With the ceremonial stabbing of a keg of brew, the city of Choctaw will transform into little piece of Germany, complete with wienerschnitzel, strudel and, of course, gallons upon gallons of German beer.
But most of all, said festival founder Mike Turek, owner of Old Germany Restaurant, which provides the food for the event, Choctaw's annual Oktoberfest is about gemuetlichkeit.
"(Gemuetlichkeit) means fun times, happiness," said Turek, who will help host the 19th annual Choctaw Oktoberfest Wednesday through Saturday at Choctaw Creek Park, 2001 N. Harper. The event, which attracts more than 50,000 visitors over four days, is a celebration of German culture, food and beer.
Oktoberfest kicks off at 5:30 p.m. today, and will be open from noon to midnight through Saturday.
"We'll have 30 different taps featuring 25 different German beers," said Turek. "That will be the greatest selection of German tap beer at any Oktoberfest in the Southern United States. We'll also have German wines, coffee and bands all weekend long. We've enlarged the food lines and, this year, we've added a second kitchen."
Throughout the four-day festival, more than 6,000 pounds of potatoes, 3,000 pounds of bratwurst, 800 pounds of ham hocks and 2,500 pounds of chicken are set to be served. More than 1,100 pounds of red cabbage and sauerkraut are also on the menu.
But for many, Oktoberfest is about the libations.
"The numbers of beers available has increased this year," Turek said. "We'll have German breweries, but Oklahoma beers as well. The ceremonial keg tap will be an Oklahoma City brewery, Coop Ale. We now have an Oklahoma City brewery that does a beautiful local Oktoberfest that rivals any in Germany."
This year's celebration will also feature a guest of honor, Fritz Hasselbach, a winemaker from Germany and one of the few to ever receive three 100 ratings from Wine Spectator magazine. Hasselbach will host the official U.S. release of his newest wine, Fritz's Riesling, at this year's event.
On Aug. 19, Turek was sharing shots with a group of customers at his restaurant. Between toasts and joke-sharing, Turek announced that on "this day, 35 years ago, the Turek family arrived in Oklahoma."
Arriving from Frankfurt in 1974, his clan took a gamble and purchased the old Tasty Burger eatery in Choctaw in 1976 with a $200-a-month lease. Serving hamburgers and American fare, the only German dish on the menu was wienerschnitzel. Eventually, it added more and more German dishes until, in 1978, the menu was fully German.
"Our first Oktoberfest was a sad, sad story," Turek said. "We decided in 1991 to do an Oktoberfest party on the restaurant grounds. We decided to go full out, even if we lost money, so we rented the big tents and made the plans."
But tragedy would cast a pall over the celebration: On June 30 of that year, just weeks before the first Oktoberfest in Choctaw, the Turek patriarch passed away.
"My dad died, and it was devastating," Turek said. "We had a German powwow and came to the decision that dad would have wanted us to go forward."
That first year, only about 1,000 visitors attended. By the fourth year, attendance was up to 8,000. It's grown every year since.
"So the city of Choctaw says, 'Move it to Choctaw Creek Park. If it goes well, we'll build a permanent pavilion for future use.' It went well, and we've held Oktoberfest at Choctaw Creek Park for three years now," Turek said.
PARTY OF THE YEAR
For Choctaw residents, Oktoberfest is the party of the year.
"It's a great event, and you see people from all over. For the people of Choctaw, it's an event we look forward to," said Sammie Shahan, a Choctaw native. "I've never been to any other Oktoberfest, but we have a huge sense of pride, from the people to live here to those volunteering at the event."
The event will be staged under 30,000 square feet of tents. Admission is $2 after 5 p.m. and parking is free.
"We think that the community support is a major reason the Choctaw Oktoberfest has been such a lasting success," said Tracy Mosley, executive vice president of the Choctaw Chamber of Commerce. "It takes about 500 volunteers to come together to pull this event off each year. The event has brings in such large crowds that is a benefit to the entire community." "Heide Brandes