Oktoberfest returns to Hays after a year off because of the pandemic

By Randy Gonzales
Special to the Hays Daily News
Oktoberfest officially started Friday morning with the tapping of the keg at Hays Municipal Park.

The sun was shining upon a crowd expected to swell into the thousands on a warm Friday afternoon for the 49th annual Oktoberfest at Hays Municipal Park.

The tapping of the ceremonial keg Friday morning signaled the official start of the celebration, which featured German music as well as food booths with tasty German food and, of course, cold beer.

The traditional Oktoberfest, held annually in conjunction with Fort Hays State University’s Homecoming weekend, was canceled last year due to COVID-19, but the Volga German Society and event organizers put together safe alternatives. This year’s festival more closely resembled the 2019 Oktoberfest, when 41 organizations – from schools to civic groups – raised funds which grossed $63,000.

The Hays High School wrestling team has an annual fundraiser at Oktoberfest. This year, bierocks and bratwurst were on Friday’s menu. Former HHS wrestling coach John Hafliger, who started a food truck business full time three years ago, helps out current coach Heath Meder with the fundraiser. Hafliger and his wife made 2,000 bierocks over the last two weeks.

Former Hays High wrestling coach John Hafliger, left, made 2,000 bierocks for current coach Heath Meder, right, for the team’s fundraiser at Friday’s Oktoberfest at Hays Municipal Park.

“One of the things when I was wrestling coach at Hays High was doing fundraisers,” Hafliger said. “When I got the food truck I told Coach Meder, ‘We’ll come down there and help you out. We’ll make the bierocks, whatever we can do to help out.’ I know where it’s going and what it’s used for. It’s a good cause.”

Hafliger was happy to have Oktoberfest return to some semblance of normalcy this year.

“It’s awesome to see the crowd,” he said. “We need this.”

The FHSU psychology club was selling treats for the sweet tooth, including favorites such as heart cookies and blackberry kuchen.

The FHSU psychology club sold tasty treats at Friday’s Oktoberfest celebration at Hays Municipal Park.

“It’s nice to raise money for our club and NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) as well, promote mental health,” sophomore Jozlyn Brown said.

Wendy and Carol Schumacher sat under a food tent trying out a German dish –  fried potatoes, dumplings and sausage.

“They don’t always throw it together like this, but it tastes really good,” Carol Schumacher said.

The Hays natives have attended many an Oktoberfest together in the past.

“It’s a beautiful day,” Carol Schumacher said. “It’s just nice to have.”

Carol and Wendy Schumacher of Hays enjoyed some German food at Friday’s Oktoberfest at Hays Municipal Park.

Much better than last year, she said.

“It was just sad, because everything got canceled,” Carol Schumacher said.

A second day of Oktoberfest family-friendly activities were planned for Saturday’s German market. FHSU’s Homecoming parade down Main Street was set for the morning and also a Tiger football game in the evening.