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'A piece of home': UNC German Club celebrates Oktoberfest

university-2023-oktoberfest

Dozens of students lined up for salty, soft German pretzels and sparkling apfelschorle — an apple spritzer — in the Gift Plaza last month. Students and faculty socialized over '80s German pop and house music while playing a variety of games.

The community gathering was a campus celebration of Oktoberfest, where the UNC German Club and the Carolina Union Activities Board collaborated to provide free food, carnival games and music for entertainment. 

Junior Elizabeth Cake, who is minoring in German, said that events like these are a good way to become immersed in German culture. 

“For me, it kind of helps with the FOMO. I know a lot of people who are going abroad right now and they're in the main beer garden in Munich celebrating, so it's nice to have a little taste of that right here at UNC,” she said. 

The largest Oktoberfest carnival is held annually in Munich, Germany with almost 6 million people attending each year. Festivities include booths for drinking, eating, dancing, and various rides and attractions. 

Cake explained that for the celebration in Munich, people dress in traditional German clothing, with men wearing lederhosen and women in dirndls, a type of dress. Another significant part of the celebration is the food and drinks.

Hannah Wacker, German exchange student, said it was fun to see how Americans emulate Oktoberfest, even if it's far off from the original festival. Wacker said she has never been to the celebration in Munich herself, but has heard stories and seen pictures from friends who have gone. 

“I get to have a piece of home here. It reminds me of all the fun stuff that I’m missing out on,” she said. 

Beyond the pretzels and apfelschorle, senior Melanie Altenkirch, treasurer of the German Club, said Oktoberfest is a way to get students excited about learning the German language and culture. 

“The German Club really provided me with a sense of community within the people that were learning my language. So I stuck with it for that reason, and I wanted to help lead the club and invite others to join this community,” she said. 

Altenkirch moved here from Mainz, Germany when she was 6 years old. She said that coming to UNC not only gave her the opportunity to major in German, but also to relearn the language that is important to her identity. 

“UNC is really special because it does include so many different perspectives. And that really shines through our small clubs,” she said. 

Altenkirch also said the German Club is not only for students learning the language or studying the culture, but for anyone who may want to live or work in Germany. The club hosts weekly meetings called "stammtisch," which give students the opportunity to practice their speaking and converse with graduate and international students. 

“It's a way to bring students in the German department together, who might not have the time to find that community in the classroom environment or during the day,” Emily VonCannon, president of the German Club, said. 

VonCannon had a role in planning and budgeting Oktoberfest, and said she was excited to see it come together. Apart from the people already in the German Club, VonCannon said that an event like Oktoberfest allows for an opportunity to share German culture with the rest of the student body. 

“We're definitely not a big Oktoberfest event, but I think people are drawn to it. We try to incorporate some cultural facts into it so people leave knowing something new,” she said. 

Besides Oktoberfest, the German Club also hosts other cultural events throughout the year, including Fasching during the spring semester to celebrate Lent.

“Small clubs really showcase the many different perspectives that UNC offers and really brings people together in these niche kinds of communities. And I think that's really important for UNC as a culture,” Altenkirch said. 

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