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GERMAN OKTOBERFEST

The end of summer is near and autumn is right around the corner. There is a bounty of activities to enjoy in the beauty of nature. Try this seasonal exercise:

  • Brainstorm a list of outdoor fall activities with your group (e.g., enjoy a nature walk, go on a hayride, pick a pumpkin, navigate a corn maze, sample cider from a local mill, visit an apple orchard, thresh grain, chop firewood, gather nuts and acorns, buy produce from a farm stand, tend a fall garden).
  • Pass around “natural” objects related to the activities. Items of interest: various kinds of apples, pears, and grapes; gourds and pumpkins; brilliant fall leaves; stuffed scarecrows; Indian corn; wheat stalks; fall vegetables such as kale, turnips, and beets; and colorful mums.
  • Encourage your group to share any special “outdoor” memories related to the season.

Another popular activity among people of all ages is attending seasonal festivals and street parties. Many communities across America pay homage to their heritage or celebrate the year’s harvest with an old-fashioned festival. Ask your group: What kinds of fall fests have you gone to? Describe the music, activities, and foods associated with the festival. Did your community or town host any kind of event related to autumn (e.g., wine or sugar maple festival)?

The fall season is a good time to highlight a well-known German festival, Oktoberfest, with your group. The German state of Bavaria is home to the Oktoberfest, which is held in the city of Munich. The 16-day event is attended by millions of people from around the world. Ask: What images come to mind when you think of celebrating the German Oktoberfest (e.g., drinking beer, eating sausages, listening to a polka band)? Talk about the history of the festival that began almost 200 years ago. Or, rent a videotape of a modern-day Oktoberfest from the public library to share with your group. Be sure to encourage recollections from anyone in the group who has attended the German festival in Munich.

Have a barrel of fun with your group! Sing the famous polka song “Beer Barrel Polka” (also known as “Roll Out the Barrel”). Serve a beverage that used to be kept in barrels: root beer or apple cider. Add some soft German pretzels with sweet mustard. Wunderbar!

Other activities: Highlight Bavarian folk life, which is unique within the German culture. Show slides of the city of Munich, including favorite attractions. Invite a local German history professor to share some insights about the modern-day German republic with your group.

Can’t attend the fun-loving German festival? There are hundreds of local Oktoberfest celebrations in America, especially in cities with large German-American populations (e.g., La Crosse, Wisconsin). Or, host your own Oktoberfest party! The event is a good opportunity to showcase German heritage with your group.

CELEBRATE OKTOBERFEST – AMERICAN STYLE

Create the ambience of a traditional German-style Oktoberfest with some lively, entertaining activities. Here are a few suggestions to get your group in the mood. Invite a German language class or German club to teach a few words/phrases to your group. Or, compose a list of familiar German words and ask participants to guess what they mean – e.g., auf Wiedersehen (good-bye) or Guten Tag (hello).

  • Find German names among participants, e.g., Knopf, Schmidt, Weiss.
  • Show pictures or pass around popular objects made by Bavarian craftsmen: puppets, woodwork carvings, nutcrackers, cuckoo clocks, beer steins, M. I. Hummel figurines, teddy bears, handmade Bavarian dolls.
  • Don some familiar Bavarian costumes such as dirndls and lederhosen. Pass out plastic green yodeler’s hats with feathers for each participant to wear.
  • Display instruments from a brass oompah band.
  • Decorate in German theme with mini flags and travel posters of the Bavarian state and the city of Munich.

Ready for the Oktoberfest party to begin? Make gingerbread people cookies with your group. Bavarian gingerbread hearts are a special treat at the Oktoberfest. Show pictures of the cookies worn around the neck. Decorate gingerbread houses with your group, then give a prize for the most original Oktoberfest design.

Food is a large part of any celebration. Share favorite German recipes from some vintage cookbooks. Of course, you’ll want to sample some traditional Oktoberfest foods: sausages, sauerkraut, red cabbage, warm potato salad, or potato soup. Add a favorite dessert such as Black Forest cake or apple strudel.

For some merrymaking, invite an oompah band to play some traditional German music such as polkas, waltzes, and marches. Clap your hands, sing along, and dance to traditional German folk tunes. You may want to highlight lively polka music. Invite dancers in traditional costumes or instructors to teach basic polka steps and to talk about the history of the genre. Hold a polka-dancing contest with your group.

For an intergenerational activity, listen to the German heritage song “The Chicken Dance” and invite children from a local dance studio to demonstrate the popular Chicken Dance, which has become a staple dance at Oktoberfests. It’s a favorite for people of all ages. In Germany it is known as the Duck Dance. The dance was introduced in the U.S. in the 1980s at an Oktoberfest. Afterwards, sample a favorite German treat-chocolate!

For a grand finale, loosen up vocal chords and enjoy some traditional music of the region, Alpine-style yodeling.

GERMAN TRIVIA QUIZ

Millions of Americans have German heritage. Read about Ronald Reagan’s proclamation of the first German-American Heritage Day on October 6, 1983. Share ways to celebrate German heritage (e.g., chat about famous German-Americans such as Levi Strauss, Henry Kissinger, and Marlene Dietrich). Then challenge your group to a German trivia quiz.

  1. What is the capital of Germany? Berlin
  2. What wall, erected in 1961, divided East and West Germany? Berlin Wall
  3. In what year were East and West Germany reunited? 1990
  4. What is Germany’s most popular sport? Soccer (called football in Germany)
  5. What are Germany’s big expressways called? Autobahns
  6. How many states comprise the Federal Republic of Germany? 16
  7. As of 2002, what is the new currency of Germany? The euro (replaced the Deutsche Mark)
  8. What brothers published a collection of German fairy tales (e.g., “Rapunzel,” “Snow White,” “Little Red Riding Hood”) in the 1800s? Grimm
  9. In the U.S., the German frankfurter is called what? Hot dog
  10. What short-legged German dog breed is referred to as a “wiener dog”? Dachshund
  11. What are the colors in the German flag? Black, red, gold
  12. What automobile, manufactured in Germany, was known as the Beetle or VW bug? Volkswagen
  13. What does the German phrase danke schon mean in English? Thank you
  14. Who is the current chancellor of Germany? Gerhard Schroeder
  15. Name some famous German music composers. Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Handel, Schumann, Wagner, Brahms

THOUGHT FOR THE MONTH

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.” ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

“GERMAN OKTOBERFEST” written by Sue Hansen. © 2005 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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