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Oktoberfest is in the Air!

Hundreds celebrate the German tradition at local festivals

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Kids enjoy the rides at Fort Belvoir’s Oktoberfest celebration.

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The Edelweiss Band plays a polka at Shirlington.

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The Alpine Dancers at Shirlington

This year marks the 175th Oktoberfest celebration in Munich, Germany. The event, which runs from Sept. 20 through Oct. 5, is the world’s largest fair, attracting about six million visitors from across the globe. Area residents don’t have to cross the Atlantic, however, to take part in the Bavarian tradition. There are several Oktoberfest events happening around the beltway this year, though they might not resemble the original 19th century celebration.

The first Oktoberfest was held to celebrate the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig (later to become King Ludwig I) to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen on Oct. 12, 1810. The residents of Munich were invited to participate in the day’s festivities, held on the fields in front of the city’s gates.

The featured event was a horse race, which was held again the following year, marking the beginning of the annual festival. In 1811, an agricultural show was added in the hopes of offering a boost to local farms. Though the horse race has since been abandoned, the agricultural tradition continues with the Bavarian Central Agriculture Festival taking place every third year.

The festival most people picture when they hear the word "Oktoberfest" originated in 1896, when sparse beer stalls were replaced with tents sponsored by Bavarian breweries.

Today there are 14 tents at the festival, offering a total of 100,000 seats. In addition to beer, the halls serve traditional Bavarian treats like wurstel (sausage), reiberdatschi (potato pancakes) and haxn (knuckle of pork). According to the city of Munich’s official estimates, in 2007 approximately 6,940,600 liters of beer and 142,253 pairs of pork sausage were consumed.

The modern day festival also takes place mostly in September, although the last few days always fall in October. This change was made shortly after the festival’s inception to take advantage of the warmer weather.

Here in northern Virginia, Oktoberfest season is well underway. On Saturday Oct. 4 Arlington residents marked the event with an all-afternoon celebration at Shirlington Village. The Capitol City Brewing Company, which has a location on the Village’s main strip, brought more than 30 micro-breweries from across the mid-Atlantic region. Revelers (who consisted of mostly young adults) purchased tickets that allowed them to sample hundreds of beers.

The Washington Sanger Bund, a choral group that performs traditional German music throughout the DC metro area, sold food at the festival to raise money for their group.

"We sing wherever people understand German," said German-born chorus member Gretel Dahncke. "It is important to keep the German language alive in America," she added.

In addition to four different kinds of sausages, sauerkraut, pretzels and German pastries, Oktoberfest attendees could also enjoy the sounds of the Edelweiss Band and watch the Apline Dancers perform traditional dances.

Roland Zeender is founding member, musical director and keyboardist with the Edelweiss Band.

"I like the atmosphere," he said. "People seem to let their hair down and have a good time."

Other community groups joined in the celebration at Shirlington as well. The library offered a children’s program, which included fall-inspired arts and crafts and games, and an Arlington voter registration team was out getting last-minute registration forms completed for the Monday deadline.

Further south another Oktoberfest celebration took place. At Fort Belvoir, families enjoyed dozens of carnival rides and autumn-themed games as well as food and entertainment.

Marsha’s Country Store, in Lorton, provided produce, fruit, preserves and other treats from local farms across the region.

The Philadelphia German Brass Band and Elbe-Musikaten performed traditional German polkas and waltzes all weekend for attendees munching on hamburgers, hot dogs and baskets of fries.

A face-painter and clown were at the Kinder Korner, providing entertainment for the under-5 crowd.

Susan Ray and Alison O’Quinn have brought their families to the festival for many years.

"It’s nice that the carnival has little-kid friendly rides," said Ray, whose children are five and three years old.

Both moms appreciated the fact that the festival offered something for family members of all ages.