A newbie Norfolkan takes on Oktoberfest

September 25, 2018

The stakes were high at the starting line.

I was rooting for Mia, a brooding beauty with dark, flowing hair. But amid the cheering crowd and tough competition she fell apart. As her competitors raced forward, she stood frozen.

You never know what to expect from wiener dog races.

Some dogs shot to the finish line, their stubby legs pumping. Others didn’t quite get it, even with the allure of treats to push them along.

As a new Daily News staff member, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from my first Oktoberfest in Norfolk either, which included the wiener races and a slew of other events. But the event has helped me feel more like a local than ever after moving here four weeks ago.

Spanning two days and boasting different activities every hour, the event embodies Norfolk’s welcoming philosophy by having events for everyone to enjoy. Born of a long tradition of beer-centered celebration, this Oktoberfest respects its roots while having taken strides to evolve as well as involve all of the community. This year’s slate of events included a teen dance, bucket pong tournament and Radtour, or bike ride.

This was the seventh year for the event, said Jarad Dahlkoetter, events director at Norfolk Area Chamber of Commerce, which puts on Oktoberfest. It’s become one of the largest Oktoberfests in the state.

“We started it because we wanted to give a nod to our German heritage in Norfolk, but we also wanted to celebrate fall harvest,” he said. “The (original) Oktoberfest starts in September and the weather’s better.”

My mom, Colleen Case, visited me from Gibbon this past weekend, and I tried to show her a variety of events. She’s a true small-town Nebraskan, which was proven when she saw someone she knew at the event. She also loves live music and shopping, so we had a lot of fun listening to bands and then spent a lot of our free time boutique-hopping.

On Friday night, we joined a large crowd with festivities already in full swing. As we entered, I saw people watching the Husker volleyball game projected on a big screen, waiting in line for food trucks, listening to live music, or chatting with others over a beer. A woman in a dirndl (a German traditional dress) and cowboy boots walked by.

Our favorites from the weekend were the wiener dog races, the Lions Club parade and, of course, the live bands.

The bands provided widely varying types of music. The Leo Lonnie Orchestra, a seven-piece ensemble heavy on clarinets and tuba “oompas,” provided straightforward polka music. The orchestra members had piles of yellowed sheet music to reference for their old-school polka performance. The group provided a leisurely tempo and mood.

In contrast, the Polka Police was a little more animated. The two brothers — one playing a suitcase drum kit in lederhosen, the other playing an accordion in a police uniform — played polka covers of 1980s hits and traditional classics.

The screwball duo quickly earned my mom’s approval when we walked into the tent to see them perform a lively take on Van Halen’s “Jump,” complete with jumps from the accordionist.

“They should be doing every Oktoberfest, everywhere,” she said with a laugh as she sipped her beer.

The Polka Police liked adding their own flair and improvised lyrics, changing “Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room” to “Polka in the Boys’ Room,” and saying “polka” instead of “thunder” when playing “Thunderstruck,” complete with a blistering accordion solo.

The crowd sang along with the covers and danced to the traditional hits. Mom and I joined a few groups of couples on the dance floor, three-stepping to “Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie” and others.

When the band took a break, we headed over to the Masskrugstemmen, or stein-holding competition, which involves holding a full stein of beer with a straight arm for as long as possible.

As we watched the competitors give up their steins one by one, my mom wanted to jump in and try it. Despite her tiny frame, she has a daily workout routine and scrappiness that would have made her a formidable competitor — but alas, we hadn’t signed up in time.

Add that to the list of things I want to do next year because there was so much we wanted to do this weekend but just didn’t have time.

So tune in for next year’s Oktoberfest recap, when I take on my mom in Masskrugstemmen.

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