This year’s autumn equinox was ushered in with cool temperatures in Richmond. The weather app and sky spoke in cautious portents as they told a story of Tropical Storm Ophelia’s coming rain. Ophelia had not yet arrived to crash the party by the time that I had decided to make good on my word: I would cover the one and only night of Oktoberfest, given the morrow’s declared state of emergency.
What did you miss if you bought tickets for Saturday? You guessed it: fun, the outdoors, the ability to commune in fellowship with those that you love, welcoming fall amongst the ghostly glow of hung lanterns. You also missed feeling the release of primal pagan energy as the sun gave the world equal light, the ability to show someone how much you can chug beer, really big pretzels, and, of course, Maymont. Oh, and another chance to volunteer.
The rain had driven many away from the prospect of autumnal outdoor revelry, but not all were to be dissuaded. This was given the tickets they purchased before the event and their total inability to predict the weather. But, if the quote I saw on an Instagram reel is to be believed, the Germans say that there is no bad weather, only bad clothes.
This thought had followed me to the closet as I grabbed a rain jacket to stay dry and avoid totally soaking my phone. I went to a friend’s house and had a beer and an old fashioned as we watched the clouds increase in speed and the night accept the coming storm. The first few hours brought light rain. Having maxed out my responsible drinks, I decided that it was time to head to Maymont.
I arrived at Maymont a little after seven, and my phone and camera are not waterproof. So, I’m going to rely on the imagination of the reader to complete the picture of what the acceptable imports of German culture in America looked like in tents at night, in light rain, with Pay Rent Brass Band on stage next to a very large tree.
As I walked into Maymont, I was greeted by one of my best friends and his family. They are a family with distinct German heritage and a last name that makes you comfortable asking if it’s German. I have spent Christmas with them before. They are kind, easy, and loving people, who showed their children a love that made them honorable, dependable, and fun.
But a singular family is not indicative of German culture. They are a sample, and with what we know of families, not the norm. With a mere sample proving to be inefficient, I was forced to investigate the food tent, my waistline notwithstanding.
Food is as good of a thing as any to point to as culture, so I went to the Capital Ale House Oktoberfest tent and got the first thing on the menu, which was called “golonka”. This was my first time having it. It was beer-braised pork shank with caramelized onions. Despite my years in the restaurant industry, I have never shaken the need to make a small joke to the person serving me my food. I said, “Golonka, sounds weird, never heard of it before; just a bunch of weird sounds put together.”
I made that last remark because I have been observing the very tip of the linguistics iceberg in my free time. I decided that breaking the tension with a comment about being a budding arm-chair academic would be insufficient to penetrate the reasonable supposition of my ignorance. I tipped extra as penance and left to go to the dining tent.
As I may have already mentioned in this article, I have friends. But they had all been washed away by the time that I got around to eating food. The rain was such that I could not eat outside, so I went into a crowded tent and stood alone to eat my golonka, German potato salad, and sauerkraut.
It was savory, sweet, and tangy. I enjoyed it as much as you enjoy any meal that you eat alone in a crowded room. I looked around, and those in the tent were all smiling and enjoying themselves. Like almost all Maymont events, it was a family affair.
And for those who have recently left their families, there was a stein chugging contest nearby. As you could guess, it was all people chugging beer. People huddled around them in a circle and cheered the champion drinkers with the widest gullets. The energy of the circle had a vague school-yard brawl feel.
I thought about participating, but I have been the quirky guy in the crowd who outdrinks everyone, and they don’t accept you as an equal afterward. You will not be rewarded with the sheen of comfortable viability that we bestow upon others to carry with them like a talisman or crucifix. I went and got a pretzel for my partner to bring to her work, because she has seen me as the drunkest guy in a crowd of people and still loves me.
It was a short visit to Maymont, which is rare for me. I was not in love with the rain that night; the philosophy of German fashion be damned. I was glad to have a reason to be there, but having had the Golonka, I was getting full, and the pretzel was still hot, and the rain made me long for the comforts of home.
I found my love, gave her a gift, and evaporated into a cloud of domestic bliss.