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Oktoberfest livens up the weekend in time for Fall

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Donna Teynor, Oktoberfest Committee member, (middle) and Joan Paulson, Ms. Oktoberfest for 2023, (right) introduce Lyla Martin, winner of the Oktoberfest button design contest, (left) during the Tapping of the Keg Party at the Backwater Bar and Grill.

Fest-goers gather around to participate in Hammerspiel, one of Oktoberfest’s most popular games. (Steve Van Kooten/Courier Press)

Tina Ter Horst, Lori Fedders, Ally Schultz, Angie Youngers, Katie Youngers, and Cara Reilly were part of the costume contest at Oktoberfest. Schultz took home first place against a tough field. (Steve Van Kooten/Courier Press)

By Steve Van Kooten

 

10 a.m. - The Parade

The wind slipped briskly through the streets to kick around the crisp, brown leaves. Under children’s shoes, they crunched like the top of a peach crumble. Fall arrived in Prairie du Chien just in time for Oktoberfest.

Employees from the businesses on Blackhawk Avenue stood outside their shops or watched through the front windows along with hundreds of couples and families as the Prairie du Chien High School Marching Band led the Oktoberfest Parade down to St. Feriole Island. The streets, bare slabs of concrete, quickly filled with cars, people and animals as they moved from People’s State Bank’s parking lot to the Fireman’s Association Shelter where two yellow tents had been erected earlier in the week.

By 11 a.m. the festivities had begun. For many fest-goers, Oktoberfest had just started; however, the event’s committee and organizers had been hard at work throughout the week to bring Oktoberfest to as many people as possible.

On Oct. 19, the fest committee held their Lederhosen Luncheon at the Huckleberry’s Restaurant. The lunch served traditional German food like schnitzel and bratwurst and provided musical entertainment from Fred Isaak, an accordion musician well-versed in German music.

“This is an opportunity to get people involved who otherwise can’t,” Harry Remz, Oktoberfest Committee President and 2023 Beer Meister, said. Primarily, the Luncheon served older adults and Remz stated some people could not get down to the festival due to a variety of reasons, from transportation issues to time constraints.

The next day, the Eagles Club hosted an early afternoon Euchre tournament in their building on Beaumont Avenue where 56 contestants played at 14 tables for a variety of prizes. In the evening, the Committee brought their brand of jovial cheer to the Backwater Bar and Grill at the Waterfront Hotel for a Tapping of the Keg Party.

Mike Ulrich, Oktoberfest’s organizer, saw the keg tap as a way to inaugurate Oktoberfest each year and set the right mood: “We want to welcome everybody in, and it’s a good way to start out a fun weekend.”

After the parade, people lined up outside the ticket tent, then dispersed among the music, activities and food areas Oktoberfest had to offer.

 

11:30 a.m. -Children’s Tent

Next to the Shelter, children and families entered one of the yellow tents. Inside, lines had formed where kids partook in pumpkin tick-tack-toe, color, get bouquets of dried flowers and plants and get their face painted. 

“We just love seeing the young kids come in and participate,” Donna Teynor, a member of the Oktoberfest Committee and Master Gardener, said. “We use to have it [children’s fest activities] in the back of the Memorial Gardens. Now we have this big tent in case the weather doesn’t cooperate.” The Master Gardeners sponsored the children’s tent. For many of the fest’s organizers, the children’s activities are vital to the event’s identity.

“There’s a good mix of kids and adults here,” Elaine Jensen said. “It turns Oktoberfest into a family event, not just, ‘Come drink beer.’” Jensen, a resident of Evansville, said. She brought her friends with her to experience Oktoberfest in Prairie du Chien, and she hasn’t been disappointed. “Every year they’ve added a little bit.”

“We’ve encouraged people to bring their children and make it about family events,” Remz said. Outside the children’s tent, Mary Sweezy, Royal Bank Branch Manager and committee member, assisted volunteers to organize sign up for the Root Beer Stein Holding contest, an event the company sponsors to get kids more involved.

“Last year was our first [root beer stein holding], and we didn’t know what to expect,” Sweezy said. “We did it because its promoted as a family event, which is important for us.” The stein holding for children was split into three classes with around 20 participants. Parents and friends cheered on as they tested their strength and stamina against each other. While there may have only been three winners, all of the children got together to share a stein of root beer after the contest was over.

 

12:15 p.m.  -Hammerspiel

“I’ll give you a word of advice: don’t think about it,” Tad Beutin said as a group huddled around a cutting of wood set on a stand, several nails erected in front of each competitor. The rules were simple: each person got one swing at a time with a hammer to embed their nail into the wood. The execution of that task was much more complicated: the nail could only be struck with the pointed end of the hammer’s head. It was a race where patience won the day.

“I think it’s the challenge that brings people to it,” Joan Paulson, Ms. Oktoberfest and Committee Treasurer, said. Paulson took part in the first game of Hammerspiel and countless others crowded to watch and pay $1 to take part as the day wore on.

“A lot of other places, this is just a party,” Richard Lein said. “You could go to a bar and get the same kind of experience.” Lein is experienced with Oktoberfest: he attended festivals in Germany while in the military. He summed up Munich’s Oktoberfest as a State Fair-like atmosphere and compared Prairie’s event to the festivals of smaller villages, which were like relaxed block parties.

In the shelter, Remz walked past the rolling Potosi Brewing Car where attendees could exchange their tickets for beer. Behind the car, several kegs were grouped together on the grass, bone-dry. “People are enjoying it, that’s the important thing.”

 

2 p.m. - Contests

Adults had the chance to test their mettle in two events: beer stein holding and the keg toss. Men and women’s categories were made for both events, and Ulrich was happy to see the turn out.

“This is the highlight of the whole event,” Ulrich said as he announced participants for the keg toss.

Southwest Fitness sponsored the keg toss and former winners were recognized as they swung kegs across the grass to the adulation of the crowd.

Oktoberfest has drawn people to Prairie du Chien for nearly fifteen years; it’s a gateway for visitors to see the town and bond with the community.

“I think the people feel welcomed in town, and they want people to feel they’ve got friends here,” Lein said when asked about his impression of the PdC community. “I don’t think they’re trying to set themselves up with one demographic. They’re trying to be the full spectrum: agriculture, on the river, shopping. There’s a lot of things going on.”

Elle Nelson, a former Prairie du Chien resident, saw the event as a way to reconnect with the community and see things through a different lens. “Coming back to my small town for this event? I would’ve said, ‘No, thanks.’ But now I look forward to it every year. 

“I grew up here, and every time I come back, I feel like they’ve enhanced the things they have,” Nelson said. “I can appreciate the small town and the things it has to offer.” Nelson continued, stating Oktoberfest has an important role in the community: “The whole point is to bring people together. You have different people from different cultures and that’s what its turned into. We brought our friends and family to the event, and that’s the point.”

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