By B. Scott Mohr
Featuring authentic German food to appease the heartiest of appetites and enough ice-cold beer to quench the thirst of a small army – with music, games, strolling magicians and carnival rides to boot – the German-American Klub’s Oktoberfest at scenic German Park is a party that many people refuse to miss.
Opening Thursday for a four-day run at 8600 S. Meridian St., the festival is believed to be Indiana’s largest celebration of German heritage and culture. Festivities get under way at 4 p.m. every day except Sunday, when the gates are open from 1-6 p.m. The Original Alpine Express and die Fledermauschen Tanzgruppe will take the stage every day. Pushing Daisy’s will also be featured Thursday, as will the nightly magic of Marcus Lehman, who’s known to be extremely entertaining.
Friday’s performers also include Jay Fox & the Bavarian Showtime Band (Saturday, too), Bob Klemen and PolkaMotion (Saturday also) and The Flying Toasters. In addition to Saturday’s aforementioned performers, Tastes Like Chicken will also take to the stage and return on Sunday. Visit www.indianapolisGAK.com for specific times.
Additional entertainment includes dancers in authentic German attire and performances by the Gladtones Barbershop Quartet and Remy & Friends’ one-man act, which features puppets, ventriloquism, juggling and illusions.
Back again this year are the inflatables for children. “It’s not all about beer,” said Chuck Kemp, who’s chairing the event for the fifth consecutive year. “We try to appeal to everyone from 2 to 90.”
“Chuck does a great job; he’s one busy guy,” said club President Ken Green, whose grandparents, Adolf and Frieda Bickel, helped to build the park in 1934. “They and their German friends wanted a place to dance, sing, play soccer and cards and drink a little beer.”
Green noted that a great lineup of rock bands has been secured. “The younger people like something a little more traditional, and the rock ’n’ roll stage is a popular place to listen to some good music ... and you are never more than a few steps from a beer stand.”
Although this year’s gala marks the club’s 40 annual celebration, the area’s first Oktoberfest was launched during the early 1970s under a tent in the parking lot of Southern Plaza, 4200 S. East St. As the affair grew in popularity, the club took notice and hosted its inaugural festival in 1975.
German Park has housed the event every year except 2008 and ’09, when it was moved to the Indiana State Fairgrounds in an effort to safeguard the event from inclement weather. But the revenue fell off drastically the second year, and organizers couldn’t justify the expense of hauling so much equipment up to 38th Street.
As opposed to when the celebration was held over two weekends in the past, the four-day format, which is being employed for the fourth year, seems to work best, especially with the 200-plus helpers. It’s hard to get volunteers to commit to four days, much less two weekends.
Kemp, a former meat cutter for Marsh Supermarkets, used to use two of his three weeks of vacation to help plan the event, which is expected to attract between 12,000 and 15,000 people. And even though he’s employed by a new company, he’s still devoting a great deal of time in planning the gala.
“Earth Fare is a community-conscious company, and they know how much I desire to be involved with Oktoberfest, so they have allowed me to work half-days,” said Kemp,” who was hospitalized with congestive heart failure in February. Even though the planning can be frustrating and tiresome, “I still love to do it. But if I had hair, I’d be pulling it out,” laughed Kemp, adding that he’s on the road to recovery.
Admission is $5 per adult, with children ages 12 and under being admitted free. A carload of people will be allowed in for $5 Thursday, and families will be admitted for $5 Sunday.
Sunday’s hours of 1-6 p.m. were determined after Kemp found out that the Indianapolis Colts would be playing a night game. “We don’t want to go head to head against the Colts; we would lose badly.”
The grounds are home to The Edelweiss Restaurant, which serves traditional German and American food to the public from 5-9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, with a buffet featured every Wednesday for $11.95 for members and guests, $12.95 for other diners.
“The restaurant will feature a special menu throughout Oktoberfest,” said Green, “and they serve a great Reuben.”