What do the Easter bunny, Santa Clause, Christmas trees, and hamburgers all have in common? They all are rooted in German tradition. Since the first Germans settled in Pennsylvania in 1683, German Americans have contributed greatly to American culture, tradition, and economic growth. October celebrates German-American Heritage Month, making it the perfect neonth to extend your group’s Oktoberfest celebration well beyond October 3. So don’t hang up your lederhosen just yet; keep the barrel of fun rolling all month long with the activity ideas below.
OKTOBERFEST CELEBRATION – Kick off the month with an Oktoberfest Celebration. Hire entertainment that plays polka or German folk music. Invite a group of German dancers to perform wearing traditional German attire. Serve brats, pretzels, non-alcoholic beer, and root beer. Decorate in blues and whites. Use inexpensive beer steins as vases and create autumn flower arrangements for centerpieces. Be sure to schedule the alpine hat craft (below) prior to the event.
ALPINE HAT CRAFT – Gather your group to create alpine hats they can don to Oktoberfest. You’ll need large craft or construction paper, glue, a hole punch, scissors, elastic, craft feathers, and other decorations to personalize each hat. Check out this tutorial for step-by-step instructions.
POLKA-CIZE – Lead weekly chair aerobics to the tune of polka music. Create your own polka playlist using your favorite music streaming service, or purchase a polka CD. Instruct participants to step-hop-step while seated. Participants can also clap along, bend their arms in front of them, circle their forearms, and complete other dance-like exercises from their seated position. Begin with “The Chicken Dance” and end with “Beer Barrel Polka.” Choreograph movements appropriate for your members.
ARMCHAIR TRAVEL – Take members on a scenic “tour” of Germany. Check out a Germany travel DVD, such as “Rick Steves’ Best of Germany,” from your local library. Serve soft pretzels during the film. Afterwards, invite members who’ve visited Germany to share their experiences.
GERMAN-AMERICAN HERITAGE REMINISCENCE – Invite members to reminisce about their German-American heritage and/or what German-Americans have contributed to American society. Reminisce about their childhood Christmas trees, Easter bunny traditions, and visiting Santa Claus. German immigrants introduced the concept of kindergarten to America, as well as school gymnasiums. Reminisce about grammar school and gym class. Did they go to kindergarten? Did their children attend? What was it like? Do they remember their teacher? Ask members with German ancestry to share ways their ancestry shaped their life, such as family traditions, foods, habits, or personality. Broaden this topic to include members with other backgrounds.
ARTIST IMPRESSIONS – Share a brief biography of Paul Klee with your group, and invite members to create their own abstract art inspired by his paintings. Provide participants with heavy paper, glue, a paintbrush, and colorful tissue paper cut into small squares and rectangles. Instruct participants to squeeze glue onto their paper and spread it around on a section of their paper using the paintbrush. Next, select various colors of tissue paper to stick on top of the glue, creating an abstract design. Continue on, working in small sections at a time. They can create a self-portrait, garden, animal, or pattern.
CLASSICAL MUSIC APPRECIATION – From the three B’s – Bach, Beethoven, and Brahm – to modern-day film score composer Zimmer, the course of western music was greatly influenced by composers native to Germany. Their works remain well-known and celebrated throughout the world. Share a brief biography of a few German composers, then play their most famous pieces while your group listens. Discuss themes they recognize, instruments they hear, and the overall atmosphere of the piece.
HOMEMADE SOFT PRETZELS – Gather your group and the ingredients to make soft pretzels from scratch. Look up a recipe or check out this one from the Food Network. Once the dough has doubled in size, divide into equal sections and give each participant their own section to shape. Make a chart on a separate piece of paper to keep track of which member’s pretzel is which, then place pretzels on a baking tray. Once pretzels have cooled, serve with mustard, melted cheese, or other dipping sauces.
ROOT-BEER-FLOAT SOCIAL – Gather your group for a relaxing afternoon root-beer-float social. Reminisce about soda fountains. Share the origins of the root beer float by doing a quick internet search. Serve traditional root beer floats, or purchase necessary ingredients to offer participants their choice of their favorite version of the root beer float.
PLAY PASS THE STEIN – Purchase a plastic beer stein and play Pass the Stein with your group. Similar to the game “Hot Potato,” seat participants in a circle. Give one participant the stein to start, then start playing music. Once the music starts, participants pass the stein in a clockwise pattern. Randomly stop the music. The participant caught holding the stein when the music stops gets a point. Continue playing until one player scores five points.
GERMAN TRIVIA – Create your own version of a popular game show to play with your group, themed around Germany. Categories can include German Foods, Famous Germans, Name the Composer, German Landmarks, German Language, and/or Traditions from Germany. Use the internet to look up trivia questions. Refer to the trivia below to help get you started.
OUTING FOR GERMAN FOOD – Take your group out to a local restaurant that serves German food. If you can’t go out, invite members to a catered Oktoberfest Lunch.
STEINS ON DISPLAY – Invite members and staff to display their collectible steins for the month of October. Create tented place cards to identify the owner of each stein. Place steins in a safe display case or shelves in a community area. If you don’t have a safe place to display steins for the month, turn this into an activity. Invite members to a “show and tell” activity, where they can share more about their steins.
ROLL OUT THE BARREL TRIVIA
NAME THE FAMOUS GERMANS
- He was a genius of physics who developed the general theory of relativity. Who is Albert Einstein?
- Most famous for his oratorio Messiah, this composer’s other works include “Water Music” and “Music for the Royal Fireworks.” Who is George Frideric Handel?
- An inventor and goldsmith, he was called the father of the printing press. Who is Johanne Gutenberg?
- A monk, priest, theologian, and professor, he inspired the Protestant Reformation when he questioned the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Who is Martin Luther?
- He is generally regarded as the inventor of the gasoline-powered automobile. His 1885 patented motorcar is considered the first practical automobile put into series production. His company later merged with Mercedes. Who is Karl Friedrich Benz?
NAME THE TRADITIONS FROM GERMANY
- Whether you decorate yours right after Thanksgiving or wait until Christmas Eve, if you’re one of the 80 percent of Americans who participate in this holiday tradition, you can give thanks to this German tradition. What is the Christmas tree?
- Another holiday tradition gleaned from Germany involves lavishly decorating tiny buildings made from spiced cookie dough. What are gingerbread houses?
- This popular Easter animal is first mentioned in 16th century German writings. Later, in the 1800s, chocolate rabbits and eggs were first introduced. What is the Easter bunny?
- One of the most popular German traditions worldwide began at a Bavarian wedding. Today, it’s a 16-day festival that celebrates beer and sausages. What is Oktoberfest?
- Many five-year-olds learn through the power of play when they begin their formal education in this introductory class. What is kindergarten?
ROLL OUT THE BARREL THOUGHT FOR THE MONTH
“Happiness often comes from paying attention to small things, unhappiness often from neglecting small things.” ~ Wilhelm Busch, German humorist
“Roll Out the Barrel” was written by Erin McCart. Copyright 2021 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprint Policy: To reprint or republish all or portions of this entry, please acquire written permission and agree to link back to the original source. You can contact us at [email protected] to obtain permission.