As a kid growing up in Lancaster, we lived a block or two away from what was known as “Cabbage Hill”. There was a large population of German-Americans on that hilly section of town, including my mom's extended family. My grandparents lineage involves several European peoples but Germany probably represents the largest piece of the pie. Despite my Italian last name, there’s German on my dad’s side too.
Elements of German culture were all around us growing up but I didn’t take much notice of it until later. The exception was this old wooden poster, at my maternal grandmother’s house, with a bunch of German words and drawings on it. One of the drawings was of a little kid who had a possessed look on his face. The letters underneath him said “schnickel fritz”. It was pretty creepy. I later found out that this poster-like board is called a Schnitzelbank and is sometimes used to help children learn a few German words. By the way, “schnickel fritz” means mischievous child.
Later, in high school, we put together a little German band to play at our AFS cultural day, and I got hooked on the fun of playing these simple, happy, folk tunes and polkas (although the polkas aren’t always easy). Fast forward many years and I had joined a group called Landler-Kapelle, which was led by my junior high school science teacher and had previously been the house band at the Lancaster Leidekranz for a few decades. I learned a lot about the musical style and traditions in that band, especially by sitting next to a great trumpet player named John Smith. I copy him a lot with my current group, The Happy Wanderers.
Speaking of The Happy Wanderers, this will be our second season playing without our leader, accordion player and cultural historian Rich Ranaglia. Rich died of a heart attack in the summer of 2017 and his presence in the group is difficult to replace.
But even missing Rich, Oktoberfest season is one of my favorite times of year and I’m pumped for these next few weeks and the dozen or so gigs The Happy Wanderers are playing. I love the festive, friendly atmosphere of the events. I enjoy the simple, fun music we play. I like wearing lederhosen and seeing others dressed in traditional German outfits. The food at the events is usually great too. And there’s beer. A lot of beer actually.
My favorite event, the Carlisle Oktoberfest, happens this week from Thursday through Sunday at the Army Heritage Center just outside of Carlisle. It’s a great time featuring food, music (including us Happy Wanderers) soccer matches, contests (wife carrying, stein holding), rides and games. The best part by far though is just the vibe of people hanging out and enjoying life together.
If that sounds good to you too- I’ll see you in Carlisle this week.