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When the calendar turns to October, it brings to many people’s minds the eponymous German cultural festival. Music, dancing, hearty food, and of course flowing beer, all amid the cooler fall weather, make Oktoberfest a popular milestone on the local festival calendar.
Of all the local versions, Oktoberfest at Deutsches Haus, the German cultural center on Bayou St. John, is by far the biggest. In its still-new location, the Haus hosts thousands of local celebrants, whether they are German or simply German for a day.
What many people don’t realize is how many other activities take place at the Haus throughout the year. Open to the public during regular operating hours, and with a welcoming membership policy, the facility hosts everything from lectures and concerts, to movies and trivia nights, to German language lessons and a choir. There is even a walking club that takes weekly strolls across the Bayou and into City Park.
“We promote that feeling of friendship, camaraderie and social interaction,” said Keith Oldendorf, Deutsches Haus board member and past president. “This is definitely a family-friendly place.”
Underlying all of the events and activities is a focus on increasing awareness of the German history and culture in southeast Louisiana.
“The German Coast goes back three hundred years,” noted Oldendorf. “There are examples of German architecture throughout the city, especially in the Warehouse District.”
As with quite a few other local immigrant populations, many of the first German arrivals in the area were mariners. Within the city, this led to establishment of a German enclave in proximity to the river; Oldendorf pointed out that at one time, “there were many Germans as Irish in the Irish Channel.”
As the population became more established, many German-owned businesses sprang up. While these spanned many sectors, it’s interesting to observe that funeral homes became something of a specialty, notably the Bultman and Schoen operations.
The visibility of various cultures ebbs and flows across the city’s history, and by the late 20th century, awareness of the local German culture and contributions had receded considerably. Of all things, the 1984 World’s Fair catalyzed a big revival.
“After the World’s Fair is when there was suddenly a lot of interest,” Oldendorf recalled. “People went to the German Beer Garden at the Fair, and they wanted to continue experiencing that fun and festive air. The Fair also boosted interest in things German, especially the German history in New Orleans.”
At that time, Deutsches Haus was located on Galvez Street, in a property that was later demolished for the sprawling medical centers. And Oktoberfest was actually second in popularity to Volksfest, a spring celebration that drew more visitors to the facility.
“Oktoberfest at that time was mostly a Haus member event,” remembered Oldendorf.
While Deutsches Haus continues to put on Volksfest, and is looking to rebuild interest in it – possibly with more of an emphasis on German wines as a way to distinguish it – Oktoberfest is far and away the more visible and popular event.  This year it will be celebrated on Fridays and Saturdays over the first three weekends of October. Admission is ten dollars at the gate, and everything is cash-only.
Along with German food, beer, spirits, music and related festivities, Oktoberfest includes a 5K run, a Schnauzer Strut dog parade, and the Masskrugstemmen, the daily beer stein-holding context. More information can be found at www.deutscheshaus.org. As always, keep an eye out for the giant chicken.
The current Deutsches Haus location, on Moss Street between Esplanade and Desaix on Bayou St. John, represents a homecoming for the nonprofit organization. After being forced out of the Galvez Street property, the Haus existed in a rented facility in Metairie, and Oktoberfest was staged in Kenner.
The club was able to acquire the current location from the State of Louisiana, and built the new Haus just in time to coincide with its 90th anniversary in 2018. Now, whether hosting festivals, the many organizations that rent the space for their events, or simply members and guests on a sunny fall evening, the oak-shaded beer garden and spacious interior are ideal environments for continuing that celebration of, and education about, the longtime German presence in our area.
As Oldendorf put it, “If you like German culture, German food, German beer, you belong here!”
 
 

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