When the German Village Society voted to cancel the 2009 Oktoberfest in July, Schmidt’s Restaurant and Sausage Haus, a 123-year-old German Village business, came to the rescue.
Last weekend, Schmidt’s and Columbus celebrated the 42nd annual Oktoberfest. From Friday to Sunday, an estimated 35,000 people came to the Ohio State Fairgrounds and Expo Center to enjoy the assemblage of German lederhosen, brats and oom-pah-pahs that have made the festival a local favorite since 1967, when the first Columbus Oktoberfest was held in German Village’s Schiller Park.
Gerhart Queck, University District resident, immigrated from Germany in 1962 and called this year’s Oktoberfest “outstanding,” and “the best in Columbus.”
But this year’s Oktoberfest wasn’t the first time Schmidt’s saved the celebration. Geoff Schmidt, fourth-generation owner and vice president said “any community event, whether it be Oktoberfest, Irish-fest, Rib-fest [or] Arts-fest, are all important. It’s a pride within the community, something the community can come out to. And after forty years of having [Oktoberfest] there is a need for it in the community. Schmidt’s felt an obligation [to save it].”
In 1972, George Schmidt, third-generation owner of Schmidt’s, used his own money to move Oktoberfest from Schiller Park where vendors were prohibited to sell alcohol, to the Ohio State Fairgrounds. After a decade of hosting, Schmidt’s handed the festival over to the non-profit German Village Society in 1982.
This year’s shotgun (re)marriage between Schmidt’s and Oktoberfest occurred two weeks after the early July cancellation. The German Village Society’s decision came shortly after it failed to attain a permit to host Oktoberfest in German Village on South Third Street between Beck and Frankfort Street.
Additional financial stress contributed to the GVS vote. Last year’s Oktoberfest brought in $17,000, compared to $132,000 in 2007. In 2007 and 2008 the festival was held downtown, in Genoa Park.
Since 1967, the Columbus Oktoberfest has been held at seven different locations.
This year’s Oktoberfest, although transitional, proved to be successful. The restaurant contributed $140,000 and raised $60,000 from commerical sponsors, committing to give all profits back to the German Village community through organizations such as the German Village Garden Club and Friends of Schiller Park. Geoff Schmidt credited the unpaid return of three key organizational positions in allowing Schmidt’s to give back and remain “only as strong as German Village is.”
Among the Bavarian traditions of beer steins, polka and the chicken dance, this year’s Oktoberfest introduced the first annual Nationwide Insurance Vier Meiler or Brat Trot to kickoff the weekend. On finishing the four-mile race, each of the over 600 participants received a free beer and their choice of brat or creme puff, the Oktoberfest alternative to fruit and water. Brat Trot participant and Dublin resident Phil Irwin came to Oktoberfest with his wife to celebrate his return from a business trip. Irwin said “I love to run” and was happy to partake in the free beer and food afterward.
Additional changes to this year’s Oktoberfest included an increased entertainment budget, bringing more ethnic musicians and dancers to the main Warsteiner Bier Hall, one of three Bier Halls that made up over 100,000 square feet of covered entertainment. Kid-specific entertainment in the Natural Resource Pavilion of the fairgrounds was another addition.
A University District landlord and long-running member of three local German clubs, Queck attends several Oktoberfests each year but emphasized that “the whole thing is not about drinking beer. It is a celebration of [the marriage of] King Ludwig, from Bavaria. It is a celebration of our heritage. We should not forget our heritage. If we forget where we come from, we are nobody.”
Schmidt’s plans to host the 2010 Oktoberfest, returning to the state fairgrounds during the last weekend in September.