Hagerstown's German heritage to be celebrated at Augustoberfest
What began 24 years ago as a reunion for those of German descent in the Hagerstown area continues on today as a festival that enlivens City Center each year.
Augustoberfest chairwoman Jill Colbert said then-Mayor Steven Sager and his wife, Carroll, spoke with Charles Sekula, former owner of Schmankerl Stube restaurant, about the event.
“(Sekula) said they should make it a party, and the rest is history,” Colbert said.
Each year, the festival pays tribute to the area’s rich German heritage and supports scholarships for exchange students to Hagerstown’s sister city, Wesel, Germany. The event is run by the nonprofit Augustoberfest Charitable Foundation and features live German music; authentic German food and beer; Marktplatz vendors plaza area; and a children’s area with German crafts and storytelling.
Augustoberfest was named 2018 Hagerstown Hotlist’s Best Festival/Special Event and won Herald-Mail Media’s Best of the Tri-State Readers’ Choice Award.
This year’s entertainment includes the returning acts like alpine rock ‘n’ roll band Die Schlauberger, as well as new additions including the traditional music of Schachtelgebirger Musikanten (Scha-Musi), Die Heimatklange Orchestra and the German Hungarian Schuhplattler Dancers.
“Hagerstown has the longest-running, active sister-city affiliation with Germany,” Colbert said.
“We put this on as a fundraiser to support the German exchange program, so it’s not so taxing on the parents for local students to go to Germany and for students to come here to enjoy America.”
Now in her tenth year chairing the event, Colbert said Augustoberfest is modeled after Oktoberfest that takes place each year in Munich, Bavaria, Germany. That event is a more than two-week festival from mid- to late-September into October that draws more than six million visitors from around the world.
“We have style much like Munich. Our festival looks like it. You can’t get much closer to it without going to Munich,” she said.
Attendees sit at small tables meant to encourage interaction.
“It’s really cool how people come dressed in lederhosen and dirndl,” Colbert said. “We have all ages, younger guys and gals in their 20 and 30s, even families come in dressed.”
Unlike many festivals that are at the mercy of weather for a successful turnout, Augustoberfest is contained under large tents and goes on rain or shine.
“Even if there is rain, the bands are not affected by it,” Colbert said. “We just continue to have a party.”
German fare will include a pork roast dinner with spätzle and red cabbage, and bratwurst or frankfurter and sauerkraut, along with soft pretzels and German roasted nuts.
“Schmankerl Stube staff makes everything,” she said. “We really set ourselves apart from other German festivals with our authentic food.”
Beverages for sale will be Stiegl Radler Grapefruit as well as Lager, Weiss and Oktoberfest Munich beers. Attendees can bring their own stein or purchase one at the festival.
Highlights of the children’s area will include performances by Horn’s Punch and Judy Show, Maypole dancing and German songs. Vendors will peddle German souvenirs, toys, smokers, nutcrackers, handmade jewelry and much more.
Through the Sister City’s German exchange student program, visits alternate with Hagerstown students going to Germany one year and German students coming to Hagerstown the next.
The festival provides around $3,500 each year to the students.
“That is our main priority. If there is additional money, we have contributed sponsorship money to Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, Discovery Station, The Maryland Theatre and other community organizations,” Colbert said.
The festival receives substantial funding through sponsorships.
“The community is just super about supporting us,” she said. “We would not be able to put it on without the great sponsors that we have.”
Top photo: Melissa Rife prepares bells for a song during last year’s Augustoberfest in Hagerstown, while her daughter, Mareike, looks at her cellphone. The annual event draws hundreds of people downtown to enjoy German food, beer and culture. (Herald-Mail file photo)