Talking Beer and Oktoberfest With Festmeister Hans
As the sun sets on this year's Oktoberfest, we sit back and take a moment to remember Oktoberfest 2013, the good times, the bad times and the hazy times we only sort of remember. For the Oktoberfest-inclined in Los Angeles, there are several options, the largest and longest-running being Alpine Village, which is also the closest you'll get to the real deal without having to get on a plane.
The ringleader of the circus that is Alpine Village's Oktoberfest is Festmeister Hans. He's also the man behind the popular Oktoberfest parody videos "Oktoberfest Night" and "Oktoberfest Gängsta." We met up with the Festmeister, real name John Baumgaertner, who was kind enough to give us an Oktoberfest tutorial.
Squid Ink: What exactly is Oktoberfest?
Festmeister Hans: When most people think of Oktoberfest, they think of lederhosen, beer and bratwurst, but Oktoberfest is much more than that. It's a celebration centering around the German concept of "Gemütlichkeit," a word we don't have a direct translation for in English that essentially means "comfort in celebration." It's about spending time with family and friends, making new acquaintances and celebrating life through music and bountiful food. Sure, the beer helps facilitate as a social lubricant, so it's no wonder that it has become the symbol of Oktoberfest. What better way to get your Gemütlichkeit on.
SI: When did Oktoberfest start?
FH: Oktoberfest started way back on Oct. 12 (my birthday), 1810, when Crown Prince Ludwig, later to become King Ludwig I, was married to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. The citizens of Munich [the capital city of the German state of Bavaria] attended the festivities held on the fields in front of the city gates to celebrate the event. Young or old, poor or rich -- it was about a community celebrating.
SI: What was it like in the old days?
FH: Back in the day there was certainly more pageantry, what with the royal family being present. The original Oktoberfest also operated somewhat like a state agricultural fair, and included events such as a horse race, which has since fallen out of favor.
Also, originally Oktoberfest actually occurred in the month October. Years later, those practical Germans shifted it up two weeks. Why? Because the weather is nicer at the end of September. At Alpine Village we celebrate every weekend from September through to the end of October.
SI: You told us about your family being involved in Oktoberfest at one point. What was it? Your family had a hand in bringing Oktoberfest to the United States.?
FH: Well, my family didn't have a hand in Oktoberfest in the U.S. -- at least not until I came along -- but my family did play a role in the original Oktoberfest back in Munich. Remember those horse races I told you about? Well, according to family lore, the guy who organized the first race and eventually won it was none other than my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Franz Baumgaertner, a sergeant in the Bavarian Army. Oktoberfesting has been in the family for a while.
I grew up in La Crosse, Wis., which has one of the biggest Oktoberfests in the country, and after living in Germany in high school and college, you can only imagine my elation to become the Festmeister of California's oldest and largest -- and, dare I say, best -- Oktoberfest at Alpine Village.
SI: That's an even more epic story. How are our celebrations here different from Munich? Is there as much Depeche Mode in Munich as there is here?
FH: Well, because Oktoberfest is about celebrating as a community while also celebrating German cultural heritage, it's not uncommon to give people the best of both worlds. At Alpine Village we fly in a 14-piece German oompah band to play our shows.
I remember the excitement in the audience the first time the tuba player started the opening bass line to "Don't Stop Believin.'" It has since become an instant classic for us, merging the instrumentation of a German brass band with American classic rock.
The bands love connecting to the audience, and if "La Bamba" gets the Oktoberfest audience excited, then "La Bamba" is what they're gonna play. Generally speaking, though, if you want the traditional brass stuff, come early; if you wanna ROCKtoberfest, stay late.
SI: The past couple years you have made Oktoberfest music videos with Heino -- how did those come to be?
FH: When I'm not "Festmeister Hans," I'm a video producer/editor, so it made sense to me to put those skills to use to do a video to promote Oktoberfest. I'm also a musician and comedian, so with Heino's help we came up with the concept for "Oktoberfest Gangsta" last year. Something of an homage to '90s hip-hop with an Oktoberfest spin. Thirty thousand views later, we've gotten fan mail from all over the world and been featured on Munich's local TV broadcast.
This year, we brought some pop/party-rock appeal with our new video, "Oktoberfest Night." We shot silly scenes all over town -- to the bewilderment of many an Angeleno. I hope to do another one in 2014 -- if "Oktoberfest Night" gets enough views, maybe we will.
SI: What would Grandpa say about Alpine Village's interpretation?
FH: My Grandpa Carl is still alive. He loves Oktoberfest, and he's proud to see his grandson carrying on the Baumgaertner family's Oktoberfest legacy. He loves seeing all sorts of different people celebrating under one huge tent to the throngs of sweet Bavarian oompah -- and, let's be honest, he likes the beer too.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Los Angeles dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.