New Coke, Jennifer Grey's nose, Oktoberfest at Principal Park. Some things are just better the way they started.
In 2008, Des Moines' Oktoberfest, which started in 2004, moved from the Court District to the parking lots of Principal Park. Reaction was mixed to the new location the first year, but 4,300 festers turned out to christen the new festival grounds. Last year, Oktoberfest was moved into October due to a Dave Matthews Band concert at Principal Park. The result was a rainy weekend with 40-degree temperatures. Total attendance: 550 people.
"(This year) we didn't want to do it because we lost too much money," said Melanie Doser, who helped organize the event at Principal Park. "It was too expensive and the weather was too risky for an outdoor event."
So Oktoberfest is going home, back to its Court District location outside Hessen Haus and back to more outdoor friendly September dates. (The real Oktoberfest in Munich also starts in September.)
Before the move, Oktoberfest brought in up to 7,500 attendees to Fourth Street. Principal Park took over Oktoberfest because Full Court Press, the group of guys who own Hessen Haus and who organized the event, hoped the event would expand beyond their capabilities. Bar co-owner Jeff Bruning had aspirations of the event mirroring Oktoberfest USA, which consumes the city of La Cross, Wis., for nine days. With a few more Full Court Press venues opening, like el Bait Shop and Sbrocco, they handed the event over to Mindy Toyne, a longtime partner and owner of In Any Event. Toyne is still organizing the event as it returns downtown.
"Now we're getting the best of both worlds," Bruning said. "We had no intention of holding it as our own, only until it was big enough to take over downtown. We've never known if it will get that big; maybe we'll give it away or end up keeping it forever."
One feature absent during the Principal Park years was the Burgermeister - more or less the mayor of Oktoberfest. Hessen Haus manager Justin "JB" Berkley (whose backside graces our cover this week) is returning to the role. As Burgermeister, Berkley's duties include being the emcee of the event. If old people look lost, he greets them. If young people look hesitant to party, he energizes them. If beer and sausage need to be consumed, he steps up to the plate. All while wearing authentic lederhosen and a German hat with a gamsbart in it. (That's the big feather thing.) Supposedly the longer and larger it is, the more important and affluent you are. For the record, Berkley's gamsbart is "six glorious inches."
"Not to dog on the other location, but what makes it work here is the same thing that keeps (Hessen Haus) busy," Berkley, 35, said. "There's a sense of history and lineage. You turn around, beer in hand, and have a picturesque view of downtown that has an old world feel. Now we're in an area of a festival every weekend, but back in the day there was Festa Italiana, C.A.R.P. and Oktoberfest."
At past Oktoberfests, Hessen Haus streamlined its operation, switching to plastic cups and limiting its food options. Berkley said this year the bar will operate as normal, serving a full menu and using its elaborate beer glasses. In addition to the beers served outdoors, Hessen Haus features 27 on tap and about 70 different bottles.
Berkley likens his return to Burgermeister duties to the returns of Michael Jordan or Brett Favre, though with a slightly different skill set.
"Mine's more about being able to grow a push-broom mustache and eating sausage," Berkley said. "And it's the only weekend of the year when it's truly fashionable to have a bier gut. It really works for me."