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Prost! Lodi residents celebrate the city’s German heritage at Oktoberfest

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Posted: Wednesday, October 25, 2017 2:48 pm

Get ready to don your best dirndl or lederhosen, grab a stein of beer and a pretzel, and polka the night away.

Oktoberfest is back in Lodi next weekend, and the popular party is bringing back favorite foods and German traditions.

“It’s a celebration of the community,” said Craig Hoffman, who helps to organize the event as a member of the Lodi-Tokay Rotary Club.

The Gruber Family Band will return this year, playing traditional German polka music more than suitable for dancing and toe-tapping.

“They play a bazillion Oktoberfests all over the country,” said JoEllen Flemmer, Hoffman’s fellow organizer.

They even have fans who follow them from one Oktoberfest to the next, she said.

A group of dancers leads guests in traditional dances, teaching the steps as needed. They love the Legion’s wooden floor, Flemmer said. Along with standards like the chicken dance, guests can expect to hear plenty of fantastic polka, with the occasional tune from Italy or Spain just to break things up.

Just a few, though.

“We try to keep it as traditionally German as we can,” Hoffman said.

Mayor Doug Kuehne will tap the ceremonial first keg at around 5:40 or 5:45 p.m.

During breaks in the dancing, there will be yodeling and “feats of strength.” Women and men are invited to see how long they can hold a beer stein at arm’s length.

“It’s not full, but they’re glass mugs and they’re heavy,” Hoffman said.

Winners will get a commemorative stein from Germany to help them remember and brag about their accomplishment.

The Lodi festival is known for its traditional German and Dakota food, including chicken schnitzel, bratwurst, pickled red cabbage, sauerkraut, hot German potato salad and LaVerne Walth’s famous cheese buttons.

“Hardly anybody makes them anymore,” Flemmer said.

Beer and wine will be available for purchase, along with drinks like apple schnapps and Jagermeister.

“A lot of older people come to this event, and they’re the ones who love those shots,” Flemmer said with a laugh. “I guess it’s kind of traditional for Oktoberfest.”

Can’t argue with tradition.

Lodi has celebrated Oktoberfest off and on since the 1960s or so, Hoffman said.

“The original Oktoberfests date back to the American Legion,” he said. They were inspired by the famous festivals in Munich, Germany.

But the celebrations faded in the 1990s as the organizers got older.

“Back in 2006, when the city of Lodi was celebrating its 100-year anniversary as a city, the city council asked the Rotary Clubs to revive a tradition of Oktoberfest,” Hoffman said.

Since then, the Lodi-Tokay Rotary has co-hosted the festival with local nonprofits including the Boys and Girls Club, the LOEL Center, Lodi Adopt a Child and the World of Wonders Science Museum. The Rotary’s partner generally gets a portion of the proceeds.

“Usually the event raises between $8,000 and $9,000 for a local group,” Hoffman said.

The American Legion received $8,300 last year to help local veterans, and is partnering with the Rotary Club again this year.

“It’s a traditional event. We take a lot of pride in this event,” Hoffman said.

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