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Prost! — Toasting, singing, dancing on the menu for annual Oktoberfest

Grab your lederhosen and get ready for Bavarian dancing, dining and oompah music — Oktoberfest is coming to Fort Benning this weekend.

The annual three-day festival kicks off today with a ceremonial keg tapping at 6 p.m. at Uchee Creek. The gates open at 4 p.m. for the festivities, which include hayrides, a rock climbing wall, dancing, pontoon boat rides and entertainment by the Mitten Wald Jodelers.

Mr. Chris Wojciechowski, marketing specialist with the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, said the event’s organizers try to keep it authentic.

New this year, he said, is the Sonnenschein Express, a band with a repertory of traditional German music.

Food vendors, including three specializing in German fare, will be on site selling bratwurst, potato salad, pretzels and of course, imported Bavarian beer, while others will offer carnival treats such as turkey legs and funnel cakes.

More than 8,000 attended last year’s Oktoberfest, said Mr. Wojciechowski, who hopes to see even more this year.

“A lot of the people who are from Germany who live here in Columbus come out,” he said. “They do the German toast. And then when they get involved with the band, they grab everybody around them, and everybody gets involved with the singing or the chanting or the dancing or whatever’s going on at the time. It just becomes one big festival.”

One of the regular festival-goers, Mr. Wojciechowski’s grandmother, Ilse, attends Fort Benning’s Oktoberfest annually. A native of Bavaria, she does what she can to keep the festival authentic, she said, by offering constructive feedback.

Born and raised in Furth, Germany, Ilse married her husband — SFC(R) Roman Wojciechowski — and moved to the U.S. in 1955. Since the couple settled in Columbus, they have made the trek every other year to Germany during Oktoberfest, which begins in September.

It’s not the big party in Munich, Ilse said, but her hometown’s version of “little Oktoberfest” that she goes back for.

Fort Benning’s own slice of Bavaria isn’t far from the mark, she said — for example, you may get the opportunity to “schunkel.”

“You just sit on the benches and you get your arms together and you go back and forth, back and forth, and it has to be with the music — and singing, there’s lots of singing,” she said. “It’s a lot, a lot of fun. We have a good time. I always look forward to it because it’s home. I feel like I’m at home.”

Throughout the weekend, there will be music, food and plenty of kids’ activities: face painting, a pumpkin patch, crafts, stories, free inflatables and, for teens, laser tag and Rock Band inside the activity center, Chris said.

Hours are 4 to 10 p.m. today, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. For Saturday, several special events are planned, beginning with the 10K run.

Registration, which starts at 7:45 a.m., is $20 and includes a T-shirt. After the run is underway, a free 5K Volksmarch, featuring a pet-friendly and stroller-accessible route, will begin at 10 a.m. Awards for the 10K are at 11:30 a.m.

During the day, the Maneuver Center of Excellence Band will perform. A dog contest, with awards for Best Dressed, Best Owner-Dog Look Alike and Best Trick, will be held at 12:30 p.m.

For Sunday, special activities include demonstrations by SKIESUnlimited’s Dance Force team in jazz, ballet and hip hop.

The event offers something for everyone, Chris said.

Admission is free and open to the public. Visitors today and Saturday will receive a raffle ticket to be entered in a drawing for an original Fort Benning Oktoberfest poster. For more information or a schedule of events, visit www.benningmwr.com or call 706-545-4499.

Oktoberfest: This original poster will be given away as a raffle prize this weekend at the Fort Benning Oktoberfest.

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