Does Grafenwöhr festival have 'the best beer ever'?
Stars and Stripes August 5, 2006
GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — The 2nd Cavalry Regiment’s newly arrived Stryker armored personnel carriers are the stars of the show at the 49th German-American Volksfest expected to draw 70,000 people here this weekend.
Several variants of the Stryker are on display alongside a range of German military hardware at the festival, which started Friday and ends Sunday at Grafenwöhr’s Camp Kasserine.
Speaking loudly, so as not to be drowned out by a band of lederhosen-wearing Germans playing oompah music on a stage nearby, Grafenwöhr Garrison commander Col. Brian Boyle said the festival is one of the largest in the area.
Crowds of local Germans mingle with Americans at the festival, check out military equipment displays, drink beer in a tent or browse dozens of vendors selling everything from Army surplus clothing to coffee, doughnuts, chili and hot dogs.
German Tony Durr has been coming to the festival since 1970 when, as a soldier in the German army he served as the event’s treasurer.
“In 1970, we didn’t have the civilians,” he said Friday, looking around a beer tent full of people in ordinary street clothes along with a few German and American soldiers in uniform.
“We just had soldiers from the field and we drank a lot of beer. They would stay [at] a table with their beer mugs and they would raise hell,” he said.
In those days, when the festival was much smaller, soldiers bought 5,000 souvenir beer mugs. These days, about 1,500 beer mugs are expected to sell out by Saturday night, he said.
“A lot of women used to come here and the soldiers had a good time. The women would run around half naked and the soldiers would go crazy. They would fall in love with girls at the Volksfest. Times have changed,” he said.
These days, the Volksfest is more of a family occasion, at least during the day, with a bouncy castle and amusement park rides, something that has grown up in recent years, Durr said.
One of the few uniformed U.S. soldiers in the beer tent Friday morning was Capt. Robert Hellner, 32, the Grafenwöhr Garrison Headquarters Company commander.
It was his first Grafenwöhr Volksfest and his first German-American fest, but he said he had been to plenty of ordinary volksfests during four years in Germany.
“I’ve been to three Oktoberfests,” said Hellner, adding that he enjoyed the “small-town fair” environment of the Grafenwöhr festival and doing something different from what he was used to in the U.S.
“This is the best beer ever,” he added, taking a swig from a giant mug of beer.