STORY BY DANIEL SAENZ
PHOTOS BY ALLISON SCHWEIZER
One of the earliest cultural influences on Hays, Kansas has undoubtedly been the Volga Germans who migrated to Kansas sometime during the early 1800s. So much so that the Volga German community eventually set up the Volga German society in order to preserve many of these cultural remnants that have existed in Hays for decades. For over 46 years, the Volga German society has hosted the most important of these influences: Oktoberfest.
Oktoberfest has its roots in ancient Bavarian culture in Germany where there is food, drink, and a wide variety of other traditions. Hosting Oktoberfest in Hays has so far proven to give the festival its own special flavor as a wide variety of groups and cultures add their own tastes to the festival.
I arrived at Frontier Park in the middle of the blistering cold weather to find tables set up from a wide variety of FHSU organizations. Sociology Club, Chemistry Club, the Hispanic American Leadership Association (HALO), the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA), and so on all had booths at the festival. After waiting in a huge line by the food trucks, my group of friends and I quickly discovered that the wait is well worth the while.
I ordered at least three of the delicious bierocks, a delicious little sandwich with baked bread packed to the brim with beef and cabbage. This, however, was not the only item on the menu as there was also wurst, saurerkraut, root beer, and many other traditional German dishes.Further exploration around the park led me to hear a polka band singing in German. I began to feel the Bavarian aesthetic coming through as I felt like I was in some medieval fantasy novel.
While this was certainly a Volga-German festival, what stood out to me the most was the mix of cultures that were present. Just to give an example, the CSSA, an organization that dedicates itself to promoting Chinese culture was selling dumplings right after putting on the Moon Festival for Fort Hays during the previous weekend.
Zhou Shibou, president of CSSA, spoke about what it was like to experience Oktoberfest as a first-time student in the United States.
“It is quite interesting because we do not have an Oktoberfest in China,” said Shibou. “So, it is fun to experience along with seeing all of the various cultures here in one spot.”
Fiamma Li, the vice-president of the CSSA, joked about the blistering cold weather but also recognized the importance of the festival to the community.
“It was fun to be here and actually experience an event that is so precious to the locals of Hays,” said Fiamma.
Yuting Li, a junior finance student here at Fort Hays, noted that it was a new experience to have German food as the methods of preparation are quite different. She also went on to state that it was quite fun.
“I hope that one day China has something like this,” said Yuting.
Along with the CSSA, HALO was also out in full force promoting Hispanic heritage in the midst of a German festival. So, when the people of Hays can enjoy German beer, music, sauerkraut, and wurst while also enjoying Chinese dumplings and encountering Hispanic culture right after experiencing the Chinese Moon Festival, it showcases just how forward-thinking and world-ready the Hays community really is.