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By Staff | Oct 12, 2012

Like many people, my wife and I enjoy eating. We have both been practicing gustation our entire lives, so we feel we’ve attained some level of expertise in this field.

During our travels we like to try different eateries, eschewing (ha!) the synthetic and the prefab.

We often dream of a job that would involve traveling the countryside and writing food reviews. Not only would this provide income, it would also dramatically reduce our food bill. Nice work if you can get it.

On a recent Iowa sojourn we followed our fancy to the Amana Colonies. Besides being quaint and a living history museum, Amana is a fountainhead of superb victuals.

The Amanas were established by folks who originally hailed from Germany. This means you can find the place by simply following the aroma of bratwurst and sauerkraut.

We tried several restaurants in the Amanas and found each of them excellent. I guess we wouldn’t be very good food critics since we couldn’t find anything to criticize.

My wife is of German descent, so dining in the Amanas was like taking a time machine back to her childhood. More than once I heard the comment “Holy cow, this is so good; it’s just like Grandma used to make.”

Some of the chow was actually better. Never a fan of sauerkraut, she was delighted to find a restaurant that served a form of pickled cabbage that tickled her palate. I have been known to willingly consume lutefisk, so my opinion regarding taste is highly suspect.

It happened that the Amanas were holding an Oktoberfest celebration the next day. We had never experienced such a thing, so we opted to overnight and check it out.

We understood the basic concept of Oktoberfest, that is, it’s an excuse for folks to gather in large groups and eat too much food and wash it down with vast quantities of fermented barley products. But we had underestimated the soaring spirits and the overwhelming conviviality of Oktoberfest. It was one hugely happy party.

Held in a cavernous building dubbed the Festhalle Barn – a big, old barn in any other setting – Oktoberfest was a feast for all the senses.

A good number of Oktoberfesters had donned traditional Bavarian clothing, with men decked out in lederhosen and ladies wearing dirndls. I may be biased, but I think the ladies stole the show. It was like comparing a drab brown caterpillar to a technicolor butterfly.

The aroma of grilling bratwurst filled the barn. Beer (surprise) flowed freely, available in two different-sized mugs that could be categorized as “that’s a ton of beer” and “you’ve got to be kidding me.”

This might be why the Germans coined the word “bierleichen,” which means “beer corpse.” Thankfully, my wife and I were able to avoid such a fate.

The air thrummed with music provided by Barefoot Becky and the Ivanhoe Dutchmen. We don’t normally go for the “oomph-pa-pa” stuff and would probably maim innocent bystanders if we tried to polka. But my wife and I found the music and the dancing highly engaging and were soon tapping our toes. We marveled when a pair of women polkaed vigorously past while one of them clutched a humungous mug of beer. She didn’t spill a drop.

Barefoot Becky would often end a song with a cheer that went something like “Ziggy zaggy, ziggy zaggy, hoi hoi hoi.” The crowd thundered along in unison as we listened in bewilderment.

This cheer unfailingly ended with a shout of “prosit,” which is apparently a command to lift your beer mug high, then bring back down and sample its contents.

The music was halted for a ceremony that marked the tapping of the Official Oktoberfest Keg. When the keg was successfully opened, such a roar went up that one might think they had just won the Superbowl. The music quickly resumed and the dance floor filled with folks doing the chicken dance.

Watching the goings-on, I couldn’t decide if Oktoberfest is pure kitsch, albeit self-aware kitsch; or a celebration of German heritage; or simply an excuse to drink beer. In the end, I decided that it’s all of the above.

During a break in the festivities, I chatted with Pat Kellenburger who is burgermeister of Amana. I asked Pat what the job of burgermeister entails.

“It’s mostly just promoting the community and riding in parades,” he replied.

How did he become burgermeister?

“I don’t really know,” said Pat. “I think it’s because I’ve been a community supporter and Oktoberfest attendee since my teens.”

What does the position pay?

“This,” smiled Pat, hefting a huge tankard of beer.

Nice work if you can get it.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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