If anyone has any doubts about how strong this area’s German heritage is, that should be dispelled by the way Oktoberfest is about to be celebrated: with not one, not two, but at least three separate events. 

The original Oktoberfest is the world’s largest fair, a celebration that has taken place in Munich, Germany, since 1810 and features beer brewed only in the city limits. Over the years, the Bavarian tradition has been celebrated by many German communities around the globe and modeled upon the Munich event. Obviously, the Quad-Cities — particularly Davenport and Scott County — which saw a huge influx of German immigrants during the 19th century, is one of those communities.

One of the three Quad-City Oktoberfest locations is Schuetzen Park, a historic site on Davenport’s west side that was created in 1870 and became a popular gathering spot for the German-American population.

Kory Darnall, the president of Schuetzen Park governing board and coordinator of one of the Oktoberfest celebrations, says you don’t have to be of German descent to attend or appreciate the annual activities.

“Although the flavor and size of the actual event in Munich is vastly different,” he says, “Oktoberfest at Schuetzen Park still strives to give those who attend a glimpse into the traditions of Germany through entertainment, food and interactions with others in attendance.”

An Oktoberfest trio

The first of the three Oktoberfest celebrations will take place Saturday, Sept. 24, at the Starlite Ballroom on the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport. Hosted by the American/Schleswig-Holstein Heritage Society, or ASHHS, the event will go from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Live entertainment, a silent auction, dancing, food and drinks will be available throughout the day. Ken Tank of Walcott, Iowa, an ASHHS member and this year’s event coordinator, says many of the people who come that day will participate in the German card games of Skat and Schafkopf, also known as Sheephead.

Tank is a member of the Luxor Club, a group that has been in existence since 1904 and meets regularly in people’s homes to play Skat.

“It is a three-handed card game using 32 cards from the seven on up through the face cards,” he says, explaining that the game is based on bidding and the point values of each card.

“It can be difficult to catch onto at first,” he says. Sheephead is a somewhat Americanized version of Skat, he says, adding, “Many people like to play Sheephead because it is faster and easier to learn.”

There will be Skat, Sheephead and 500 card game tournaments beginning at noon that day.

Quad-City area musicians John and Kay Retzl play from 2 to 4 p.m., with more musical entertainment provided from 5 to 9 p.m. by Barefoot Becky and the Ivanhoe Dutchmen. The band, based out of Mount Vernon, Iowa, performs throughout the United States and specializes in German-style polka and Czech music along with some country and big band favorites.

And, yes, vocalist and accordion player Becky Livermore performs barefoot, something she began doing simply because it was more comfortable than keeping her shoes on. 

Tank says many people have been coming to the ASHHS event for 20 years.

“Some people are of German descent and will speak in low German,” he says, referring to a dialect spoken mainly in northern Germany and the eastern Netherlands. Schleswig-Holstein is the northernmost German state and the region from which many of those immigrants who settled in Scott County originated.

Tank likens the event to a reunion where people with German backgrounds like to visit with others they have not seen in awhile.

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Oktoberfest Sunday is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 25 at Schuetzen Park in Davenport. The annual event took place in the park from 1870 to 1923, resuming in 1995.

The event will begin with a German/English church service at 10 a.m., followed by live music from Hot Club of Davenport from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. A salute to the Northwest Davenport Turner Society on the occasion of its 140th anniversary will take place at noon. Turner, or gymnastics societies, evolved in Germany during the 1800s with the promotion of physical fitness as one of its goals and spread to America.

The menu for the day includes lentil soup with knockwurst and German black bread, buffalo burgers with red cabbage, dessert and a variety of beverages. Food will be available throughout the day.

Darnall says the event will take place rain or shine, and he encourages people who attend to bring lawn chairs or picnic blankets. There is no cost other than for any food or beverages visitors wish to purchase.

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The Oktoberfest 2011 Dinner Dance, sponsored by the German-American Family Club, will be 5-11 p.m. Oct. 15 at the Elks Lodge in Rock Island. Event coordinator Rosamarie Rivera says the event, which has been taking place annually for more than 25 years, has a particularly noteworthy German flavor.

“Most of our members were born in Germany, not just their ancestors,” she says. Rivera herself was born in Bavaria and has lived in the Quad-City area since 1979.

The meal at the dinner/dance will consist of Hungarian goulash, homemade noodles (spaetzle), cabbage salad, homemade apple strudel and cake.

“German cakes are yeast-based and not quite as sweet as American cakes,” Rivera pointed out. Other authentic German foods will be available, and she noted that the goulash is made with cubed beef and pork, not like what most Americans are familiar with.

Entertainment for the evening will be provided by the Deutschmeister Band.

And if you can’t decide which Oktoberfest to attend, there’s no reason you can’t go to all of them.

As Darnall says, “Each group’s event complements the others without duplicating what is offered at the others.”

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