The tracht or traditional dress of Germans from the region of Westphalia in northwestern Germany. Note the lack of lederhosen and dirndl.
I’m going to say it. We’ve jumped the shark with Oktoberfest in America and regrettably in Cincinnati. Every festival between the end of July and end of October is called Oktoberfest. And it’s a formula . Lager beer, brats, sauerkraut, cream puffs, and strudel. If you’re lucky you’ll see schnitzel or sauerbraten dinners. And goetta is the only authentic food in the mix, but then it’s put in sliders and egg rolls, and all authenticity is taken away. Embracing German as ONLY Bavarian is like an African-American not understanding the significance of red pop at Juneteenth. We’re diluting our own Germanic history. We pretend to celebrate our Germanic ancestry by presenting it all Bavarian. Cincinnati Oktoberfest downtown might be the biggest in the U.S., but its the least authentic. Donauschwaben’s and Kolping Society’s are the only authentic ones left.
We should take a cue from the Greek Americans of Cincinnati. The Panegyri Greek Festival at Holy Trinity-St. Nicholas is more than gyros and baklava. There are over ten other pastries for sale other than baklava. And each food booth has a sign describing what it is and its origin. There’s even a cultural hall with exhibits that explains the history of the Greek people. I think that is fantastic cultural preservation.
There are maybe more regional foods in Germany than in America. What about including in our local festivals other Germanic foods like pickled herring, maltaschen (Swabian ravioli), frikadellen (north German meatballs), Gruetzwurst (grain sausages), German kale, spargel (white asparagus), schnapps and some of the thousands of regional dishes. This is not to mention the beautiful world of regional German breads and pastries that are simply not represented by cream puffs or cherry strudel.
Liederhosen and lager. Two decades after World War II, when we started having German Days again, the image of the drinking, polka dancing Bavarian in cute lederhosen and dirndl was the most acceptable image for Americans who fought and lost loved ones against the Germans. As a result, we lost the celebration of the diversity of regional Germanism. There was no Germany when most of our ancestors arrived in Cincinnati. They were subjects of the King of Hanover, the Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, or the Prince of Saxe-Coburg and others.
My relatives for example were subject to the Grossherzog of Mecklenburg and the Freiherr Maltzahn in Penzlin, an hour north of Berlin by train. They had never seen schnitzel or lederhosen. Their tracht was long coats and boots with fur hats. The women wore embroidered skull caps and the girls wore what now could be described as huge jo-jo bows on their heads. They drank more schnapps than beer, and pickled herring (matjes) and souljanka (fish soup) or Mecklenburger gruetzwurst. Their Christmas gift bringers were Father Frost (not Santa or St. Nick) and the Snow Maiden.
There is thankfully, a small but growing revival of traditional and authentic regional German festivals in Greater Cincinnati. A small group has brought back Santa’s evil twin, Krampus at Christkindlmarkts around town. We can only hope for a Krampuslauf (Krampus parade) for this year. There’s now a Hubertsmesse or mass for St. Hubertus in Hamilton celebrated with a stuffed stag head like the Jaegermeister brand logo. Donauschwaben celebrates the Kirchwieh, a festival for the dedication of a Catholic church with a specific mass and dance. A new group of living historians called the Ninth Ohio is bringing back the history of German American involvement in the Civil War. What about bringing back the Volksfests of pre World War I Cincinnati, where all the cultural dances and foods of the various regions of Germany were celebrated. The Cincinnati Turnverein produced these Volkfests at Music Hall for nearly four decades.
There are also a growing number of small businesses staying true to traditional regional foods. Tuba Baking in Covington is producing amazing laugenbrezels (traditional lye dipped pretzels). Lubecker is makes the best schnitzel in Cincinnati and an awesome curry sauce. More are popping up. I’d rather see these foods at Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, than a jambalaya booth.
It’s not that I don’t love the Bavarians or that I don’t enjoy wearing my lederhosen in public. It’s not that I don’t respect the local cultural melting pot that created the Cincinnati Brat or that made goetta, a poor man’s food, into a pop icon. But we have the ability to bring more authenticity and history into our celebrations of German heritage, especially as internet and record digitization makes us understand more deeply who our Germanic ancestors were. Why not make our festivals just a bit more authentic so that we don’t forget what our ancestors loved and left to create the wonderful lives that we now have in America.