More events this year to lead Oktoberfest celebrations
Victoria G. Molinar,
Special to The Monitor:
The German Air Force Air Defense Center might eventually leave Fort Bliss, but their enthusiasm to contribute to both the Fort Bliss and El Paso-Juarez community is just as strong as ever. Since this year marks the 40th anniversary of their Oktoberfest, they’re going big.
“We started planning last year in October,” said German Air Force Lt. Col. Stephen Lawrenz, who leads the Oktoberfest planning and organization. “About 30 Air Force Soldiers have been setting up for the past two weeks and their spouses help out during the weekend.”
It’s nothing new when the tickets for Oktoberfest sell out. This year, however, is the first time that they sold out three weeks in advance for the Sept. 14 and 15 celebrations. Those who are interested in experiencing Oktoberfest but have yet to purchase tickets need not worry; more Oktoberfest festivities are offered this year, including the usual Sept. 16 Oktoberfest celebrations, which will be free and geared toward families.
The celebrations begin Tuesday, when the GAFADC will host a private Oktoberfest for Soldiers of the Warrior Transition Battalion and their families.
A free pre-Oktoberfest will be open to the public Wednesday at the German Community Center at 5095 Robert E Lee Road. Festivities begin at 6 p.m. with the tapping of the ceremonial wooden keg, a tradition that dates back to the original Oktoberfest in Munich.
A charity concert will liven up the Oktoberfest tent at Bldg. 747, near Carter Road Sept. 13 with performances by the Original Bavarian Brass Band, the Neal McCowan Band and Shaq Nasty, a rock cover band consisting of Soldiers from Joint Task Force North. Gates open at 6 p.m. and the concert starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the German Community Center. All proceeds go to the Child Crisis Center of El Paso.
Oktoberfest planners estimate that nearly 1,300 people will attend each Oktoberfest celebration at the Bldg. 747 site. Those who purchased tickets on time will enjoy a 40th anniversary clay beer stein and a meal consisting of jaegerschnitzel (breaded pork with gravy and mushrooms), spaetzle (pasta) and rotkohl, which is all included in the ticket. Sunday’s free event will offer the same items for individual purchase.
Entertainment includes performances by the Original Bavarian Brass Band, Schuhplattler Dance Group and this year will feature a new guest band straight from Bavaria called Goaßlschnalzer. This band’s unique instruments are their whips, which they crack to the music as they stand on top of tables.
“Many Americans like to dance to the Bavarian music,” said German Air Force Sgt. Nina Schmolke, an Oktoberfest construction team member. “In Germany, we don’t normally have a dance floor, but we do for the Oktoberfest here.”
Other food includes original German bratwurst, leberkäse (liver cheese sausage-type patty), pretzels and cheese. And it wouldn’t be Oktoberfest without authentic German beer. Along with Paulaner, Jägermeister shots and Kleiner Feigling (a fig vodka) shots will be available.
“For the people who are coming to Oktoberfest for the first time: Be careful when drinking German beer because it is a little bit stronger than American beer,” said German Air Force Capt. Juergen Franz, chief of construction for Oktoberfest. “I think people will really enjoy everything about the festival; the food, the music and the culture.”
Proceeds from the Oktoberfest benefit Aid for the Needy and Helping Hands, charities started by the German Air Force airmen and their spouses about 25 years ago. The German Air Force’s aim to contribute to the community is evident in all of their events, which usually benefit several charities.
“We are not only an integral part of the Fort Bliss community, but the El Paso community as well,” said Lawrenz. “It’s a bit sad that we’re leaving because it has been a nice opportunity to experience the Tex-Mex community.”
The German Air Force brought Oktoberfest to Fort Bliss so that American Soldiers and civilians can experience some German culture themselves, but this only represents one famous region of Germany. Some other parts of Germany are represented throughout other festivities that GAFADC offers, including their annual Christmas and spring celebrations. In turn, many German airmen have expressed their admiration for El Paso’s border culture.
“I thank my government for bringing me here. The people here are really friendly, the food is really nice, and, of course, there is a lot more sun,” said Franz. “I would say this is my second home and would like to come back to El Paso.”
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