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Prost! Oktoberfest begins today

By Staff | Oct 17, 2019

It’s that time of year once again when Cape Coral’s ode to the largest beer and funfair festival in the world takes place for two weekends of jubilation: Oktoberfest.

There’s one word that truly captures the feeling of Oktoberfest: Gemutlichkeit, a German word that conveys the feeling warmth, friendliness and good cheer.

There will be an abundance of gemutlichkeit this weekend and next, as the German-American Social Club of Cape Coral puts on the 34th annual Oktoberfest, a celebration of German culture providing tens of thousands of guests with an authentic German experience here in Southwest Florida.

“It’s an event full of gemutlichkeit,” said Steve Eichner, Oktoberfest 2019 chair. “It’s a feeling of well being with good friends, good fellowship — that’s really what Oktoberfest is all about.”

Oktoberfest takes place the weekends of Oct. 18-20 and 25-27 from 4 p.m.-midnight on Fridays, noon-midnight Saturdays and noon to 9 p.m. Sundays.

The German American Social Club is transformed into the festival-like atmosphere of Munich, where beers will be poured in abundance, copious amounts of food consumed and music and dancing late into the evening.

“A lot of times, people will come in and sit under the trees and have a few pitchers of beer — the bands stop playing, it’s late at night, and they’re still there,” Eichner said. “Because they don’t want to leave that feeling. They just have such a warm feeling from the whole day of friendship and fellowship.”

The club has flown in the Zimmerer Kapelle band direct from Biberach to accompany many local musicians, such as Cape Coral’s own Hafenkapelle.

Authentic German food and beer, including their famous potato pancakes, brings residents from across the region to get a taste, literally, of what the German culture is all about.

There will be 10, yes, 10 beers imported from Germany available — the most the club has brought to Oktoberfest in their history.

“This is the first time we’ve ever had that many kinds of German beer,” Eichner said. “Every variety you want.”

Eichner said they will have a “beer card,” where guests can check off which brews they’ve tried if they wish take a taste bud tour around the beer tents.

There will also be domestic beer, German wine and spirits, non-alcoholic beer, soft drinks and water available.

German favorites such as bratwurst, bauernwurst, German potato salad, sauerkraut, pretzels, schnitzel and sauerbraten will be served, along with much more from vendors on site.

Music is at the heart of each year’s Oktoberfest, with three stages and two dance floors, featuring non-stop live music and entertainment.

“Every time we come, it’s a great experience to be here with such great people,” said Dieter Schlichthaerle, who organizes the Zimmerer Kapelle’s trip to Southwest Florida each year. “All of the band members are really happy to be here; to see the club, to see Florida, to gather with the hosting families. Here, you have a direct touch with the American families to get a better understanding of another culture. It’s the best way to do it. It’s a love of ours.”

The Zimmerer Kapelle is under the direction on Bernd Schuck.

Another group of talented musicians, the Bavaria Fun Band, from Monheim, Germany, will be entertaining festival-goers both weekends.

And if you don’t know the steps to traditional German dance? The popular chicken dance usually gets everyone on the dance floor.

Other performers include Manni Daum Trio, Hot Buttered Nuggets, Lee County Pipes & Drums, Peter Dee, Deb & The Dynamics and more.

“We want to do the best we possibly can for the people,” Eichner said. “We want to sell the most beer, we want to sell the most food, we want the best bands.”

Eichner has been involved with Oktoberfest for 25 years, and said he loves working with people who he considers family each year to put on the event.

“That’s how you get close to everybody in the club,” he said. “If you work together each year, you get close. This is our family, you get to know them all — from all the Ms. Oktoberfests to the second generation of families.”

One of the richest traditions of the celebration is the introduction of Ms. Oktoberfest.

Ashley Jones is this year’s selection, and she will be involved in everything Oktoberfest over the two weeks, learning traditional dances, being the face of the festival and learning a bit of German.

Jones is from Estero and a recent graduate of Florida Gulf Coast University.

“I’m really excited,” Jones said. “It’s going to be a great turnout and I know that we’re all going to have a really good time. I’m looking forward to seeing everybody come out.”

Jones said being crowned Ms. Oktoberfest is a new, but exciting opportunity to meet new people and to be the face of one of the largest events in Southwest Florida.

She’s been attending Oktoberfest for many years, and said she enjoys the bands and spending time with friends taking in all the festival has to offer.

Her German roots go back to her great grandmother, but she unfortunately passed away before Jones could absorb much of the culture. She’s using this experience as a way to do so.

“I’m learning some German,” Jones said. “It’s kind of new getting to learn the language and the culture. I absolutely love getting the opportunity.”

Other activities offered at Oktoberfest include carnival rides and games, arts and crafts, beer steins, T-shirts, hats, prize drawings and a 2-acre Bavarian Biergarten.

Co-Chair Teresa Kohl and Advertising Chair Susie Zimmer also play an instrumental role in getting Oktoberfest off and running, along with the many, many volunteers from the GASC.

Advance tickets to the event are $5 and can be purchased at The German-American Social Club, Trebling Tile, the European American Bakery in Fort Myers, Geier’s Sausage Kitchen in Sarasota and Kallis German Butcher Shop in Port Charlotte.

You may also purchase tickets at the gate for $6.

Children 12 and under are admitted free.

There is plenty of free parking and all event dates are rain-or-shine.

The German-American Social Club is at 2101 SW Pine Island Road in Cape Coral.

For more information, visit www.CapeCoralOktoberfest.com.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj