Oktoberfest wraps early due to Hurricane Nate; full Saturday and week packed with tours

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Kids enjoy giant dominoes at Saturday's Oktoberfest. / Nick Griffin

CULLMAN – Oktoberfest festivities were to wrap up on Sunday, but Hurricane Nate had other plans. Cullman Oktoberfest organizers announced Saturday afternoon that all of Sunday’s activities have been canceled. The area is under a Tropical Storm Watch through Sunday evening, with Hurricane Nate making landfall Saturday night along the Gulf coast, weakening to a tropical storm, and forecast to bring anywhere from 2-4 inches of rain, along with high winds, to Cullman, according to the National Weather Service.

Saturday’s weather was grand, however, with hundreds of people filling Depot Park and the Festhalle in downtown Cullman. The Farmer’s Market opened up shop at 7 a.m., but the first event of the day was the 5K/10K run starting at 8 a.m.

Dozens lined up outside the Festhalle to compete in the run that took them through downtown, past Cullman Middle School and finished next to Cullman City Hall. The winners of the 5K and 10K each walked away with a medal and a $50 cash prize. Chase Prater finished first in the 5K race with a time of 18:09, and Nick Payne won the 10K competition at 39:34.

Between events, guests enjoyed performances at the Festhalle from the East Elementary sixth-grade choir, the Cullman Middle School choir and the Cullman High School choir, as well as carriage rides around the festival and dozens of vendors.

Younger guests enjoyed inflatable slides, bouncy houses, giant dominos, sidewalk chalk and a pool with giant inflatable bubbles.

There was also a gallery of Oktoberfest Junior sidewalk art posted outside of city hall for guests to admire. The arts and crafts fair was open all day at Depot Park as well.

One of the most popular draws each year, K-9s-4-A-Kause, sponsored by the Cullman Kiwanis Club, also took place Saturday. This event gave tons of dog owners a chance to come out and show off their pets to an adoring crowd. Things got started at Depot Park with an obstacle course, followed up with a tricks event where several dogs and their owners got to work on their skills, but the main event didn’t begin until after noon.

Everyone’s favorite, the Wiener Dog Races, began around 12:15 and the crowd was larger and more excited for this event than any of the others. The race was broken up into a few heats with three dogs competing at a time. In some races, the wieners burst through the gate at full speed, but in some they were more interested in the crowd and the excitement, to the delight of spectators.

The afternoon continued into the night with live music, food, beer and several more fun contests.

School Tours

The advent of Cullman’s “wet” Oktoberfest a few years ago definitely gave certain aspects of the festival a more grown-up feel than during the “dry” years, but the event has retained distinct family-friendly elements.  The Burgermeister’s first official visit to the biergarten is still preceded by the tapping of the ROOTbeer keg.  Saturday’s festivities are full of kids’ games, inflatables, and the ever-popular Wiener Dog Races.

But some folks may not know that this year’s Oktoberfest, along with some others, began with kid-specific events even before the first keg was tapped.  During the week leading up to Oktoberfest Saturday, the Cullman County Museum hosted tour programs for local students:

  • Walking tours of historic places downtown for older students
  • Four-station tours for younger children, from the museum to Depot Park: inside the museum, to the gazebo for the story of Oktoberfest, to the Depot for historic music and a lesson on Cullman’s railroad heritage, and fun time on the inflatables behind the museum
  • Many classes concluded morning tours or began afternoon tours with lunch visits to the Festhalle.

The museum’s school tour coordinator Drew Green explained, “The main thing about the school tours is we’re trying to emphasize Cullman’s German heritage.  The reason that we celebrate Oktoberfest is because our founder, John Cullman, was from Germany.  So it’s a good chance to introduce the children and students to Cullman’s history, and try to make it also entertaining, to make learning fun.

“In the museum, we normally have students from the Cullman High School drama department with Wayne Cook, their teacher; and they dress up, and they’re stationed in different rooms in the museum.  And they interact with the children, and try to tell them a little about our history here, and have some fun with them.

“In the gazebo, this year we had some volunteers, a lot of them with German backgrounds, who told the story of Oktoberfest: why we celebrate Oktoberfest in Cullman, and interesting facts about Germany.  One of the interesting things one of the storytellers told was all the words we have in English that originated in German.

“At the Depot, which is Cullman’s historic depot with all the original interior, so the kids can sit in the Depot and pretend they’re waiting for a train just like their grandparents or great-grandparents might have.  Then we have Dr. Bill, and he plays some classic American instruments; and some of them have German heritage.  And they have fun singing along with him.

“Then, just for fun, we have the bouncy houses, so they can let off a little steam before they go back to school.”

The school tour program has gone on for quite a few years, enjoying strong attendance until 2009, when the economic recession curtailed many schools’ ability to take field trips.  “But now, things are looking up, so several schools have started coming back,” said Green.  He added that attendance has steadily risen over the last several years.  This year’s tours drew more than 770 local students.

For more information about museum school programs year-round, visit www.cullmancountymuseum.com or www.facebook.com/cullmancomuseum.

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