138th annual festival of beer and bratwurst

Taimi and Bob Young of Marmora, N.J., wore traditional dirndl and lederhosen to the 138th annual Cannstatter Volksfest.

The four-story fruit column stood tall, the pilsner flowed, the bratwurst sizzled, the polka dancers polkaed, and the wheel of meat spun, spun, spun.

The 138th Cannstatter Volksfest, Philadelphia's annual German folk festival - among the longest-running in the nation - started Saturday afternoon at its fairgrounds on Academy Road in the Northeast.

Given the weekend's glorious weather, organizers of the three-day festival expect 10,000 people to pass through the turnstiles before the beer and music tents are pulled up Monday night.

"It's a wonderful way to spend a beautiful Labor Day weekend," said Chris Hess, a festival organizer and member of the Cannstatter Club, the German American cultural organization that runs the festival.

Michael Eichert, 60, of Northeast Philadelphia, couldn't agree more. He was sitting at a crowded table near the food tent.

"It's the one place to go in Philly for a taste of what a Bavarian-style festival is really like," said the German native, washing down knockwurst and German potato salad with a Warsteiner beer.

A walk through the fairgrounds was a walk among the tastes, smells, sights, and sounds of German culture.

Past the tent of cuckoo clocks cuckooing "Edelweiss" from The Sound of Music, past the tables of nutcrackers and traditional German garb, past roasting Bavarian beer nuts that smelled like Christmas, a crowd formed to watch the unveiling of Gustav Plankenhorn's towering fruit column.

A harvest tradition dating to 19th-century Germany, the painstakingly constructed tower of squash, potatoes, beans, and pears was completed by Plankenhorn, 80, of Philadelphia, and other volunteers, over the last few weeks.

Depicting scenes of German folklore, it's a mosaic of fruit and vegetables.

Josh and Mary Lemp of Levittown stopped to pose for a photo in front of the column with their toddler children, Nathan and Alex.

For them, the festival has been a tradition since Josh Lemp's grandfather Hans first took the family to it 25 years ago.

Hans Lemp and the rest of the family had already made their way Saturday to a table in a shaded spot.

"We come and sit and drink and eat and tell stories," he said, raising his glass.

In charge of the food tent, Cannstatter Club member Helmut Lingohr, 71, stood among the grills as volunteers dished out heaping plates of German potato salad and bratwurst.

His granddaughter Jessica Shaffer, a 26-year-old actress from Willingboro, worked the counter wearing her traditional dirndl.

She speaks little German, she said, but as the day wore on, she nodded and smiled and told customers, "Danke, danke."

At the beer tents, stocked with 200 barrels of Warsteiner and other German brews, barmen Hargis Knoechel and Manfred Birkholz kept the taps running and the jokes coming.

On the main stage, Die Sandler, a traditional band from Germany, belted out polkas and waltzes.

As the musicians began to play, a big dance circle formed.

Wearing her Miss Cannstatter sash, Lyla Lenyo, 21, of Trenton, showed children moves she had learned in her German dance class.

Then Louise Naussner, 72, of Fishtown, known for her mean hopping polka, took to the dance floor and demonstrated one.

Dating to 1872, the festival was for a time held at the former Washington Park on Allegheny Avenue. It was there in 1901 that a goat kept in the park got loose and began to eat the fruit tower while the crowd's attention was focused on the festival play.

"Police Sgt. Dinlocker made a rush for the goat, but was confronted with a pair of sharp horns," according to an article in The Inquirer.

For its misbehavior, the goat was tethered to a tree for the rest of the festival, the paper said.

On this day, there were no wild goats, but there was the clack-clack-clack of the meat wheel, a roulette-style game in which players bet quarters on numbers, competing for bags of deli meat.

"Step right up to the wheel of meat," yelled the barker, Conny Dougherty. "Every time I spin, you win."


Contact staff writer Mike Newall at 856-779-3237 or mnewall@phillynews.com.