German music, food and enthusiasm trumps Oktoberfest rain – Chicago Tribune
The lively sounds of polka music and delectable scent of Bavarian chicken filled the grounds of Naper Settlement Friday evening, the first night of Naperville’s annual Oktoberfest celebration.
“I grew up listening to German music. My grandparents and relatives came from Germany. It reminds me of my youth,” said Tom Ulke, of Naperville, who didn’t let a little rain stop him from singing along with the Alpine Thunder band as they performed.
“They know how to party,” said Jan Ulke, Tom’s wife, who said the last time they attended Naperville’s Oktoberfest was many years ago, when it was held downtown and run by the Rotary Club of Naperville.
The traditional autumn celebration was taken over by Naper Settlement about a decade ago and this year it’s been expanded to three days, said Benjamin Nau, director of marketing for the Settlement.
Despite a steady rain, guests poured in all night to enjoy traditional Spaten and Hofbrau beers, classic German live entertainment, including oompah music with the unique sounds of accordion and alp horn, and such typical German fare as bratwurst and sauerkraut.
“The food is superb,” said Jan Ulke, who had firsthand experience with German cuisine and festivities when she lived in Germany. “We’d pay rent, and the landlord would get out the polka music and make you stay for schnapps. You were just paying rent, but you couldn’t get out of the house! They were fun-loving people.”
The local crowd exuded a similar vibe, energetically dancing the polka and raising their beers at each suggestion from the band. Though few strolled through the outdoor Biergarten and vendor booths because of the soggy conditions, hundreds joined the festivities under the large, heated tent.
“This is our biggest tent yet for this event,” Nau said. “A lot of people look forward to it. When you come, you want to come back every year. It gets more and more popular.
The Oktoberfest entry fee of $15 for adults and $10 for kids includes access to all of the historic buildings and outdoor exhibits at Naper Settlement.
“Each day is a different theme. We expanded it to Sunday this year to provide more than just traditional music. It’s the first time we have rock music on the main night. With three days, we made room for more,” Nau said.
Traditional Bavarian Sunday will feature live music from PM Jimmy’s Bavarians at 12:30 p.m. and The Happy Wanderers at 3 p.m.
“It’s a great event,” said Gabe Kasperek, of Alpine Thunder, who performed German folk and pop music Friday night. “We play a lot of Oktoberfests. There are not many big tents like this in the Chicago area. It’s very organized. We like to be interactive. They always have lots of kids here.”
Equally enthusiastic was Margaret Rusch, vice president of marketing for the Naperville Newcomers and Neighbors Club.
“I love the music. I’ve been to Munich, and this is similar, with the long rows (of seating) and everyone singing oom pah pah,” she said.
Rusch was one of several dozen club members who volunteered Friday night, many serving the event’s $7 beer and wine in exchange for collecting tips as a fundraiser for their nonprofit group.
“The funds will benefit our three charities and help with scholarships,” she said. “It’s a great way to raise funds. We went through training about safe serving and checking ID for over 21. The brewer gave us a lesson in pouring high-end German Oktoberfest beers.”
Proceeds from Oktoberfest help fund the Naperville Heritage Society, which oversees Naper Settlement and helps preserve the city’s history. Nau said Naper Settlement can afford to subsidize the cost of bringing 30,000 students to their facilities every year because of events like Oktoberfest, the upcoming All Hallows Eve on Oct. 20 and 21, Christkindlmarket Naperville, Civil War Days, and Naper Nights concerts, he said.
Diane Moca is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.