Beer and polka lovers will roll out the barrel this weekend and throughout the month of October in celebration of the Bavarian fall festival known as Oktoberfest.
In Orange County, the events range from big to bigger, with the largest county events being stretched out until the end of the month.
Oktoberfest originated in Munich, Germany on Oct. 12, 1810, when a Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen married the crown prince of Bavaria, who later became King Louis I. The celebrations preceding the wedding lasted almost two weeks and featured a horse race. The next year, the race was combined with the state agricultural fair. And in 1818, booths serving food and drink were introduced. Later, Oktoberfest celebrations moved into temporary, brewery-sponsored halls with bandstands and seating for up to 5,000 people.
Modern celebrations of Oktoberfest in the United States often feature bandstands, beer and Bavarian cuisine. Events are held in halls or outdoor settings, sometimes complete with picnic tables and barbecues, and the entertainment includes polka and folk dancing accompanied by the brass sounds of \o7 oompah-pa \f7 bands.
The "chicken dance" has also become a favorite at American Oktoberfests. The dance involves flapping the arms and shaking the booty, simulating the feathered fowl. The lively, infectious song for the dance hit beer halls in Germany a decade ago and immediately became a craze. \o7 Oompah-pa \f7 bands from Germany imported the tune to Old World Village in Huntington Beach about six years ago, according to Bernie Bishof, general manager of Old World. He added that the craze caught on so much that the Bavarian-inspired shopping center has become known as the "chicken dance place" and bands there have had to play the song up to 20 times a night to satisfy patrons' requests.
Old World Village, across the street from the Huntington Center, hosts the largest Oktoberfest celebration in the county and one of the two largest in the Southland (the other being Alpine Village in Torrance). More than 20,000 annually attend the Huntington Beach event, now in its 14th year.
Old World strives to distinguish between the adult- and family-oriented aspects of this festival by limiting entrance to the main restaurant and beer garden hall on Friday and Saturday nights to ages 21 and over. "We get the hard-core partyers those nights," said Bishof.
This Sunday, the village will hold its parade, featuring participants dressed in traditional garb of \o7 lederhosen \f7 (leather shorts with suspenders) and dirndls (dresses with full skirts and tight-fitting bodices).
Another tradition that has been exported to this country from Germany and is a regular sight at Old World and other county events is the beer-drinking contest, where contestants compete in guzzling a single beer in the shortest time. Event organizers holding the contests all say they choose contestants early in the evening and only allow those who do not seem intoxicated to compete. It's a competition that involves strength just as much as thirst, since the glasses and metal steins used generally weigh between 2 to 4 pounds empty.
The Hofbrau Brewery and Restaurant in Fullerton hosts its own battle of might with a stein holding contest during its Oktoberfest, happening every Sunday evening this month. The Hofbrau, associated with the Hofbrau Haus in Traunstein, Germany, has been brewing its own beer on the premises since it opened its doors last year, as well as serving authentic German cuisine by chef Horst Voelsing, a gold medal winner of the California Restaurant Writers Assn. "We brew our beer following \o7 reinheitesgebot\f7 ," explained Russel Brent, co-owner of the Fullerton restaurant. "That's a German purity law from 1516 that we can only use water, malt, hops and yeast in our beer; no chemicals or preservatives."
There is also dinner and dancing at the Orange County branch of the German-American organization, the Phoenix Club. The club invites the public to its own Oktoberfest at its Anaheim-based headquarters every weekend through Nov. 2. It will present a full band from Germany specializing in polkas and waltzes, in contrast to the brass-dominated \o7 oompah-pa \f7 bands at other events. The Phoenix Club also has its own restaurant on the premises.
And then there are the events that have taken their cues from Oktoberfest but have been transformed or expanded into city fairs offering more than German cuisine and music.
The Laguna Beach Exchange Club will hold its annual Oktoberfest this Saturday on the Festival of the Arts grounds to benefit several nonprofit county groups. In addition to an \o7 oompah-pa \f7 band and German food, the Laguna festival will feature marionette shows, strolling musicians, a tap dance exhibition, polka instruction \o7 and\f7 a belly-dance show.