The Wilson Boulevard corridor will never be confused with the verdant hills of Bavaria, but this weekend the streets of Ballston will fill with the sounds of German drinking songs, the smell of steaming bratwurst and women in lederhosen.
Up to 20,000 people are expected to attend Ballston’s Blocktoberfest ‘05 street festival on Saturday, Sept. 24, from noon to 9 p.m.
Five city blocks surrounding the Ballston Commons Mall will be cordoned off to street traffic where the public will be able to enjoy live performers and street vendors, as well as patronize five local restaurants and bars. Twenty bands, including The Fray, Soldiers of Jah Army and the Kelly Bell Band, will perform on four outdoor stages throughout the afternoon and evening.
“Attendance at the event has doubled every year,” said Richard Shea, CEO of HiBall events, which is managing the fete. “Part of the reason is because it’s not just a concert. People can gravitate to whatever they want and find fun.”
This year there is a greater focus on increasing the number of family activities, said Julie Mangis, executive director of the Ballston-Virginia Square Partnership. There will be a carnival for children with clowns, unicyclists and face painters, and approximately 20 rides and games.
Tickets are $10 in advance, and $15 at the gate, and all proceeds benefit Stop Child Abuse Now (SCAN), an organization that also strives to improve parent-child relations.
SCAN will be running booths to raise the community’s awareness about child abuse issues and to promote their parental education and support workshops. Volunteers will be available to give parents tips on issues ranging from discipline techniques to anger management to helping a child deal with separation anxiety.
“We hope by the assistance we are providing we will prevent future child abuse and neglect,” said Diane Charles, SCAN’s executive director. “We help parents understand the challenges they face and give them specific guidelines and advice.”
Blocktoberfest gives SCAN the opportunity to reach out to a younger demographic that includes new parents and those thinking of having children in the coming years, Charles said.
BLOCKTOBERFEST is the second most lucrative sales day of the year for Ballston area merchants and restaurants, behind the neighborhood’s St. Patrick’s Day festival, Mangis said.
The event attracts visitors from throughout the Washington metropolitan area, and from as far away as southern Virginia and Delaware.
Some of those individuals are seeing Ballston for the first time and the hope is that they will be impressed enough to return to shop and eat on other occasions, Mangis said. A couple who had never been to Ballston before attending the annual festival, now in its fourth year, was so impressed by the neighborhood they subsequently purchased a condominium there, Mangis said.
There are downsides for the Ballston neighborhood as well. Traffic along Wilson Boulevard can be horrendous on the day of the event, and 20,000 party-goers can leave quite a mess behind.
THE ORIGINAL OKTOBERFEST held in Munich each year began in 1810 to celebrate the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The festival was held on the fields in front of the city gates. Each year more activities were added with beer tents and halls replacing simple stands in 1896. Although no German beverages will be for sale during Arlington's Blocktoberfest, there will be plenty of American drafts to choose from.
“For the middle of Ballston it’s pretty cool,” said Jesse Seidman, 23, who moved to Arlington last year. “It’s neat how they were able to put it all together — and there are a ton of young people [attending Blocktoberfest].”
Arlington police officials report that several revelers are arrested each year for intoxication or public urination. Additional police will be deployed deeper into residential neighborhoods surrounding Ballston Common Mall to ensure that no incidents occur after the conclusion of the festival.
“We’ve never had any major incident, just a relatively small amount of criminal activity,” said Matthew Martin, spokesman for the Arlington Police Department. “We’re aware that when people have been drinking there’s the possibility of disruptions.”