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German-Texans celebrate their heritage with Hill Country fall festivals

Men competitors.jpg
Brian Kirkpatrick
/
Texas Public Radio
Men compete at the stein-hoisting contest during the Oktoberfest held by Real Ale in Blanco on Oct. 1, 2022. Stephen Schmidt of Blanco, in the middle with blue shorts, won the men's competition.

German-Texans celebrate their heritage with several Hill Country celebrations each fall.

The largest of those celebrations is Wurstfest in New Braunfels, which kicks off on Nov. 4 and runs through Nov. 13.

Two hundred and fifty thousand visitors attended Wurstfest last year to sample beer, sausage, German music and more. Fredericksburg attracted thousands in early October with its Oktoberfest.

Any local Oktoberfest is thought to have grown out of the celebration held in Munich, Germany, in October 1810, to mark the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese.

Brad Farbstein, the president of Real Ale in Blanco, said there's also a big reason such celebrations are held in the fall — no one really wants to drink a hot beer. He said before refrigeration, Germans stored their beer in caves.

"They would allow the beer to age in caves, and the caves were warm during the summer, and they started to cool off in September. And so, the idea was that they would pull all of the remaining beer out, and they would drink it all for a big party. And then it would make room for them to start being able to brew from October all the way to March," he said.

Real Ale hosted its own Oktoberfest celebration at its location on the northern end of Blanco, just off 281. It included a special Oktoberfest brew, sausages and pretzels, German music, and a stein-hoisting contest, under the shade of live oak trees.

Stephen Schmidt of Blanco won the men's competition, holding a liter of beer in a large stein straight out with his arm for five minutes, 45 seconds.

He said his only training came from his natural love of hoisting mugs. "Only in that I drink beer often," he said with a grin.

Competitors were eliminated if elbows sagged or if arms shook and beer spilled from a mug. All athletes hit a wall. Schmidt said his limit came around four minutes in.

"It's not that tough for the first two minutes. You think, 'oh this is not a big deal.' Then you look at the people still around you that are still in it. And you're like, 'you're much skinnier than me — why am I having trouble starting now?' At four minutes, it starts hurting real bad. Real bad," he said.

Women competitors.jpg
Dakota Hamilton of San Marcos, in the middle, won the women's stein-hoisting competition. Real Ale President Brad Farbstein is dressed in traditional German lederhosen to the left.

Dakota Hamilton of San Marcos won the women's competition by keeping a solid straight arm on her beer for two minutes, 15-seconds. She said she has been working out, but not with a large, full beer stein.

"One thing my trainer does do is have us hold our dumb bells right in front of us, so I figured it would be about the same," she said.

Hamilton said she has worked out since March just for fun, but figured it helped her win.

Schmidt and Hamilton each won $100 each from Real Ale for their feats. Real Ale will celebrate its Oktoberfest again next year.

Tens of thousands of Germans sailed directly to settle in the Republic of Texas and later the state of Texas, beginning in the 1830's. They continued to move to Texas for much of that century.

Many migrated to settlements that later became the Hill Country towns or communities of Boerne, Bergheim, Fredericksburg, and New Braunfels, among many others.

The Texas State Historical Association explained that many were farmers. Some came for economic opportunity. Others migrated to Texas for political and religious freedoms. Many opposed the secession of Texas on the eve of the U.S. Civil War.

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Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at brian@tpr.org and on Twitter at @TPRBrian