By KENNY WALTER
German beer, bratwurst and other German delicacies will be in abundance throughout the state this October.
George Brobeck, publicity manager for the Trenton-based German American Society, said despite a lack of large festival celebrations, Oktoberfest themes will be prevalent virtually everywhere in New Jersey.
“Everyone does an Oktoberfest, maybe not a big street festival, but many people use it as a marketing ploy during the fall time,” Brobeck said. “In New Jersey there are only a few German clubs that put something like this together and a few local clubs.”
The true Oktoberfest celebration is a 16-18-day folk festival held in Munich, Germany, and includes traditional Bavarian food, beer, music and games.
“Traditionally the celebration in Germany was the king getting married, which faded into pretty much beer,” Brobeck said. “It really is a traditional festival, and it has revolved around the beer and everything else was added on.”
However, Brobeck said many of the American festivals merge the German culture with more “fall” celebrations.
“When municipalities or townships take over things and call it the September or Oktoberfest, they usually [meld] it with the fall time and that sort of thing,” he said.
The German American Society began in 1962, after merging with a previous organization that dated to the 1880s. Brobeck said it began as a soccer club that grew into a club focusing on German culture. He said there are currently about 500 members from all over the state and the annual Oktoberfest celebration is scheduled for Sept. 25 in Trenton. Other Oktoberfest celebrations will be held in Clark, Highlands and Hamilton.
According to Brobeck, Oktoberfest celebrations have been sparse in New Jersey, but there have been new German biergartens opening in recent years, including Asbury Festhalle & Biergarten in Asbury Park, which opened in 2015, and the Whitechapel Projects, which is currently under construction in Long Branch.
Brobeck said he hopes the new German restaurants will help increase the popularity of German culture.
Jennifer Lampert, operating owner of Asbury Festhalle & Biergarten, said the restaurant and bar is trying to recreate an authentic Oktoberfest celebration throughout the month of October.
“This is our second year doing it, and we would be the most authentic place in the state of New Jersey to celebrate Oktoberfest,” she said. “We do have beers from five of the six official Oktoberfest breweries.
“The only reason we don’t have the sixth one is because you can’t get it in the United States right now. We do have an authentic Eastern European menu,” she said.
Lampert said they will also feature polka bands from all over the country and traditional German games throughout Oktoberfest.
A local brewery is also trying its hand at some special Oktoberfest beers.
Michael Skudera, co-owner of Jughandle Brewing Company in Tinton Falls, said the first-year brewery will be unveiling two special beers for their informal Oktoberfest celebration on Oct. 7.
“The Roggenbier is an ancient style of beer that all but disappeared once the German purity law of 1516, which only allowed barley for brewing beer, was adopted,” he said. “It uses a hefeweizen yeast and a large percentage of rye, resulting in a dark amber beer that is full-bodied and spicy.
“The Rauchbier is also a throwback to centuries ago, when grains were dried over open fires, imparting a smoky flavor to the malt. The malt in our Rauchbier was smoked over beechwood, resulting in a dark-colored, light-bodied brew.”
And while finding an authentic festival in New Jersey may take some effort, going to the real Oktoberfest will take a significant financial commitment.
According to personal finance website www.wallethub.com, German-Americans represent the largest ethnic group in the country, and it costs the average American $5,000 to attend the actual Oktoberfest celebration in Germany, which can vary greatly from the American versions of the celebrations.
“Germans make up the largest ethnic group in America at nearly 47 million German-Americans, so it was only a matter of time until Oktoberfest found its way to the U.S.,” Wallet Hub analyst Jill Gonzalez said. “That being said, some celebrations are more authentic than others, depending on the German-American population within a city, Cincinnati comes to mind, or the length of the tradition, New York City.”
According to Gonzalez, Oktoberfest is more than just beer and sausage, and many of the celebrations include live music, folk dancing, fairs, elaborate parades and even some original traditions invented in the U.S., like the “Running of the Wieners” race in Cincinnati or “Keg Bowling” in Denver.
While Cincinnati and New York City regularly rate high on Oktoberfest celebrations, New Jersey has not scored high in ranking Oktoberfest celebrations.
“Only the two largest cities in New Jersey were analyzed in our population-based report — Jersey City and Newark. Jersey City ranked 74th out of 150, mostly because of the costs,” Gonzalez said. “It also just recently started celebrating Oktoberfest eight years ago.
“The average beer and sausage costs are much higher in the Northeast than elsewhere. The lowest rate for a three-star hotel room is also expensive, at $103 per night.
“Newark ranked 79th overall, with very few Oktoberfest traditions and the second lowest percentage of German population in the country at just 0.4 percent.”
Former Howell resident Marie Vantelas, who studied for a semester in Germany as a college student, said after visiting Munich she realized Americans had a misconception about German culture.
“We have more of a caricature idea of German culture,” she said. “We think of a German as somebody who likes lederhosen and drinks lots and lots of beer and eats sausages.
“I went to Munich and Munich really is like stepping back in time because it looks a lot like how it did in olden times and a lot of that was intentional. After the war they rebuilt it to look a lot like it did before the war. More than any other city, at least that I visited, it has that historical influence. You don’t see as many skyscrapers as you do in other cities like Berlin.”