New Orleans, La. –
For many generations, Oktoberfest has been a rite of autumn in New Orleans, with the taste of Bavarian cooking and the happy sounds of an ompah band playing the chicken dance song all but signaling the changing seasons.
But this year, that long-running tradition will see quite a significant change. This year, the area's largest and most historically significant Oktoberfest, the one held by the German cultural group Deutsches Haus, has relocated to Kenner's Rivertown development. That's because the Haus of Deutsches Haus, the vintage brick structure in Mid-City where it long held its annual Oktoberfest, was demolished last spring to make way for the planned LSU hospital.
German heritage runs deep in New Orleans, from the earliest colonial days to the surge of immigrants who settled here late in the 19th century. But strong German identity became a liability during World War I, and by 1918 the Louisiana legislature even made it illegal to speak German in public or teach it in schools. In 1928, however, ten years after the war, Deutsches Haus emerged to help reaffirm this threatened cultural identity.
Now, though, the group is displaced and on the move. Since the loss of its historic Haus, the club uses an American Legion Hall in Metairie as its temporary headquarters. But that's much too small a space for its Oktoberfest celebration. So this time around, the whole show is moving to the Rivertown Exhibition Hall for an indoor-outdoor party in the burbs.
That new address isn't the only change. In the past, Oktoberfest stretched over five weekends, giving people a pretty wide window to get a taste. This year, it lasts just two weekends, starting Friday, Oct. 14, and going for six days total. While the schedule is shorter, though, Deutsches Haus expects this Oktoberfest to be bigger than ever. The idea is to pack more into a slimmer timeframe, since the Rivertown space is much larger than its old Haus, and there will be more cultural programs, more bands and more going on overall.
As always, food will be front and center at this family-oriented festival, starting with about 4,000 pounds of Bavarian-style sausage and the hundreds upon hundreds of gallons of sauerkraut and potato salad volunteer cooking committees prepare. This year the Haus membership is pulling out all the stops to ensure it can feed the expected masses. They're bringing in a mobile kitchen on an 18-wheeler, for instance, and the number of beer kegs they expect to dispatch (always a key measuring stick of an Oktoberfest) is now 900, up from some 750 kegs last year.
Oktoberfest is always an important fundraiser for the Deutsches Haus. It's the event that sustains the cultural club from year to year. But now, the stakes are much higher. While Oktoberfest may stay in Kenner for the next few years, the club's bigger plan is to return to its roots in Mid-City. They plan to build a new Deutsches Haus along Bayou St. John, just off Esplanade Avenue and across from City Park. Architectural plans for that new Haus will be unveiled at Oktoberfest this year. So as the Bavarian food and drink flows, and as the ompah bands strike up another rendition of the chicken dance song, this temporarily relocated Oktoberfest will help fund the historic club's future homecoming. Now that's a party with a purpose.
Oktoberfest at Rivertown
415 Williams Blvd., Kenner
Oct. 14-16 and Oct. 21-23.