Worst of the Wursts

A festival steeped in tradition lacks a certain authenticity and culture


Story and photos by Eva Mizer

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A splash of color and intriquate designs make this accordian look as beautiful as it sounds.

To be honest, I was unimpressed.

A few weeks ago, I heard of Oktoberfest at Whiteface. Having many friends and family who regularly go, I thought I would give it a shot. I guess I had too high of expectations for it. I would have thought that a celebration of any culture would translate to a festival full of food vendors, crafts vendors, costume shops, ethnic dishes and music. In a sense, I expected it to be a Bavarian Renaissance Festival.
I grew up visiting my friend’s German grandmother, whose house was a step back into the old motherland.

This festival hadn’t captured that feeling of timelessness or aura of authenticity. Aside from the music and (very) limited selection of German food, I didn’t feel at all like I got anything German out of the festival. First off, everything was pricey, including the entrance fee, arts and crafts, food, and gondola ride. Secondly, although the surroundings are gorgeous, they aren’t gorgeous enough to make up for the long drive to such a deprived and expensive festival. Thirdly, if you want any culture at this festival aside from the music, better bring it with you, there isn’t much to speak about at this festival.

I packed up my car with my roommate and classmates and set out to the gorgeous hills of the Adirondacks. Granted, the drive is worth it, as the road to Whiteface twists and turns through beautiful countryside of lazy rivers, wide open valleys, small communities, and gigantic boulder mountains. We rolled up to the parking at Whiteface and was struck by the splendor of such a large yet inviting summit. We thought, ‘Wow, what a perfect place for a festival.‘

We walked down the path and went into the main building to buy our tickets. A couple in Bavarian dress were greeting visitors and a man was playing an accordion, making the atmosphere thrilling and exciting.

The excitement was short lived. After paying $15 and getting our hands stamped, we walked onto the grounds and were greeted by a gondola, a few rows of merchants tents, and a kid area. The scene looked nothing like the expansive culture fest I was hoping it would be.

Instead, food choices were limited to about four food stands. There was one selling hot dogs for kiddies, one selling heavy German foods (enter the "wursts"), one selling light German foods, and one selling typical fair junk food. Mind you, none of this was bad, but I was hoping that, if I had to pay for food, I would have a bit more selection than a few stands that seemed to be owned by the same organization.

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A member of Schachtelgebirger Musikanten performs for festival-goers.

The food, although limited, was wonderful. I tried a few foods from the few venues that were laid out. I had some fried dough, which didn’t fail to please. I had tried bratwurst before so I decided to see if the knockwurst would knock me off my feet. It did. Served steaming with purple cabbage on top, it smelled amazing and did well to suppress my appetite. I saw various other foods looking equally wonderful, although I didn’t have any more room to try them all.

The craftsmen were not displeasing. In fact, I was impressed with the variety that was there. I saw the normal slew of arts and crafts, soaps and jams, and, of course, the alpaca clothing tent. However, I was more than pleasantly surprised to find things such as home-made peanut butter, gorgeous glass pendants, soup mixes, carved wooden bowls, doll clothing, and smoothed carved masonry.

The music was quite nice but did not seem to be very involved with the audience. Audience members were called up to try their hand at blowing on the long horns made famous by Ricola advertisements. Also, the flamboyantly giddy members of the delightfully unpronounceable group Schachtelgebirger Musikanten serenaded and danced with swaying concert goers.

I wandered around with my friends to the kiddie area, pulling out our wallets to pay for the rides we wanted to go on. Imagine the rush of sheer childish enthusiasm when we realized all the rides and blow up obstacle courses were free. We jumped at the opportunity and got on two rides before feeling too dizzy to carry on. They had a good selection of old fashioned favorites (kiddie train, blow-up obstacle courses, pony rides) along with flying chairs, bungee hopping (we opted for a turn until people half our size kept running in line in front of us), and competition games you can play against your friends. Did I mention that all but the pony rides were free?

An attractive handle makes even the most monopolized of beers appealing.

 

If you like mountain biking or hiking, Oktoberfest at Whiteface is for you. I didn't go on the trails myself, as I have no coordination, no stamina, and no bike. However, the sheer numbers of cyclists walking around with their mud-caked bike and people climbing up and around the summit, I can safely guess it's not bad.

As for beer, outside the lines were long and the selection sparse to say the least. I saw a few different kinds of beer on tap inside the main lodge, but nothing stood out as exceptional. I was disappointed to see that the Beck’s brand dominated the place. It was on necklaces and shirts that people threw into the crowd, and anything else you could put a logo on. It was even on the few German hats I saw bobbing around, which just about was the last straw for this event. The only thing I applaud the festival for is their attempt to disguise their seeming domination of the festival by adding a touch of authentic German heritage. They did this by selling a beer mug handle that would fit on a beer bottle. Granted, I loved the idea, and it almost made me buy one before I remember how much I didn’t care for Becks or their seeming domination of the festival.

I think a lot of missed opportunity plagues this Oktoberfest. Not everyone goes for just the beer, and I feel it could have been enriched if people were to add in workshops for dances, cooking competitions, costume competitions, and informational outlets. Another way to take down the entrance fee of 15$ would be to sell authentic Bavarian garb. I saw so many beautiful hats with pins (I assume a tradition), and I wanted to join in, but couldn't because the only hats available had, you guessed it, the Becks logo. I feel like other seasonal foods and activities could be added into the festival, but seemed to have been overlooked.

 

Would you be interested in a more cultural experience at Oktoberfest?

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