Think potato salad – no, not that bland American stuff. We’re talking warm savory German potato salad. And not just any German potato salad ” how about Aunt Marcella’s recipe from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin? Yes, you guessed it; Forest Park is finally putting the “K” back in October.

After a ten-year absence, St. Bernardine, along with the Harlem Maenner-Damenchor, is reviving Oktoberfest. O.K., so it won’t be that three-day blowout we used to have but at least we’ll have a whole day dedicated to Forest Park’s German-American heritage. It’s going to be on Saturday September 24th, from noon to 10:00 p.m. in the spacious Ferrara Pan parking lot.

The festival will feature German delicacies such as thuringer, bratwurst, and beer to compliment the potato salad. We’ll not only hear from Forest Park’s venerable German chorus but also a children’s choir singing beer garden favorites. No, there won’t be any carnival rides to flip you upside down and empty your pockets of change ” remember how hard those rides were on the potato salad?

My family and I used to have such great times at Oktoberfest, we’d go all three days. In fact, we only had one bad experience, when I took my infant daughter on the bumper cars. I thought she’d get a kick out of it but the first head-on collision caused her head to hit the steering wheel. I immediately climbed out into moving traffic with my screaming kid. The operator was angry with me but his reaction was mild in comparison to the child’s mother.

So, you can see, not having carnival rides isn’t all bad. Besides, the main purpose of Oktoberfest is to soak up German culture along with the suds. Thirty years ago the Harlem choir pioneered Oktoberfest with a one-day party on Madison Street. The event got bigger and bigger and it moved to Roosevelt Road. The problem was the volunteers got tired of doing all the work after two decades and no one else stepped up to the plate.

That is, until volunteers from St. Bernardine’s decided to work with the choir to bring it back. The idea was hatched only two months ago at St. Bernardine’s Day but somehow volunteers like Caroline Keeley and Deb Michalak pulled it together. “Forest Park is all about Oktoberfest,” Keeley said, “It’s crazy that we don’t have one.”

Indeed, just when our German-flavored town was dropping its fall festival, many neighboring communities were starting up theirs. Forest Park has such a strong German heritage, this newspaper used to be printed in that consonant-crazy language. We’re like a little slice of Wisconsin that slipped below the border. If anyone should be wearing leather shorts and hanging out in beer gardens it should be us.

Peter Herdig, who with his chorus members founded Oktoberfest, tried to interest the mayor in reviving it. But then he learned that St. Bernardine’s was planning to host it as a fund-raiser. Keeley, who is head of promotions, sees it as her way to give back to the parish that has given her so much. I see it as a festival we’ve sorely missed – especially the potato salad.

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball...