"You've got the bratwurst, you've got the sauerkraut, you've got the German potato salad, you've got the pretzels, and the imported beer," says Angelika Gessner, at the 29th Annual Oktoberfest in downtown Panama City on Saturday.
Gessner moved from Germany to the U.S. in 1972. She lives in Dothan but made a stop in downtown Panama City on Saturday to travel back to her German roots. "We came especially down here for this festival, we heard a lot about it, and we wanted to come as close as we could to a German type festival," says Gessner.
And while it may be Gessner's first Oktoberfest, it has been a Panama City tradition for 29 years. Dutch Sanger, Executive Director for the Downtown Improvement Board, says it's an event "to keep downtown vibrant and to have people come downtown and see what we have to offer." He also says this year was a little bit different than years past. "We tried something different to make it more Bavarian," says Sanger. "What we did is we made it a stand alone one day event, we made a beer garden, we made it a lot more German."
Vendors lined Harrison Avenue, selling merchandise and authentic German food which Gessner says was real and not "Americanized style German." Another area was set aside for the crowd to enjoy a little bit of the European Martial Arts. Marcel "Marquette" Hildebrand with the German American Club was one of the individuals fencing earlier Saturday. "Fencing has a long history in Germany, in particular, long sword play, was very very predominant there," says Hildebrand, who is German himself. His opponent in the fencing match, Don ward, says a festival like this is a great idea as it allows the opportunity to "display German heritage older than what most people in America are used to, which is beer fest, or the women in the guernal dresses, like you see in the Hofbräu.
Gessner says she would definitely return back next year for Oktoberfest because she says, "it brings a little bit of the homeland back."
Sanger says it's likely the festival will remain a one day event considering today's big turnout.