FESTIVALS : In Search of Gemutlichkeit ? Journey to Old World Oktoberfest

Cheryl Hanselman is a member of the Times Orange County staff.

As September flows into October, beer-drinking enthusiasts around the world dust off their steins, work up a thirst and set their sights toward Germany in anticipation of Oktoberfest. But for Southern Californians, Munich isn't the only place to enjoy authentic Oktoberfest festivities.

An annual celebration at Old World Village in Huntington Beach this year begins Saturday, Sept. 29, and runs through Nov. 4.

The 176-year-old tradition, which began in Munich as a celebration of a royal wedding, was instituted at Old World Village about 13 years ago by the Bischoff family, owners of the restaurant complex. "We visited the Oktoberfest in Munich in 1970 and thought it would be fun and successful in Huntington Beach," said Dolores Bischoff. "The whole festival is about being together. Old and young alike can participate and it's a great way to meet strangers in a relaxed atmosphere."

Old World Village's cobblestone streets and the bucolic murals adorning its restaurant walls create an appropriate and convivial setting for Oktoberfest activities. The oom-pah-pah sound of Landshut, Germany's Lustigen Vilstaler Musikanten band--making its U.S. debut at this year's festival--will echo from Festival Hall, which serves as the focal point for the celebration. The food will include traditional specialties such as bratwurst, knackwurst, sauerkraut and apple strudel. There will be beers from around the world, including two from East Germany and a non-alcoholic option.

And if you're in the mood to engage in the "Chicken Dance," this is your celebration. "The music really livens you up," said Bischoff, demonstrating the arm-flapping, foot-stomping dance that is a popular and cherished tradition at beer halls around the globe. For those more interested in observing, the Gypsies Folkloric Dance Ensemble will perform a traditional dance show throughout the festival.

Official opening of this year's Old World Oktoberfest comes on Sunday, Sept. 30, at 2 p.m., when a parade will wind through the Old World streets. The procession will include the Gypsies Folkloric Dance Ensemble and the Lustigen Vilstaler Musikanten band, all dressed in traditional costume. The band will continue to play until 9 p.m. in the Festival Hall.

Participants in Oktoberfest strive to achieve what the Germans call Gemutlichkeit , a harmony of tolerance, freedom and well-being. Bischoff feels that some may find it at the Old World Village celebration.

"We don't see people go out with a sad face," she said. "In fact, they usually dance out."

What: The Old World Oktoberfest.

When: Saturday, Sept. 29, through Nov. 4, daily except Mondays and Tuesdays.

Where: The Old World German Village and Restaurant, 7561 Center Ave., Huntington Beach.

Whereabouts: Take the San Diego Freeway to Beach Boulevard, South Huntington Beach exit. Right on Center Avenue.

Wherewithal: Admission to the Festival Hall is $5, free on Wednesdays and Thursdays. You must be at least 21 to participate in the Friday and Saturday night festivities.

Where To Call: (714) 897-1470.

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