Thursday, May 23, 2002

Watered down?

Oktoberfest angst leaves German 'aus'

        Suppose they held an Oktoberfest in this city of beer and brats without the blessing of German-Americans.

        Welcome to Oktoberfest—Zinzinnati 2002. Its authenticity won't be approved by the German-American Citizens League.

        The league has resigned from the event's steering committee. It's longstanding ties to the festival are, to use an old German word, kaputt.

        For now.

        Backstage negotiations under way could mend this rift.

        The league acts as an umbrella organization for 20 groups dedicated to preserving and perpetuating Greater Cincinnati's German connections.

        Established in 1895, the league co-founded Oktoberfest in 1976. It has worked on every fest since. But not the one expected to bring 500,000 attendees downtown Sept. 21-22.

        League President Don Tolzmann called his group's resignation “a parting of the ways.”

        It's more than that.

        The league proudly saw itself as the independent guardian of Oktoberfest's authenticity. It monitored this celebration of Cincinnati's German heritage and noticed drawbacks to its popularity.

        “Oktoberfest got bigger,” Don Tolzmann said. “But not necessarily better.”

List of beefs

        The league has many reasons for leaving Oktoberfest. They range from the food — too ethnically diverse while lacking variety in German cuisine — to the music.

        “They've cut back the entertainment budget,” Don Tolzmann said. “So, unlike years past, we can't afford to bring in a Bavarian brass band.”

        No authentic brass band. Not enough authentic German food. At an Oktoberfest? That's tantamount to watering down the beer and stuffing the wursts with tofu.

        Some choices for Oktoberfest's grand marshal — Davy Jones and Tony Orlando for instance — riled the league.

        Neither fading star has deep ties to Cincinnati or the city's German traditions.

        “We suggested over and over: "Get somebody of German heritage,'” the president said.

        His top pick: Doris Day. She's a hometown girl with the Germanic maiden name of von Kappelhoff.

Fair share

        Don Tolzmann's top reason for leaving Oktoberfest is:

        “They failed to honor a commitment they had made to the German-American Citizens League and betrayed our trust.”

        The league learned that the Cincinnati Fire Museum received some proceeds from ChiliFest.

        “We've never received any money from Oktoberfest,” Don Tolzmann noted.

        The league asked the Downtown Council, a wing of Greater Cincinnati's Chamber of Commerce and Oktoberfest's producer, if a similar contribution could be made to the German Heritage Museum in Green Township.

        Funds were promised during Oktoberfest 2001. The donation never materialized. League members were eventually told: Wait till next year.

        That move — recalling another German word: dummkopf — triggered the resignation.

        The league is not calling for everyone with sauerkraut in their veins to boycott Oktoberfest.

        “Some of our groups may still have food booths down there,” Don Tolzmann said.

        As for the league, he added, “We have had enough.”

        Maybe not. Behind-the-scenes talks have Downtown Council officials feeling “99.9 percent sure” the rift can be healed.

        Hope so.

        Without the league, Oktoberfest 2002 will be a little less authentic.

        With a whole lot less — to use one more German word — gemutlichkeit.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; e-mail


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