Monday, August 21, 2000

Germania Society Oktoberfest honors heritage in authentic fashion

By Linnea Eschenlohr
Enquirer contributor

Ernest Schwab
| ZOOM |
        Ernest Schwab sits at a table in the Germania Society's clubhouse with dozens of black and white photographs in front of him.

        The pictures are dated, people are wearing '70s-era clothing. Some faces, familiar from Cincinnati's political scene, wave from parade vehicles and podiums.

        Women in dirndl dresses slosh beer steins through the crowds, and lederhosen-clad men pose with their friends.

        The pictures mark moments in the history of one of Cincinnati's traditions: the Germania Society Oktoberfest. Billed as the area's original Oktoberfest, this annual tribute to all things German will take place this weekend at Germania Park in Colerain Township. This is its 30th year.

  What: 30th Annual Germania Society Oktoberfest
  When: 6 p.m.-midnight Friday, 2 p.m.-midnight Saturday, noon-10 p.m. Sunday
  What: 30th Annual Germania Society Oktoberfest
  Where: Germania Park, 3529 W. Kemper Road, Colerain Township
  Admission: $2, free to children under 12
  Parking: Limited free parking at Germania Park. Free shuttle bus service from Lo-Bill Foods, corner of Hamilton Avenue and West Kemper Road; RiteAid Pharmacy, across from Lo-Bill; and Pleasant Run Middle School and Pleasant Run Church of Christ, corner of West Kemper and Pippen roads.
  Information: 742-0060 or e-mail
        “A lot of the local politicians were there in the early days,” Mr. Schwab, 77, remarks in his thick German accent. He is president emeritus and one of the original co-founders of the event.

        In 1971, the first Oktoberfest was held at the Harvest Home Park in Cheviot. “That was the only Oktoberfest in Cincinnati at that time,” Mr. Schwab says. In 1984, the event moved to the 22-acre Germania Park, off West Kemper Road. Twenty thousand people are expected to attend.

Celebrating Germans

               The Cincinnati Germania Society, which organizes and produces the event, was formed in 1964 by a group of local German-Americans. They wanted a German heritage group that included all Germans.

        “There were a lot of Germans who didn't find a home,” Mr. Schwab says. “All the other societies had a specific designation such as the Catholic Kolping Society, and the Donauschwaben Society (for Germans who came from Swabia).”

        In the beginning, the society worked hard to make a name for itself. It originated a series of German celebrations such as the Rheinland Karneval, which included a “Faschings (costume) Ball” and added other dances as the years progressed.

        “The Germania Roundtable,” a weekly radio discussion that aired during Over The Rhine Showcase on a Hamilton radio station in 1963-64, further expanded the group's recognition in the area. Today, the Germania Society has about 350 members in Greater Cincinnati.

        Two successful early Oktoberfest dances held in 1965 and 1966 by the society gave rise to the idea of planning an Oktoberfest festival.

        “The way our original Oktoberfest was planned, it was run like a business,” says Mr. Schwab, who handles the publicity. “We wanted everyone to know that this would be handled the right way — like in Munich.”

        Like the Munich celebration, the Germania Society's Oktoberfest includes plenty of authentic German cuisine — not just beer and bratwurst.

Food is the real deal

               Camilla Schwab, Ernest's wife and organizer of the food for the event, and her team of volunteers have been busy the last few weeks hand-rolling 8,000 sauerkraut balls, peeling more than 700 pounds of potatoes for the potato salad and preparing other delicacies such as goulash with spatzle and red cabbage, pork loin, cole slaw and cabbage rolls.

        Mrs. Schwab is particular about the food. Very particular.

        “I stick with one butcher,” she says. “He sees me coming and knows I don't want any fat.”

        Although the work is hard, her commitment is apparent. “You have your pride in the club,” she says. “Homemade is homemade.”

        Other delicacies include homemade cakes and tortes donated by members as well as cream puffs, bienenstiche and strudel from Servatii's. Of course, German beer is served as well as Jagermeister, a syrupy German liquor.

Traditional entertainment

               Live entertainment including German bands, folk dancing, magic shows and a special appearance by master yodeler Kerry Christensen will be ongoing throughout the weekend.

        The Klub Haus, a beer-hall type of building with a dance floor, and the outdoor pavilion provide plenty of room for eating, dancing, stein-clinking, arm-linked singing, swaying and whatever other type of German celebrating you can fathom.

        The park's lush location in the heart of farmland also lend it an authentic bier garten type of feel.

        “You have greenery all around you,” Mr. Schwab says.

        Chicken is grilled on spits at the top of the hill, and rides and a petting zoo provide entertainment for children auf der wies'n (on the meadows).

        “We have everything decorated to look like Munich — all in white and blue,” Mr. Schwab says.

Families keep it going

               Family participation, in the society as well as the festival, are key to the event's continued success.

        Germania Society member Paul Southwick, 27, says he became involved when his parents joined.

        “My parents became members by winning a door prize 17 years ago,” he explains. “They had to come to the clubhouse to collect their prize and decided to join the society.”

        Mr. Southwick, whose mother is German, and his wife, participate for a number of reasons. “This Oktoberfest is the best way to promote German heritage — it's great publicity,” he explains. “Our main goal now is to get younger people involved.”

        Mr. Schwab agrees but realizes that it takes everyone's commitment for the society and the Oktoberfest's continued success.

        “You want the young people to follow, but you can only do that if you have your heart with them,” he explains. “I wouldn't be in this organization for 37 years, if it wasn't fun.”


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