An Oktoberfest of traditions, new and old
The loud carnival music and drunken voices carried across the Delaware Saengerbund’s parking lot past the residential backyards full of cars that heeded the scrawled signs — $5 and $10 parking, depending on proximity to the event — written on the backs of pizza boxes and other cardboard scraps.
Oktoberfest was in town from Sept. 16 to Sept. 18, and Salem Church Road was a mess of traffic and police car lights all weekend. People walked and stumbled to and from the event, respectively, on the shoulder of the road.
Arno Fels, a Delaware Saengerbund member since 1989, has worked at Oktoberfest since he joined the organization. This year, he worked at the information table.
“We start working already in June,” Fels said. “We go to the radio stations, go to the newspapers and have things published. Even the university is involved.”
Fels said the university radio station advertises for the Delaware Saengerbund’s Oktoberfest. The event, held annually for the 38th year, is a smaller version of the German Oktoberfest celebration in Munich.
“This is copying the Oktoberfest in Munich,” Fels said. “It is identical. It is a miniature.”
However, while smaller, the Saengerbund’s Newark Oktoberfest is extraordinarily popular. Six thousand people attended the event on Friday afternoon, and while the attendance numbers aren’t back yet, Fels said even more went on Saturday.
The food stand sells about 3,000 pounds of sausages every year and 1,000 pounds of potatoes, Fels said. This creates a lot of work for the event’s volunteers, who use raw materials to cook all of the food themselves for Oktoberfest.
“Next year we will be bigger, we [will] have more vendors,” Fels said.
Carl Renner, president of Delaware Saengerbund, joined the club in 1983 and has been involved in Oktoberfest every year since.
“We consider ourselves the most authentic Oktoberfest outside of Germany,” Renner said. “We have four of the genuine Munich Oktoberfest beers here. No one else has that in the United States all in one spot.”
In addition, the Saengerbund’s Oktoberfest has a Bavarian dance group, authentic German food prepared by Germans and a band from Germany. All of this is coordinated and put on by 700 volunteers, roughly 600 of which are Saengerbund members, Renner said.
In recent years, the event had to ban its intoxicated guests from one popular Delaware Saengerbund Oktoberfest event — stacking cups.
“It’s just something that organically happened here,” Renner said. “A number of years ago, someone decided that if we had a plastic souvenir cup that people could take home, they would be reused, and people would remember it was from Oktoberfest. I think it just became a recreation.”
All draft beers come served in the official Oktoberfest plastic cups. At some point, it became a tradition to stack the cups as high as possible in a pyramid on the tables, which became dangerous when guests had a lot of cups full of alcohol and a competitive spirit.
“You have to keep your feet on the ground,” Renner said. “You get people climbing on chairs and they fall. Last year we had someone break a table.”
To enforce this grounded rule, Renner said police officers keep Oktoberfest safe by patrolling the grounds. Renner calls event security “one of [the] largest expenses.” Event organizers typically spend $20,000 of their $250,000 to $300,000 total expenses just to employ Delaware State police officers at $68 an hour.
However, security costs are negated by the fact that Oktoberfest brings in over half a million dollars in revenue every year. Since the event is a fundraiser for all of Saengerbund’s activities, it is crucial that they make enough money to support themselves for the next year.
This year, the News Journal sponsored a cup stacking contest at Oktoberfest. It mainly attracted families with children to race against the clock and safely stack the cups as high as possible in under a minute.
For Renner, Oktoberfest is always a family event. His own family has been significantly involved with the festival for years, starting with the creation of the famous plastic stacking cups.
“My daughter is the one who created the design [on the cups],” Renner said. “We just revise [the Roman numerals] each year, like the Super Bowl.”