Exploring Oktoberfest

Brennan Stebbins

We were just south of Swope Park when we had to make a quick detour.

We needed four ‘C’ batteries for a 1980s Panasonic tape recorder which a better man would have put money against ever recording any sound again.

The blank cassette tapes had been hard enough to find, but I thought we needed this kind of technology – it has a condenser mic! – to really capture the sounds of Oktoberfest. It was 5:30 p.m. on a Saturday, and the keg-tapping ceremony would commence at 6 p.m. sharp.

Maneuvering back onto the highway, we snapped the batteries into place on the back of the machine and ran through several sound tests.

Each test produced a different result, and sometimes a deafening high pitch sound, but eventually the words came through clear, as long as the volume wasn’t up past five.

“Test, test. This is a test.”

If we hurried we could be there in time for the traditional ceremony.

Things were looking good, and Weekender photographer Glenn Landberg said it out loud.

“We’re golden.”

Oktoberfest was taking place at the pavilion at Crown Center in downtown Kansas City. We arrived a few minutes after 6 p.m., but the ceremony was moving slowly as rogue German musicians kept weaving through the crowd and up to the stage.

Finally, Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser approached the keg with wooden mallet in hand and a presumably insatiable thirst for its contents.

Nine swings and the keg appeared tapped, as the plastic cup-wielding drunks clamored for position. It was a false start, though.

“We’re going to try this again, it gets a little tricky,” the man with the beard said.

Funkhouser, no doubt feeling the pressure now, hammered the keg three more times and beer started spraying wildly onto the masses.

The keg had been tapped. The mayor’s cup was one of the first to be filled, and he stepped to the side of the crowd and triumphantly sipped on his frothy beverage.

“I like beer,” Funkhouser said. “It’s an opportunity to drink beer, for free.”

Of course, being mayor, he had to talk about culture.

“What I like about Oktoberfest is that it’s celebrating all the heritage of all the various ethnic groups that we have,” he said. “This kind of stuff keeps the fun and the vitality of the old cultures alive in our community and makes our community so much more interesting to live in.”

I asked Funkhouser about his prior keg-tapping experience.

The man knows how to swing a mallet, but 12 swings to get the job done? Could this be his first time?

“Oh no, but that’s a first time with sort of a modern tap,” he said. “The other ones were wooden with a wooden spigot and everything.

It takes practice.”

Security at these things is incredibly tight. To purchase beer, you must have a white paper bracelet around your wrist, and most of the cops were armed with bratwursts throughout the night. It isn’t difficult to fish out a couple bracelets from the trash and drink High Life in the parking garage, though.

By 7:30 we had given in to subliminal pressure from the police force and were sitting by the stage with a couple sausages and some kraut. The band on stage kept rapping about World War I between songs, eliciting harsh responses from members of the audience.

“What is this asshole raving about?” an inebriated twentysomething next to us shouted. Considering the $27 felt hat with peacock feather he was sporting, I felt the same could have been asked of him. Almost immediately he pulled up a chair to talk about the festive atmosphere.

“I guess I like Oktoberfest because it’s really just an excuse to get drunk,” the man, who went by Justin, said. “I have German heritage so I guess that makes it okay. I don’t really have any valid reason.”

As we ate and enjoyed a Blue Moon Pumpkin Spice and Warsteiner Pilsner, a trend of this Oktoberfest became apparent. Hundreds of people were walking around with beer-containing plastic boots hanging from their necks.

Glenn had witnessed this phenomenon before, but neither of us could explain the significance. It was decided our next quest, right after the beers, would be to find the source of the boots and acquire a pair, for the sake of journalism.

Justin seemed a likely candidate to lead us to the boots, and seeing how he was still encroaching on our space, I asked him what he knew.

“You know what?” he said. “They’re sold the @

“No way,” I responded.

“We got here at like 7:30,” he continued. “@

Turns out Justin is from Lawrence, Kan. I have no idea what pure fury is or how to drink it, but the fact that I was talking to a Kansas grad explained a lot.

With our boot hopes dashed, all we could do was wander the site somewhat aimlessly, past vendors selling gyros and barbeque ribs – all staples of the traditional German diet.

We came across a German culture tent that was nearly vacated, except for two older women, Ellie and Iris, wearing more traditional German attire.

The women explained that their dresses were called trachts.

“They don’t wear them now, it’s for festivals of course,” Ellie said.

Ellie said that she and Iris belonged to the Blautaler dance group and a German club.

“The German American Citizens Association,” she said. “That’s a club. We have a big clubhouse.

“I was born in Germany,” Ellie said. “In Wurzburg, and it is in Franconia. That is a part of Bavaria. The northern part of Bavaria is Franconia. There are no mountains there, just hills.”

Walking back to the open side of the culture tent, Glenn and I watched as a golf cart with two men holding two beers transporting two kegs stopped nearby.

“Jesus,” I thought. “Are we already to this point of the night?”

That, coupled with the increased sales of $3 cups of Coors Light at the beer stands, signaled a shift in the evening. It was time to wrap things up before all the German heritage left the grounds en masse and we were left with nothing but drunken Jayhawks fans.

Walking past one of the Warsteiner beer stands, an excellent description of the evening emerged. Exactly 50 empty kegs sat lined up in rows of two and three behind the stand. We counted them.

“Fifty empty kegs behind the Warsteiner,” I said.

“Count 50,” Glenn replied.

Just before we reached our exit we noticed a VIP area up a flight of stairs on a mezzanine.

To provide full coverage, I suggested we check out the VIP scene. We ascended the stairs and our access appeared certain until we were stymied by a credential-toting woman at the gate.

“What is going on up here,” I said.

“The VIP area is a hospitality tent,” she responded.

“What does it take to get in?”

“A VIP pass.”

“How would I get a VIP pass?”

“You would get it if you were a sponsor.”

“So like if you advertised at the event?”

“This is for people who get them ahead of time because they are sponsors.

“What is this about?” she said, pointing at the device.

“This is a recorder,” I said.

“It’s like a flashback,” she said, laughing.

Access denied.