MINSTER — The strongest index fingers in the country may belong to those who live in the village of Minster, where people exercise their digits by dangling half-gallon jugs of beer from their forefingers for three days celebrating Oktoberfest.
The digital gymnastics of the 43rd annual Minster Oktoberfest will actually will start two days before the dawn of October. Between Sept. 29 and Oct. 1, the village of 2,857 people will balloon by 80,000 visitors to celebrate the region’s German heritage. Minster’s gala is listed among the top five of the similar fests in Ohio.
Vern Wente, the current president who’s been involved with Oktoberfest for 30 years, said he agrees with the fest’s website that the celebration “is not just an event; it’s a feeling, a spirit, a happy mood that conveys the warmth and friendliness of the community.”
Wente added that Minster people who help organize the run Oktoberfest do so “for the love of the community and the opportunity to give something back.”
Festivities begin at 6 p.m. Friday when artists and vendors will offer their wares at the juried arts and crafts displays in some 60 booths. The ensuing hours and days then offer events and attractions that include food and drink, music and dancing, pageants and a car show, beer-connected contests, a major 10-kilometer run, all topped off by a parade.
That six o’clock hour Friday also is when stands open to sell beer from four national breweries and two local brew houses, Moeller Brew Barn in Maria Stein and Tailspin Brewing Co. in Coldwater.
Many people walk the festival grounds carrying their brew in half-gallon jugs — strengthening their index fingers, if you will — and most festgoers also take a seat in one of three giant beer tents that feature authentic German cuisine as well as American food fare. Eighteen local civic, service and youth organizations raise some or all of their annual operating funds through their Oktoberfest proceeds.
Wente said, “The Jaycees’ Journeyman’s Club and Kiwanis’ Service Club, both co-founders of Oktoberfest in 1975, get the proceeds from beer sales. They both have scholarship funds to help the schools.”
There’s also room In those circus-size beer tents for polka and other dancing to the music of bands with very novel names – Ohio Brewed, Karma’s Pawn, Cincinnati Schnapps, The Klabberheads, Route 161 Happy Wanderers, Autobahn – as well as calmer signatures such as Roger Demange and the local acoustic duo Bubs and Munch.
Events get started Saturday as local and regional automotive aficionados begin at 9 a.m. registering their cars for a show that will take over a bowling alley’s parking lot, Community Lanes at the corner of Garfield and East Third streets. Judging will be at noon and awards will be announced at 1 p.m.
At noon, official opening ceremonies will be followed by young ladies competing in the Miss Oktoberfest Pageant. High school girls will promote their poise and answer questions for a judging panel to select the winner on the spot.
A younger version of the pageant, for Little Miss Oktoberfest, will have begun at 10 a.m. in the Knights of Columbus hall on Main Street. Eighteen 5- and 6-year-old girls will don their authentic German dirndl dresses and parade before the judges and an appreciative audience.
Saturday afternoon, events of the beer-related festival turn toward beer-related team sports. Two popular annual competitions are the beer tray relays, starting at 2 p.m., followed by the jug hoist. Four-runner teams carry trays of four beers along Lincoln Street, the site of Oktoberfest one block west of Main Street, which is state Route 66.
Sue Brandewie, Oktoberfest secretary, said relay teams race two at a time through an obstacle course. “Forty teams are registered, so it takes a long time,” she said. Speed alone doesn’t determine the winner, because runners are penalized for any spilled beer.
Immediately following the relays, teams of men and women representing four of the village’s taverns compare the longevity of their muscular strength by hoisting a jug of beer. The teams of men and women must extend an arm to shoulder level while holding aloft a full liter of beer in a heavy glass stein until their extremities succumb to the force of gravity. The beer and mug weigh about 5 pounds, and most matches end in less than 5 minutes.
“We got the idea from Cincinnati,” said Wente. “There it’s called the ‘mug hoist,’ but we changed the name to ‘jug hoist’ here.” Brandewie added that the Minster version began with a tavern sponsoring the contest with five men and five women.
“It proved popular, “ said Brandewie, “so we expanded to four bar sponsors –- Willy’s Tavern, Dutch Mill Cafe, Bud’s Pizza and Community Lanes –- and it’s really taken off.”
On a more athletic side of competition, an estimated 1,500 runners will gather Sunday at 9:30 a.m. for a 10K run through Ohio’s west central countryside. A 1K fun run (1,100 yards) will be a prelude to the 6-mile event. This is the 39th running of the Oktoberfest event, with the German theme “Laufen ist mein Leben” or running is my life.
Starting from Minster High School, the race course initially parallels the historic Miami-Erie for a mile then treks west on Seventh Street and Minster-Fort Recovery Road. Runners turn south on Enneking Road, Minster-Egypt Pike and Eiting Road They’ll turn east as they pass the Arrowhead Golf Course on Dirksen Road then turn back north toward Minster on Canal Road and Frankfort Street to the finish line on East Fourth Street.
Speedy-Feet, which handles online registration for this 10K and 200 other races in Ohio, hails the Oktoberfest event as “always one of the fastest and most competitive races in the state The course is flat and fast. Amy Kentner, coordinator for Minster’s race, said this is the final race of the Midwest Ohio Triple Crown series.
She said 300 of the 1,500 runners have run the first two legs of the series, the June 7 Strawberry Festival in Troy and the July 21 Run to the Moon in Wapakoneta. All participants in the Oktoberfest run will receive a medal, and finishers will be rewarded with a complimentary beer -– if they’re of drinking age.
The capping event of Oktoberfest will be the parade at 2 p.m. Sunday. Bands, floats and marchers will stage near the Dutch Mill Cafe at Cleveland and Fourth streets. The entourage will promenade along Main Street en route to the finish at Minster High School on East 7th Street. Parade entries range from farm equipment and high-wheel bicycles to the most modern forms of transportation.
And the organizers of Oktoberfest are already looking forward to next year. Wente said, “We start back up in January with monthly meetings, and we meet with the organizations about their plans for the following year. It gives them a chance to step up and make some money for their operating expenses.”
Some travel publications say Minster has the second largest autumn celebration in the state, but none dispute what city is first. Sept. 15-17, “Oktoberfest Zinzinnati” drew 650,000 celebrators, second only to the original fest in Munich, Germany, which attracted its usual 6 million beer quaffers this year despite some rainy weather.
Munich has refined its festival since 1811, but Cincinnati still holds the Guinness World Record for 48,000 people joining in the world’s largest chicken dance, recorded in 1994 by the Guinness Book of Records. Cincinnati Bengals players Andy Dalton and A.J. Green were leaders of the Sept. 17 dance, but the number of dancers has not been reported.
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