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Taste of Bavaria in the South Bay : Oktoberfest at Alpine Village draws more than 100,000 people annually. BY TRACY JOHNSON : SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

September 24, 1998

It all began with a Royal Bavarian Wedding in 1810.

The crown prince of Bavaria, King Ludwig I (who later became King Louis I), wanted to celebrate his marriage to Princess Therese of Austria, so he declared the event a state fair. All over Germany there was merrymaking, beer drinking and dancing.

The celebration was such a success that Ludwig declared every October festival time. Oktoberfest has been held in Munich annually ever since, and 28 years ago it made its way to Alpine Village in Torrance. It has since become one of the largest celebrations of its kind in Southern California, with more than 100,000 people attending the event annually.

Just west of the Harbor Freeway, Alpine Village is a mini Bavarian village. Dubbed the little city from the Alps, this quirky venue features 22 shops, a wedding chapel, international grocery store, batting cage, beer garden and restaurant-bar that offers free country-and-western and swing dancing lessons during the week. Think Solvang on a smaller, German scale.

While the village is open year-round, the place rolls out the barrel for its ever-so-popular Oktoberfest each September. The eight-week event will conclude Nov. 1.

During Oktoberfest, all of Alpine Village, owned and operated by Hans and Terri Rotter, takes part in the celebration, but the bulk of the merrymaking takes place in the beer garden, a spacious outdoor area filled with picnic tables and concession stands that sell homemade German lagers, bratwurst, Polish sausage and sauerkraut.

Authentic German lagers flow freely throughout the festival to the tune of an oompah band, direct from Germany. They play well-known German ditties, an occasional contemporary tune along with the beloved "chicken dance"--an infectious song and dance that involves arm flapping and booty shaking.

The celebration includes plenty of offbeat competitions: pretzel eating, yodeling, wood sawing, cow milking and a beer-stein-holding contest.

On opening night, 100 two-person teams squared off to claim the title of 1998 Stein Holding Champion and a round-trip ticket to Germany. The object of this contest, which raised $190,000 for local charities, is to hold the large mug as steady as possible with a straight, extended arm without spilling the contents. The battle for stein-holding champ is an intense race with some of the biggest biceps and triceps in town going down for the count. Amateurs can give stein holding a whirl when the contest is offered daily at the festival with men's and women's divisions.

Oktoberfest at Alpine Village is reminiscent of a state fair, a large-scale event that attracts people of all ages for good-humored fun. It's casual, family oriented and gets wackier as the beer barrels empty. If a frou-frou Hollywood nightclub is your speed, Oktoberfest at Alpine Village may not be for you. But if you're looking for something different, it could be the start of an annual tradition.

BE THERE

Oktoberfest at Alpine Village, 833 W. Torrance Blvd., Torrance. 21 and over on Friday and Saturday; Sunday is family day. Hours: Friday, 6:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturday, 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. Cover: $5 both days. Sunday, noon to 8 p.m., $4. Full Oktoberfest menu.

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