The hills are alive
Mark Hughes sipped a dark, German-made beer as he sat comfortably alongside his girlfriend, Nancy Sylliaasen, atop Mount Lemmon’s Ski Valley this past weekend. Surrounded by the aroma of grilled bratwurst, hot potato salad, sauerkraut and other German delicacies, the couple basked in the kind of breeze you can only find above 9,000 feet, while the tunes of the Pennsylvania Polka filled the forest air.
The couple, surrounded by miles of rolling pine and aspen, reminisced on the years they’ve been coming to Mount Lemmon’s Oktoberfest and reveled in the beauty that surrounded them.
“It’s a beautiful tradition,” Sylliaasen said — she and Hughes attend Oktoberfest every year. “Great weather, it’s old-fashioned, it’s all ages and it’s a lot of fun … We have a perfect day. This is our little secret.”
The mountain’s decades-old, German-themed festival returns this year and will run through the next two weekends, featuring live music, activities for all ages, food and plenty of beer.
Rebecca Marie Sasnett/The Daily Wildcat The Music Meisters, (From left to right) Robert Kruse, drummer, Steve Yool, accordian player, and John Prokop Jr., tuba player, play a variety of Polka songs during the Oktobeerfest Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013. Steve Yool is also a geology teacher at the University of Arizona.
Mount Lemmon Ski Valley began the festival in the 1970s and loosely modeled the traditions after the true Oktoberfest, which is celebrated at this time of year in Germany. The popular ski destination brings out German flags, banners and proper attire, including clogs and lederhosen, for the annual festival.
Typically, Germany begins the festival in September as a celebration of the harvest and welcomes the changing of the season with beer, dancing, music and food. Although Mount Lemmon visitors may not be doing any harvesting, they have plenty to celebrate, said Mount Lemmon Ski Valley Owner Jay Davies.
“We’re not harvesting here, but we’re having the party to go with it,” Davies said. “We do games and, of course, there’s German beer. The German food is incredible … We’re celebrating the German Oktoberfest the best we can.”
Oktoberfest on Mount Lemmon stays true to the German tradition with the incorporation of food, music and beer, but there’s much more to it than that, said Lorri Hans, Oktoberfest’s restaurant manager and events coordinator.
“It’s about changing the season,” Hans said. “The air is getting cooler, the leaves are starting to change — it’s just a celebration of life to me … It’s not a classic Oktoberfest, but we’re trying to bring it outside the box.”
With its food and tradtional music, Oktoberfest on Mount Lemmon draws hundreds each weekend during the end of September and beginning of October, said John Prokop, leader of The Musikmeisters, the featured Oktoberfest band.
“Most of the people who come here expect to hear this kind of music,” Prokop said. “They’ve either heard it before at Oktoberfest or they’ve heard about it. They may really love heavy metal music, or they may be Justin Bieber fans, but they’ll come here and they’ll buy into this for the afternoon and they’ll enjoy it.”
The band focuses on German folk music, but adds other European songs and even American songs to the setlist, including “Those Were The Days” and crowd favorites like the polka and the “Chicken Dance,” Prokop said.
“It’s a worldwide thing that people do. It brings together traditions of the time,” Prokop said. “People enjoy it, and they flock to it.”
Regardless of age or inhibitions, the music makes everyone want to venture out to the decorated stage, Sylliaasen said.
“If you look at the dance floor, you have little 18-month-olds and 80-plus-year-olds all dancing and having a good time, and it’s wonderful,” she said.
Oktoberfest features family-oriented activities throughout the day and guests have access to the ski lift, snack bar, gift shop and restaurant. The festival promises an experience true to its German roots, but in a way that only Tucson can provide, as it displays one of the many cultural pockets within the city.
“It’s a cultural thing,” Hans said. “It’s a cool way of life that people haven’t seen, and everybody’s got a little German in them.”
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