German Tradition With a Local Flair Brings Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati to Life

(This article originally appeared in 2007 in the Pulse/Downtowner, a weekly news-magazine, which is no longer published.)

By Jessie Gridley

DOWNTOWN—Dressed head to toe in a dirndl and lederhosen, a man with an elegantly-groomed handlebar mustache stands with his wife of 28 years.

Tom and Annamarie Harten have been co-owners of the oldest still-running restaurant in Cincinnati for 13 of those years. Mecklenburg Gardens serves some of the finest German fare the city has to offer.

The streets of Clifton are suddenly transformed into those of a different time and place as the visitor walks past a curtain of grape leaves into the “bier garten.” The grape leaves and its sweet-smelling fruit snake through a large wooden arbor, creating a tunnel of green that encases the patio.

Annamarie says that they tried to restore Mecklenburg back to its original charm, leaving the dark wood that ices the interior of the 1865 building. The wood is believed to have been brought from the Black Forest of Germany to the restaurant that embraces the Queen City’s rich German influences.

The couple smiles at the sheer mention of Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati, a playground for any grown adult dressed in lederhosen and dirndl with a thirst for authentic brews. Whether it is a thirst for Samuel Adams Octoberfest Beer, which blends together four roasts of barley, or a refreshing Erdinger Wheat Beer brewed in Erding, Bavaria—the festival that caps the end of summer will have it.

In the Gemütlichkeit Games, Tom Harten specializes in the beer barrel roll, which has earned him the title of King of Oktoberfest. Annamarie puts her skills to test in the sprint for the stein, a trial of time, speed and agility as athletes load their arms with steins filled to the brim and race to the finish. Points are taken off for every ounce spilled during this slushy jog.

This year, Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati officials say that in addition to the Gemütlichkeit Games there will be the John Morrell Running of the Wieners. The games and race will happen at noon on Thursday, Sept. 20, at Fountain Square. The race will feature 30-50 Dachsunds, wearing bun costumes, racing to the finish line. Entries are still being accepted.

Overall, an estimated 500,000 festival-goers will be joining the Hartens for the Sept. 22-23 festival, say Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati officials. Touting enough sausage to feed a small country and a former “Guinness Book of Records” listing for the world’s largest chicken dance, Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati is an event not to be missed says, Raymond Buse III, public relations director. “Oktoberfest is an event that doesn’t take itself too seriously,” says Buse, as he spouts the list of international recognitions the zany festival has earned.

Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati struts the title as the nation’s No. 1 Oktoberfest out of the 11 recognized by AOL last year. AskMen.com ranks the festival No. 3 on its top 10 list. Buse boasts that Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati is the “granddaddy of all Midwest street fairs,” and tells how it even received praise from the mayor of Munich, Germany.

Mecklenburg, one of the only German restaurants left in Cincinnati, will do its part by setting up shop across from the Chiquita building, serving mock turtle and bier cheese soups, German egg rolls and sauerkraut balls. And Tom Harten adds that they also will have Bavarian meatballs, which he says are bigger and better than the Swedish meatballs.

Event Details

Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati will be 11 a.m.–12 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, and 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23. The German fare will stretch along five blocks of Fifth Street, near Fountain Square. Admission is free. For more information, visit Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati.com. Registration for Dachsunds to participate in the Running of the Wieners also can be done at http://www.Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati.com.

A gluttonous feast awaits festival-goers at Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati. The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber took the liberty of gathering some stats from food vendors on what awaits:

87,542 metts
80,500 bratwurst
64,000 sauerkraut balls
56,250 sausages
24,640 potato pancakes
23,004 soft pretzels
20,000 cream puffs
16,002 strudels
6,000 jumbo pickles
3,600 lbs of sauerkraut
1,875 lbs of German potato salad
702 lbs of Limburger cheese.

Picks of the Pros

Tom Harten

Favorite Beer: Spaten Oktoberfest, a light and malty brew with a crisp and hoppy flavor.
German food: Pork Moutard, grilled, bone-in pork chop with a smokey mustard cream sauce.
Gemütlichkeit Games specialty: Barrel roll, self-proclaimed champ.
Best part of Lederhosen: “I like the attention.”
Worst part of Lederhosen: “It rides up, especially when I’m working.”
Story behind the handlebar mustache: “It has been a work in progress for six years, starting out bushy and big and growing more refined and intricate, like a fine wine.”

Annamarie Harten

Favorite beer: Spaten Lager, light and crisp.
German food: Chicken Schnitzel, pounded, lightly breaded and then pan-seared.
Gemütlichkeit Games specialty: Beerstein
Best part of a dirndl: “It’s fun and festive.”
Worst part of a dirndl: “The material can get hot. The part around the mid-section is supposed to lift certain areas, so it can be tight.”
Her take on the handlebar mustache: “I used to hate it. But, it’s growing on me as it grows on him.”

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