Oktoberfest is a hit

PORT GAMBLE — Oktoberfest made a grand reappearance in Kitsap County last weekend as fans of the German festival flocked on to Port Gamble for the chicken dance, bratwursts and plenty of German beer.

Since the Thomas Kemper Oktoberfest moved from Poulsbo to Seattle in the late 1990s, local residents have been without their annual German fare. But owners of the historic town on Gamble Bay decided it was time to bring it back. Main Street Ale House owner Rohn Rutledge and event promoter Ed Waterman were asked to take the helm and breath new life into the old event here.

After a quick 10 weeks of intensive prep work, the three-day festival last weekend came together smoothly. While the event was a hit with residents, plenty gave their two cents on how the 2004 gathering could be even better.

Norm and Karen Kunkel of Silverdale were doing the “Whoops-A-Daisy” waltz on the grass in the beer garden to the polka music of accordion musician Johnny V Saturday afternoon.

“It could be better but for the first time, it’s been great,” Karen commented, following her dance.

The couple and their friends made a top 10 list of items that should be considered for next year, including a wooden floor for dancing (the grass is hard on the feet, Karen said), German potato salad, spatzel and red cabbage, authentic German dancers and deep-fried cheese curds.

Heidi and Rolf Gestalter of Bremerton performed the obligatory chicken dance during the final song of Johnny V’s set.

Heidi, who is Swiss and Rolf, who is German, came to the festival to take part in some of their favorite pastimes.

“We love German polka, tango and waltz dancing,” Heidi said. “We saw it as a beautiful opportunity to come.”

While some festival-goers thought the event could have been larger, the Gestalters said it met all their expectations.

“They have everything they need for an Oktoberfest,” Heidi said.

Alyce Elder of Port Gamble was also taking advantage of the festivities, including the chance to eat sausages and sauerkraut.

“It’s tangy,” Elder said about the fermented cabbage condiment. “It has a different flavor. It just tastes good.”

Erin Hults of Suquamish was also enjoying the German fare. She and her husband Tom used to attend the Thomas Kemper Festival in Poulsbo years ago.

“We wanted to experience this one,” Erin Hults said. “We hope it becomes a tradition. It’s a beautiful site.”

While adults gabbed, drank and ate in the beer garden, kids were able to easily entertain themselves by blowing bubbles and climbing on the town’s playground equipment.

Young festival-goers (and the young at heart) also got to converse with the clown couple Derby and Topsy, who were making balloon animals and painting various cartoon-like characters on adults and kids both.

“It’s a beautiful day, the kids love the painting and the bubbles,” said festival-goer Patti Swenson. “It’s nice that it’s not too crowded.”

New Kingston residents Gwen and Larry Adams were happy to see the festival was in Port Gamble and that the kids could be entertained too.

“Besides the fact I was dying for a bratwurst has nothing to do with it,” Gwen said in jest.

“It’s very simple — good food, good beer, good company, good music, too,” Larry added.

Waterman said he was surprised by all the kids and families in attendance.

“We had hundreds and hundreds of kids out there,” he said, estimating about 3,500 people showed up during the three-day run. Waterman also noted the keg toss Saturday evening was a hit, with a winning hurl of 27 feet.

Rutledge said he was pleased with the turnout but also appreciated the comments to make next year better.

“Kitsap County seems to be really embracing the festival during the first year,” Rutledge said. “People have been nice about making suggestions for next year.”

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