NCW — How can a traditional event feel like a first?
For the city of Leavenworth, it’s the first time the Chamber of Commerce has produced its own Oktoberfest. For the non-profit Projekt Bayern, it’s the first time to bring the 24-year-old “original” Leavenworth Oktoberfest to Wenatchee.
Based on the early hours of the first weekend of the three-weekend events, the events are very similar in all ways but the architecture. At Wenatchee’s Town Toyota Center, a large tent covered a mainstage with dance floor near the beer garden, while the cavernous arena indoors had far more room than people. Leavenworth’s smaller footprint included a gated beer garden near the gazebo and an area near the permanent Festhalle, which is all surrounded by the city’s downtown restaurants and shops.
Generally, people at Town Toyota mentioned friends as their main reasons to be there. People in Leavenworth for Oktoberfest said repeatedly that they were there to enjoy the city’s Bavarian atmosphere.
Oktoberfest certainly isn’t a first for many of the people who attend Oktoberfest, whether in Leavenworth, Wenatchee, (or Munich since 1810), or any of the places to reunite with friends over three festive weekends in October in beer gardens with music and brats, often while wearing alpine hats and dirndl dresses.
On the early side of Friday’s opening at Town Toyota Center, some in a group of 50 people said they have been coming to Oktoberfest for 20 years on and off, making plans as far in advance as February. John Fullmer said “a lot of us are all reconnecting from all over the Northwest, so that’s probably the biggest thing for us…We’re staying all over the place.” Melissa Jankovich said, “I love that when the fun bands start to play and people get silly, that’s why I’m here.”
Long tables with chairs filled the floor of the Town Toyota arena where a handful of people sat while the first bands played on Friday night at dinner time. Some members of the now defunct Edelweiss Tanzen Gruppe who used to perform at Oktoberfest were preparing to join most of the others at the outdoor tent. Kirk Layrd of Peshastin said they began dancing polka and waltzes in Oktoberfest eight or nine years ago, and that “Projekt Bayern was real good to the dance group back before our [dancer membership] numbers got decreased too much.”
Outside the beer garden in Leavenworth on Saturday, some people like Scott and Michelle from Seattle didn’t know anything about Oktoberfest in Wenatchee. He said “we’re here for the great city. We love this place and always have.”
Many people in the region travel to Leavenworth again and again, such as Martin Donchevski, a software engineer with Microsoft from Monroe, who was with his wife and child near the kinderplatz. “It’s our second time to Oktoberfest,” he said. “But we’ve come many times to Leavenworth, we’ve been for Christmas. It’s a place we like to visit.”
Nearby camping is one attraction to Leavenworth for a group of three couples from Monroe. Kim Williams and Margot Roach said camping allows them to walk into town every day and avoid parking. Their friends accidentally bought tickets to the Oktoberfest Leavenworth in Wenatchee instead of the Oktoberfest in Leavenworth, which has been an issue of concern with the events happening at the same time on the same three weekends in October.
The Festhalle in Leavenworth was three-quarters full of people eating lunch and drinking beer on Saturday afternoon. A performance by Edelweiss Dance Academie showcased over a dozen happy girls in light blue dresses with flower crowns doing circles and promenades, curtsies and spins. They led a rousing round of the Chicken Dance for the crowd, too.
Some visitors were making a weekend of Oktoberfest in both cities. Linda and Jean came with a group of 10 from Vancouver, Washington, to Wenatchee on Friday night with plans to see Leavenworth for the first time on Saturday, including the shops, the bookstore and toy store, and maybe some of the Oktoberfest, as well as the Nutcracker Museum.
Around the wings of the Town Toyota Center, many vendors were set up with sweets, arts and crafts, and the counters served German bratwurst and pulled pork. The main entrance doors led through security with metal detectors and bag check, then to ID and passes, then to purchase tickets for food and beer while people mingled, mainly on the way to an exit which led to the outdoor beer garden with food trucks and tented stage with tables, which became full with people dancing and clapping along as the night went on.
Past the alp horns, a warm welcome came from the man at Opa’s Burgers, Dave Owens, 71, of East Wenatchee, who has been serving burgers for six years because there’s a Hamburg, Germany, with Projekt Bayern, selling about 28,000 hamburgers over the three weekends.
He had no complaints about the venue, which has two stages for music plus the alp horns and wandering clowns on stilts and the traditional drinking games, calling it “really dandy for us.” He also said how vendors had been advised to alert police about any guests who appeared too drunk.
The trademarked “Oktoberfest Leavenworth” merchandise could be more popular than ever given the lawsuit between the city and Projekt Bayern over the name trademark, but most people had no comment on the legal case, being in favor of celebrating where they were and who they were with.
At the information table, the self-proclaimed “ambassadoresses” of Projekt Bayern are “two peas in a pod” who have lived in Leavenworth as friends for 31 years, said Marsha Willman of herself and Helga Barington, age “nope, don’t know, forgot.” Of the production in Wenatchee this year, Willman said “It’s been very welcoming and accommodating. This is what we needed.”
Barington said “I’ve been doing this for four years as just part, like, going back to Germany. I lived in Munich. My husband and I went to the beer gardens and just enjoyed the atmosphere and relaxation.” She described Gemütlichkeit, a German word that describes a cheerful mood, peace of mind and social acceptance joined with being unhurried in a cozy atmosphere. Then she explained the rules of the beer stein contest, which has contestants hold a large stein of beer or water in one hand straight out at a 90 degree angle for as long as possible.
The beer stein holding contest in Leavenworth at the gazebo was introduced as “the first time we’ve done this, so it’s for the official Oktoberfest record!” Contestants from San Diego, Idaho, Leavenworth, Seattle, Tacoma, Vancouver and California competed in the women’s match while more men signed up for the next match. That was won by Rafi Ochoa, 30 of Wenatchee. He was with his wife, brother, family and friends, who called themselves his coaches and support.