Oktoberfest showcases local German heritage

Madeline Auman brought her visiting parents to the 39th Delaware Saengerbund Ocktoberfest, and although they didn’t speak English, they recognized a lot.

Auman was born in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany, but has long since moved to the United States. A member of the Saengerbund and a festival volunteer, she had spent Friday and Saturday working at the ticket office but had Sunday to share with her parents.

“I want to bring my parents – who are from Germany and are around 80 years old – and show them our club here,” Auman said. “I would like to show them the camaraderie that exists with the members of the club, as well as the amount of volunteer work that has gone into this festival. I would like to show them the whole atmosphere.”

This atmosphere was, in a word, festive, with traditional Bavarian music and dancing, sausages and sauerkraut, rides and games and, of course, beer.

Over the three-day festival, approximately 22,000 people and 1,100 volunteers converged on the grounds surrounding Newark’s Delaware Saengerbund, a German regional cultural club with more than 1,000 members.

“I grew up here. I’ve been dancing since I was six,” said Teresa Vikari, the festival’s volunteer coordinator. “It helps the club. It keeps our club running and our members coming to the club.”

Vikari said her father was an influential figure in the Saengerbund, which kept her constantly exposed to her German heritage. For many others, Oktoberfest serves much the same function – an annual family tradition and get-together.

That’s exactly the case for Rory Connell, who flew in from Philadelphia on Sunday with his sister, their father Patrick and his four-year-old daughter, Eva. It has become a family excursion both to celebrate Patrick Connell’s birthday and to remember his late wife.

Rory Connell expects this to continue with Eva.

“She’s wearing lederhosen that I had when I was a kid,” Rory Connell said. “She left every year.”

The 2017 Delaware Saengerbund Oktoberfest beer garden in Newark.  The area has expanded this year and event organizers plan to expand the beer garden again next year.

The main stage on Sunday was populated by young dancers wearing traditional German outfits, practicing work and courtship dances with which they will grow.

But St. Georges resident Susan Hopkins only started coming after a personal experience years ago. She has some German heritage, of course, but for her it’s a local festival and an extension of some fond memories.

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“We come every year because we spent a month in Germany and it was the best vacation ever,” Hopkins said. “Music, dancing and reuniting with old friends. We come on Sundays as Friday and Saturday are very busy and wild.”

The Delaware Saengerbund has been around since 1853, and although Oktoberfest president Hans Nafzinger said some national clubs were struggling, the local group is thriving.

“It’s because of the limbs,” Nafzinger said. “The Germans have a pretty good work ethic, and the group we have that organizes this and our volunteers for the weekend, we all work very hard and pull ourselves together.”

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Not all club members are of German descent, Nafzinger said, although most are. But what makes Oktoberfest special is its availability to the entire regional community.

“They can really come and see what we’re capable of,” Nafzinger said. “The most important thing is that we work together for a common goal. It’s the only time the groups really come together, and it’s just amazing to see that happen.”

Contact Adam Duvernay at [email protected] or (302) 324-2785. Follow @DuvinDE on Twitter.