PEORIA — Between the noise of twisting carnival rides and wheezing accordions, the steady jingling of little bells wandered around the riverfront for Peoria’s 23rd Oktoberfest, carried by the masked figures known as the Narren of New Ulm.
The troupe of jesters joined Peoria’s celebration for the first time this year, roaming between the lederhosen- and dirndl-clad crowds in handmade, hand-painted wooden masks.
“Our folks went up to (New Ulm, Minn.) last year for Oktoberfest and they fell in love with them,” said Jeff Pulfer, a representative of the German American Central Society. “If our people liked them — and we’re tough to please — they have to be good."
Narren translates to “fools” in English, but they prefer to be called merrymakers or “the relatives everyone has but no one wants to claim.”
Each member of the New Ulm group is their own character, including Bertram the Broom Maker and Tanta Ana, who was covered in shawls and skirts of “the brightest green anyone has ever seen” — or so it says on her card.
Some livestock also joined the troupe: a goat named Bucky Bock and Heilige the Holy Cow, who wore an udder purse.
The Narren drew eyes and smiles wherever they went, jingling bells creating their own music to skip along to. They were crowded for pictures, and when they stopped in the beer tents, they easily convinced the patrons to put down their drinks and dance with them.
The Heritage Tent offered a look into the history and culture of Germany, from clothing to language to livelihood. Given the large population of German descent in the region, the tent also featured a “Where are you from?” map speckled with dots across the Midwest.
Don Bauer, a member of the German American Central Society, said even as descendants of the same country, northern and southern Germans are vastly different culturally.
“The only thing we agree on is beer,” Bauer said, laughing.
Whether by stein or plastic cup, attendees had plenty of opportunity to drink their fill. Each of the three beer tents had their own selection, with options from Germany and Oktoberfest-inspired American craft beers.
The Homebrewers of Peoria gave away their own free samples Saturday afternoon, along with information about how to start brewing, which complemented the German celebration given Germany’s substantial influence on the beer industry in the United States, Pulfer said.
Traditional artisans gave the festival authenticity outside the beverage world, including a woodworker with his own screening patent, a blacksmith offering classes and a Bavarian wax art duo who have their wax shipped over from Germany.
The Oktoberfest celebration will continue Sunday, starting with Catholic Mass at 10:30 a.m. Attendees who bring a canned good to the service will receive free entry to the festival. After 11 a.m., admission is $7.
Kelsey Watznauer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @kwatznauer.