by Ian McNulty
Germans call it gemütlichkeit - a sense of brotherhood, of coziness and social warmth in a relaxing atmosphere.
Gesundhiet?, I asked my friend Verena, who grew up in Bavaria and now lives in Mid-City.
No. Listen: gemütlichkeit, she said in her perfect English.
Gefilte fish?, I tried again.
I still dont know how to pronounce it, but I know how it feels because it has been on abundant display during New Orleans five-week-long Oktoberfest. The local version of this celebration of Bavarian culture is hosted each year by the members of Deutsches Haus, a nonprofit social club that formed in New Orleans ten years after World War I as an expression of ethnic pride.
Deutsches Haus, or German House, is also the building that houses the club and its Oktoberfest. Its an exceptionally sturdy brick structure, which is fortunate for the club since of course it was horrifically damaged by the federal levee failures. The volunteer members seem to have rebuilt every splinter of the interior and, as is so often the case these days, rebuilt it better than before.
As always, there's good sausage, meaty sauerkraut, convincing German potato salad with bacon, cabbage rolls stuffed with ground beef, buttered pretzels and iced cakes. This year, the beer selection has been expanded to something like 18 German imports flowing from 40 taps inside the clubhouse and around the beer garden.
People who attend this year should be advised, however, that the City of New Orleans, much derided lately for its lame and fitful approach to business development, crime fighting, public contracts, recycling, intergovernmental relations, recovery planning and other related duties, has chosen to demonstrate its prowess in issuing parking tickets and towing the family minivan. People have long parked on the South Galvez Street neutral ground during the five Oktoberfest weekends, just as patrons of various social clubs, bars and restaurants around town do every day throughout the year. This year, though, the city has roused itself against this illegal parking practice in a very specific zone defined by walking distance to the Deutsches Haus.
Were other city initiatives so swift and purposeful, New Orleans would be in much better shape. But for now, go to Oktoberfest, park carefully, and enjoy some German gemütlichkeit under the Dixie moon.
200 S. Galvez St., 522-8014; www.deutscheshaus.org