How could you have an Oktoberfest
If you are like most self-respecting Americans, you didn't wear lederhosen to school when you were in eighth grade. Indeed, you probably thought those little suede knickers so totally uncool that you balked at even being in the presence of anyone wearing them. As did my daughter Allie, who's 13, the night we drove through the farmland of Oregon's Willamette Valley toward tiny Mount Angel for one of the nation's largest annual festivals of German culture, Oktoberfest.
"Lederhosen," Allie snorted, exuding disdain.
Mount Angel Abbey and Seminary educates Catholic priests. Its research library, designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, and two museums are open to the public. www.mtangel.edu.
Then, suddenly, we came upon an eruption of light and music. People were dancing in the streets while others clustered around sausage stands, choosing bratwurst and blutwurst, bockwurst and knockwurst. In one cavernous beer hall, a wholesome venue open to minors, strangers linked elbows and swayed as a polka band ground out an old drinking song, "In Heaven There Is No Beer." "Now," said the lead singer, "we'll do the French version: Oui, oui, oui, oui, oui."
The Oktoberfest spectacle was so unabashedly hokey and warm that I felt as though we were in a real German village. In a sense, we were. Mount Angel, population 3,700, was first settled by German farmers. In 1878, they decided to celebrate the autumn harvest—and to hold their yearly festival, per German tradition, in September. The town is still home to a large German American community, and on the main street, old gray grain silos outnumber chain retailers. A Norman Rockwellian folksiness hangs over the homey clutter inside Mt. Angel Drug, and at Koffee Konnection, a café, we found two local teenage siblings—Jeni and Kyndi Niquette—dishing out folk rock under the stage name Sweet N' Sassy.
But since our focus was primarily on things German, we climbed a small hill to the church in St. Mary Parish. There, beneath soaring vaulted ceilings, we sat rapt as three members of the Salzburg Echo played 12-foot-long wooden alpenhorns in the resonant tones of long-ago Bavarian shepherds. By the time we'd heard four more bands play "In Heaven There Is No Beer," we knew the words and sang.
Finally, we ran into festival director Jerry Lauzon, a tall, regal ex–Army officer in a chauffeur-driven golf cart. Lauzon and his driver—a high-school kid from Mount Angel—wore the traditional short pants. Beaming, Lauzon turned to Allie and asked, "Doesn't he look handsome in his lederhosen?"
Allie smiled and said nothing, now exuding neutrality.
Photography by Robbie McClaran
This article was first published in September 2007. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.