by Ian McNulty
For many generations, Oktoberfest has been a rite of autumn in New Orleans, with the taste of Bavarian cooking and the happy sounds of an oompah band playing the “chicken dance song” all but signaling the changing seasons.
The German cultural group Deutsches Haus holds the largest and most historically significant of these local celebrations, though this year — and perhaps for the next few years — this slice of New Orleans tradition has been relocated to Kenner’s Rivertown development.
The group’s historic headquarters and Oktoberfest venue on South Galvez Street in Mid-City was demolished this spring to make way for the planned LSU hospital. The club now uses an American Legion Hall in Metairie as its temporary home, but that’s much too small a space for its Oktoberfest celebration. So the whole show will be in Kenner.
The new address has prompted other changes to Oktoberfest. In the past, the party stretched over five weekends, giving people a pretty wide window to get a taste. This year, it lasts just two weekends, starting Friday, Oct. 14, and going for six days total. While the schedule is shorter, though, Deutsches Haus expects this Oktoberfest to be bigger than ever. The Rivertown space is much larger than its old Haus, and there will be more programming overall.
Haus membership is pulling out all the stops to ensure it can feed the expected masses. They’re bringing in a mobile kitchen on an 18-wheeler and doubling the number of food serving lines to four. The number of beer kegs they expect to dispatch (always a key measure of any Oktoberfest) is now 900, up from some 750 kegs last year.
“It’s a shorter time frame but a bigger event, there’s more packed into it,” says Al Bourg, the group’s treasurer. “Last year, our biggest single day had 3,000 people but here we think we’ll be able to do more than that.”
Bands will play continuously through this Oktoberfest, and there will be puppet shows for kids, seated beer and wine tastings for adults, a screening of a presentation on the history of Germans in New Orleans and contests.
The group also plans to unveil architectural drawings for the new Deutsches Haus it intends to build along Bayou St. John in Mid-City. While some details are still being worked out, Bourg says the plan is for Deutsches Haus to take over a now-vacant parcel of land owned by the state and located on Moss Street adjacent to the Esplanade apartment building. That’s where the group intends to erect a new building as its headquarters, events hall and future Oktoberfest venue.
Those plans will be very much top of mind of Oktoberfest organizers this year, since money raised during the event will help fund construction for the new Haus over the amount the group received from the state in compensation for its demolished property on South Galvez Street.
“The state took care of us, but we have to raise more money in order to build what we envision,” Bourg says.
While some Oktoberfest fans with fond memories of the South Galvez site may grumble about having to trek to Kenner this year, it does at least seem the move is temporary. Kenner officials did make a bid to keep the event there permanently, however.
“We’ll be in Rivertown for the next three years,” says Bourg. “Kenner has been very accommodating, they want us to stay. They’re trying to revitalize Rivertown. But we really want to be back with our home roots in Mid-City."
Of course, Deutsches Haus isn’t the only place for a German feast this time of year, and you can find a list of local events and their details in this week’s Five in 5.
Of particular interest is word that a smaller Oktoberfest will still be held Mid-City, about two miles from the old Deutsches Haus site. This party, called German Fest, is held each year at Germania Hall, a Masonic lodge at 4415 Bienville St.
David Krasner, an event organizer, says many members of Germania Hall are also Deutsches Haus members and that in the past their German Fest would be held later in the year to avoid schedule conflicts. But with the relocated Deutsches Haus festivities wrapping up earlier this year, the one-night Germania Hall party is set for Oct. 29, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Tickets, available at the gate, are $30 each (free for kids 10 and under). The pay-one-price admission includes Bavarian beverages and food.
Restaurants get in on the act as well. Middendorf’s Restaurant, the 1930s-vintage seafood restaurant out in Manchac, is famous for its thin fried catfish, but on Wednesdays and Thursdays through Nov. 10 its German-born chef/owner Horst Pfiefer serves traditional Bavarian specials, from mushroom-stuffed veal to Black Forest cake. And throughout October, the Old Metairie restaurant Vega Tapas Café serves a five-course Oktoberfest dinner of German flavors done tapas style (think: warm potato salad with fine Spanish ham).
And while there’s a new Latin theme to the menu at Eco Café since chef Guillermo Peters started cooking there, the Mid-City breakfast and lunch spot will open for special Oktoberfest dinners on the next three Fridays (Oct. 7, 14 and 21). Peters counts his ethic heritage as half Mexican and half German, so for these dinners look for some hybrid entrees like “pork shank marinated with achiote” or “stuffed pork loin chipotle prune sauce.” See the full menu here.
Oktoberfest at Rivertown
415 Williams Blvd., Kenner
Oct. 14-16 and Oct. 21-23