Oktoberfest season officially kicks off this week, a chance for all of us to be a little German, whether we have true German blood running in our veins or not.
We all know about Cincinnati's rich German heritage, but I thought it would be meaningful to relate what living here means to a German immigrant. My friend Detlef Koeppe moved to the U.S. in 1989 when his company offered him an opportunity at its base in this country. Our area's German ties made it easy for him to acclimate to living the U.S. Detlef tells me he was first attracted to the surroundings, Cincinnati's seven hills, and the climate, which he says are just like Rome's. He instantly met other friends who had moved here from Germany, and he says Mount Adams became his version of Cheers. Everyone knew his name (and his drink)!
My friend was born in Communist East Germany, and his mother Inge was in the press. She was outspoken, and one day Inge's boss came to her at work and said, "They're looking for you." The next day his mother told her co-workers she was going to the country for a visit. Instead, she picked up then three or four years old Detlef at kindergarten, went to the train station, and simply walked by armed guards into West Germany as if she was a shopper. She took almost nothing with her except for her son. Detlef doesn't remember that, but he does remember that he never saw his toys again.
Inge met the man who is the only father Detlef knows in a refugee camp. Rolf was a border guard, and he left his entire family behind in East Gemany after his superiors told him to "shoot to kill" anyone who tried to escape into West Germany.
As you can imagine, Detlef has always had a deep appreciation for the freedoms we enjoy in America. He met his wife Karen here, they've raised their children here, and he made our area his home. But Detlef says the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 made him an American. He always felt the patriotism Americans hold dear, but that day, he says, "Seeing the disaster made my mind up to defend this country. I knew that this was my home, my country, I am an American." Detlef took his oath of citizenship just one year later.
The Germania Society was founded 40 years ago to establish a German House, a place where Germans and German-Americans could come to meet, as well as a place where visitors could feel comfortable. My friend Detlef has always enjoyed the club's Oktoberfest celebration. For everyone, it's a chance to eat German food, drink German beer, hear authentic German music, and experience gemutlichkeit. I asked Detlef if it helps him feel like he's back home. He replied, "No, this is home. I miss certain parts of Germany, and I get melancholy, and maybe start singing, but it's gone the next day, except for the headache!" And he laughs his big, boisterous laugh. But then he gets serious, and he says, "America is still the land of the free and the land of opportunity. What I experience here is everything I want to live." To that I say Prost.