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Oktoberfest In July: USA, You're Doing It Wrong

A German reporter has the curiosity -- and courage -- to see how the traditional Oktoberfest celebration looks and tastes in the American state of Maryland. A decidedly mixed review.

An authentic Bavarian Oktoberfest ... in Michigan (wolfworld)
An authentic Bavarian Oktoberfest ... in Michigan (wolfworld)
Henryk M. Broder

INDIAN HEAD - Oktoberfest in July -- only Americans could come up with that idea.

The American per se is guileless, friendly, good-natured, uncomplicated -- and always ready to party, whatever the occasion. Two things are crucial to him or her, however: one has to be able to drive to the party, and there better be plenty to eat.

And so one hundred or so Americans made their way to Indian Head, Maryland, a small town about 30 miles south of Washington D.C. on the eastern shore of the Potomac River, to celebrate "Oktoberfest in July" -- featuring a "beer garden," "authentic Bavarian food," and two bands: the Southern Maryland Concert Band, and the Musikkapelle Prutz from Prutz in the Austrian state of Tyrol.

The Prutz is actually Austria's oldest orchestra. It was founded in 1694: the year Voltaire was born in Paris; the year the Bank of England -- the first European central bank -- was founded in London; when Johann Sebastian Bach, who was just nine years old at the time, was learning to play the organ in Eisenach, Germany.

This was when "America" was still one of King William III's colonies, inhabited by a mere 250,000 souls. So much so that one might think, à propos the Musikkapelle Prutz, that this European institution has come to the States to show Americans what culture is all about.

"Not at all," says Rudolf Pascher, who has been conducting the orchestra since 1988. Pascher, 57, has a doctorate in music studies and wrote his thesis on 17th and 18th century manuscripts. He teaches music and mathematics at the secondary school in Prutz, and all 64 musicians in the orchestra were his students.

Pascher has been to the States several times, but for most of his "kids', it's the first trip to the New World.

"We in Europe live in a paradise; we have everything others can only dream of, and yet many people are dissatisfied," says Pascher. So he decided to take the orchestra to America so that members might be confronted with another reality -- that of a young country still in the making, a country where 30-year-old furniture and lamps are considered "antiques."

Bugs Bunny and the Habsburgs

So maybe some Americans don't know where Austria is, or think that the small Alpine republic is part of Germany -- that doesn't change the fact that they love music, particularly when the beat is good and it's played loud. And anyway they love anything in a costume, be it Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Darth Vader, Batman, Barbarella -- or General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, who fought at George Washington's side during the War of Independence.

"We're all learning so much," says Pascher, first and foremost that Americans don't really make a distinction between "serious' music and pop music -- as long as they like it and it's fun to listen to. Now the Southern Maryland Concert Band finishes playing, ending with the unofficial American anthem "God Bless America," and clears the stage for the Austrians, who lead in with Johann Strauss Senior's "Radetzky March," the unofficial anthem of the Habsburgs. Does this work? About as much as hot dogs served with Kaiserschmarrn (sweet pancakes) instead of buns, but somehow, yes, it does.

Americans are extremely adaptable. Without realizing it, they are actually practicing Marxists in the way they adapt to reality rather than chase some sort of fiction. To paraphrase Marx, "their being determines consciousness." Take Tyran Foster, for example. Every day, the 43-year-old drives her converted AMC truck to a different fair and serves up the Louisiana-style country cooking that, she says, Northerners just love.

But for Indian Head's Oktoberfest, she changed the menu: instead of Cajun Chicken and Jambalaya, she's doing "German cuisine:" Wiener Schnitzel, Currywurst and Bratwurst. And of course her home-made German Potato Salad. Tyran's father was a career army man, and as a child she lived with her parents for 12 years in Germany, in Kaiserslautern and Schweinfurt. She says that if she could, she'd move back there right now "because the beer is so good."

Quentin and his wife Emiko like -- no, love -- beer, too. They met over 20 years ago in Nagasaki where Quentin was studying Japanese language and culture. Emiko worked in the photo shop where Quentin had his film developed. Now they're married and live in Washington on a boat.

Quentin works for the Environmental Protection Agency and Emiko teaches Japanese. Both of them sport T-shirts emblazoned with a quotation attributed to Benjamin Franklin: "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

Quentin swears Franklin really said this, and he's disappointed to discover that at the Oktoberfest in Indian Head there actually isn't any German beer -- instead, they have Coors, Blue Moon, Samuel Adams and Murphy's.

There was no Leberkäse (sausage loaf), no Steckerlfisch (fish grilled on skewers), no Backhendl (fried chicken), no Haxen (braised or roasted pork shank), no Radi (salty radish side dish), and no Dampfnudeln (pan bread made from yeast dough and served with various toppings).

Nobody linked arms and swayed back and forth singing "In München steht ein Hofbräuhaus: eins, zwei, g'suffa," and instead of a Bavarian brass band, an Austrian orchestra from Tyrol played light classical music by Johann Strauss Senior and Junior, Franz Lehar and Franz von Suppé.

There was no roughhousing, nobody got drunk, and when the fest was over the grass on the Village Green didn't look as if it were going to need much recovery time.

So it wasn't really a proper Oktoberfest. But it was plenty of fun nonetheless -- if for nothing else, then to watching Americans having so much fun.

Read the original article in German.

Photo - wolfworld

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