Celebrating German heritage with beer, Oktoberfest

This past Saturday evening, the Swarthmore German Club and German Department hosted their annual Oktoberfest celebration. The event, which was open to the entire campus community, provided traditional German food and music in Bond Memorial Hall. More than 200 people attended, including Swarthmore and Trico students, alumni, family and many faculty members, including Professor Hansjakob Werlen, Coordinator of the German Department.

The Swarthmore German Club and Department took great pains to reproduce the spirit of an authentic Oktoberfest thousands of miles away from Germany. Planned by both faculty and students, this is the second year that the German Club has been involved with the process, which was previously done entirely by the German Department before the club’s formation.

Victory Brewing’s Festbier was among the beers served at the German Club’s celebration of Oktoberfest. (Couresty of http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-KiklxY2ERPE/TokWBNPjrnI/AAAAAAAAAaw/Zy66C2Fu-3o/s400/FestBier.jpg)

The recent campus Oktoberfest is one local example of a long and globally popular event that originally began in the German region of Bavaria in 1810. The city of Munich, capital of the state, has held the official 16 to 18 day beer and cultural fest every year since, which has now become one of the world’s largest festivals — attracting around five million people.

Professor Werlen explained that the festival’s founding had great historical and cultural significance. He explained that Oktoberfest originated as “a celebration of the wedding of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen,” which took place on October 12th, 1810. Prince Ludwig later became King Ludwig I of Bavaria, the southern German state of which Munich is the capital. Proffesor Werlen added, “local citizens were invited to the meadows outside Munich for the celebration, renamed Theresienwiese (Theresa’s Meadow), for the new Princess Theresa. In Bavaria, this is shortened to simply, D’Wiesn.”

Celebrating local community, authentic Oktoberfest events range from horse races to agricultural shows, but focus mainly on music and cuisine. The government of Munich allows only beer brewed within the city walls to be consumed in its own festival, which highlights the primacy placed on celebrating the local. In keeping with that ethos, food and drinks provided Saturday evening came from a variety of local and regional producers.

The Swarthmore Co-op made the event three kinds of sausage — or Bratwurst in German — including lamb and spicy Italian. Non-meat options were plentiful, including fresh German-style pretzels from Miller’s Bakery of Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia and salads provided by the Co-op. Naturally, sauerkraut made an appearance as well.

In addition to non-alcoholic options, German-style beers brewed and bottled by local Pennsylvania brewers were also available, retaining the spirit of Munich laws and tradition. The two beers — Victory Brewing’s Festbier and Stoudt’s Weizen — reflect styles that are both extremely important to the beer-drinking culture of Southern Germany. Moreover, American and German collaboration in beer making represents the trans-cultural appreciation to be found in Oktoberfest celebrations anywhere in the world.

Both Professor Werlen and German Club President Ben Goossen ’13 noted that the timing of the Oktoberfest, while later than the traditional ending of its Bavarian counterpart, was both intentional and important. Goossen remarked, “We hold it on Family Weekend so that we can get to know students’ families and friends and also to have some time for the faculty and students to socialize outside of the classroom.”

Professor Werlen echoed similar sentiments. “What I like about this event is that it is not a specific German Program event but rather a college-wide celebration that fits in with many other activities going on during parents weekend.”

Goossen added that in addition to Oktoberfest, the Club hosts a variety of seasonal and well-attended events. Last year, the student group also put on a spring festival (Fruehlingsfest) during Ride the Tide, and in other seasons trips to Brauhaus Schmitz, a traditional German restaurant and the annual Philly German Christmas Village (Weihnachtsmarkt), in Philadelphia.

Though the German Club began small, its total membership has now expanded to over eighty students. In addition to festivals and cuisine, club trips to places such as the Ephrata Cloisters last semester — the historic site of an early German enclave in what is now Lancaster County — enrich the historical and academic aspects of German culture.

Goossen stressed that while speaking or taking German is not required for membership, the club does get together to host a weekly language table in Sharples at lunch on Fridays. The president listed many benefits available to nonmembers. “The club is also a great way to spread information about scholarships and opportunities to study abroad in Germany or take classes over the summer.”

Students interested in learning more about joining German Club or upcoming events should consult the group’s webpage on the Swarthmore German Studies Departmental site or contact Ben Goossen directly at bgoosse1@swarthmore.edu.

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