The seed that came to be Octoberfest was planted more than a year ago but didn’t really start to take shape until the beginning of this summer, according to Director of Community and Economic Development Michael Day.
The initial hope was to arrange for a mass tasting to celebrate the town’s newest tourist attraction, Burley Oak Brewery. But as it became clear that the business wouldn’t be ready for mass distribution of the kind envisioned during the initial stages, there was a movement instead to have another townwide event in what has been a traditionally slow period.
“We just looked at the calendar and saw we didn’t have an event for October,” Day said. “And took it from there.”
The initial problem was the town couldn’t really promote an Octoberfest without a beer garden and couldn’t justify a beer garden outside of the festival, so the Berlin Chamber of Commerce went to work to demonstrate that both were worth having and eventually convinced a cautiously optimistic Town Council to green-light the event on the condition that the beer garden was strictly monitored.
“People have been asking for a beer tent [at town events],” said Olive Mawyer, executive director of the Berlin Chamber of Commerce. “I think we’ve got a pretty good handle on it.”
Mawyer said that one of the mainstays of this event, as with most chamber-sponsored events, is the number of people who volunteer. She said that kind of support is probably the best indicator that things will go smoothly, providing the opportunity for the event to grow.
This first Berlin Octoberfest is set to be an informal family-oriented affair with vendors, music and the debut of a new beer brewed just for the occasion.
One of the difficulties the organizers discovered was that the late start in planning limited their entertainment options, given that this is a popular weekend for Octoberfests in the region. They were, however, able to secure three bands to provide music on a stage that will be set, May Day Play Day style, in front of Rayne’s Reef at the corner of Main and Broad streets.
The Cow Polkas, a Frank Nanna-led group that usually plays the Ocean City Oktoberfest, will bookend the music portion of the event, sandwiching Major, Major, Minor and the Happy Wanderers German Oompah Band.
A band comprised of teenagers from the Southern Delaware School of the Arts, Major, Major, Minor stole the show with its classic rock set during May Day Play Day. The band takes the stage 3 p.m. Saturday. The Happy Wanderers German Oompah Band, an offshoot of the Milford Community Band, plays traditional German music particularly suited to the event.
In addition to the beer and the music, there will be vendors selling traditional ethnic German foods, including pretzels, strudel, and bratwurst. Both the Atlantic Hotel and the Globe will also have specialty items on their menus in honor of the event.
As part of the strict control over the beer garden, beverages purchased there will not be allowed out but food may be brought into the area.
Day said that if the event is as successful as anticipated, next October could see a greater variety of vendors and participants, and maybe even days. The trend lately, beginning with this summer’s Berlin Bath Tub Races, is to tie big events into the monthly 2nd Friday Art Strolls.
Although this tie-in was prevented because of the late date at which the event was finalized, Day envisions a future when Octoberfest is a weekend-long event, beginning with entertainment and a beer garden opening during 2nd Friday next year and then possibly all day the next day.
He is cautiously optimistic about these prospects, though, wanting to take the event one step at a time.
“We just want to get our feet wet this year,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes from there.”
The inaugural Octoberfest is noon-6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15 in Downtown Berlin. The beer garden will be on Jefferson Street. For more info call 410-641-4775 or visit http://berlinchamber.org.