorated with murals depicting German landmarks such as “Mad” King Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein Castle.

Inside, women in dirndl and braids serve pretzels from stick trees. Men in lederhosen lead the band in oompahs and polkas, while men, women and children dance. Even the people seated at tables feasting on Bavarian cuisine sway to and fro to the sounds of the horns and accordions, and raise their voices and hands in spirited song.

Charlotte Loveless of Hagerstown had a lunch of pork, spaetzle and red cabbage with her friend, Mary Mowen, also of Hagerstown, while Heimat Echo Band played.

“I love the music,” Loveless said. “I have German heritage on both sides going all the way back.”

Becky Hively, 32, of Hagerstown, stood with her children, Jazmyne, 5, and Ethan, 3, watching in awe as a group of men played alphorns. As the schuhplatter folk dance began, Jazmyne met a young boy in short trousers, long stockings and alpine hat on the dance floor. The crowd audibly “Awwed” as the two set off skipping in circles.

“This is a lot of fun,” Hively said. “It’s so good bringing a different culture in and showing people what it’s all about.”

Rebekah Bryk, 30, of Springfield, Va., danced with Alt Washingtonia Schuhplattler Verein. Bryk said she attends a number of Bavarian festivals, and that Augustoberfest is one that stands out.

“This one is wonderful because of the way people come out here to have a great time,” Bryk said. “Some of the others are more of beer fests, not really a celebration of culture. This is a great representation of the culture.”

The festival began with a 6K or 10K Volksmarch. Other features included children’s area “Kinderwunderland,” German craft vendors and an official keg tapping.

Giffin said this year’s event is especially important as the city celebrates its 60th year of sisterhood with Wesel. Ulrike Westcamp, Wesel’s mayor, is scheduled to visit Hagerstown in honor of the partnership.

Admission to Augustoberfest is $5. Children 12 and younger are admitted free. Some proceeds support the mutual exchange student program between Hagerstown and Wesel.

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