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German-American Festival 'feels like coming home'

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    Emily Hemminger, center, dances to the band the Jammin' Germans with her cousin, Leyana Pfouts, left, and her son Jude Hemminger, right, during the German-American Festival at Oak Shade Grove.

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    Luna Wunderlin, 2, and her brother Perrin Wunderlin, right, 5, have their picture taken in a painting during the German-American Festival at Oak Shade Grove.

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    Beers in boot glasses with neck straps to carry them for sale during the German-American Festival at Oak Shade Grove on Friday.

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    The booth Haas Stein Haus has handmade steins painted in Germany for sale during the German-American Festival at Oak Shade Grove.

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    Vinny Collins, left, grills brats and gives them to workers to sell to customers during the German-American Festival at Oak Shade Grove.

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    People start arriving to the German-American Festival at Oak Shade Grove on Friday.

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    Jospeh Conway, left, and Daniel Soldner Jr., right, have a beer together during the German-American Festival at Oak Shade Grove on Friday.

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    The booth Haas Stein Haus has handmade steins painted in Germany for sale during the German-American Festival at Oak Shade Grove.

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    Patrice Fox sings with the Jammin' Germans during the German-American Festival at Oak Shade Grove.

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    Emily Hemminger, right, dances to the band the Jammin' Germans with her son Jude Hemminger, 18 months, during the German-American Festival at Oak Shade Grove on Friday.

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Gabriela and Gracie Siffer practiced every week for a year to reach the peak of their form.

On Friday, the mother and daughter duo demonstrated their mastery of the Schuhplattler (shoe slapping), a traditional German dance, at the annual German-American Festival at Oak Shade Grove in Oregon. 

“GAF is home. It’s tradition. It’s culture. And it’s family. ... We’ve been looking forward to it all year,” Gabriela Siffer, 51, a Toledo teacher, said.

Both her parents had come to the United States from Germany, and she’s been at every festival since its inception in 1966, the year she was born.

IF YOU GO
What:
The 53rd annual German-American Festival.
When: 2 p.m. Saturday to 1 a.m. Sunday, and noon to 11 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Oak Shade Grove, 3624 Seaman Road, Oregon. 
Admission: $8 for adults; children 12 and younger accompanied by a parent or guardian get in free. 
Information: germanamericanfestival.net

The two women — members of Toledo’s Bavarian Sports Club D'holzhacker Buam and its Schuhplattler Bavarian dancers’ group — were wearing dirndl costumes like quite a few among the thousands of people at Oak Shade Grove. The three-day event, which marks its 53rd anniversary, started Friday and continues through Sunday.

“It feels like coming home,” Gracie Siffer, 18, a University of Toledo freshman, said. “It’s always a good time no matter who comes here. It’s always great.”

Matthew Siffer, 55, her father, who was dressed in lederhosen, agreed.

“I am ecstatic,” said Mr. Siffer, a Toledo taxicab owner and a member of the club’s Bayerischer Motorrad Verein motorcycling group. “It’s like a family reunion. We look forward to it for a whole year. It’s the closest thing you get around here to the Bavarian Oktoberfest. You run into people you haven’t seen in years.”

Typically involving about 3,000 volunteers daily, the Oregon festival is modeled after Munich’s famous Oktoberfest, a 16-day event held annually from late September to early October.

German food and beer aside, the program features authentic German music, folk dancing, and entertainment such as Steintossen, an authentic Swiss stone throwing contest; Masskrugstemmen, a Bavarian mug lifting contest, and soccer matches between Bavarian sports teams.

There are also amusement rides for people of all ages, and children's activities such as figurine look-alike contest for children ages 2 to 10.

Prior to moving to Oregon in 1985, the festival was held at the Lucas County Recreation Center in Maumee, where it moved in 1975 from Raceway Park on Telegraph Road in Toledo, where the first event was held in 1966.

The festival started a year after several German-American groups that held festivities at about the same time joined together. Seeking to avoid confusion, they decided to organize just one major festival.

Local sponsors this year included Hollywood Casino Toledo and BMW of Toledo.

The festival Friday drew people from at least as far as Wisconsin.

Said Bradley Blank, 25, a lederhosen-clad member of the Freistadt, Wis. Alte Kameraden Band: “It’s my first time here. I’m really excited to be here. I’ve heard great things and I’ve been wanting to come here for a long time.”

Contact Mike Sigov at sigov@theblade.com419-724-6089, or on Twitter @mikesigovblade.

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