She held 16 beer steins weighing 5 pounds each and carried them 30 feet.
That’s what Terry Vazquez had to do to earn the title of Oktoberfest Queen in 1986.
“I practiced by carrying 120-pound oak ‘biscuits’ (cross-sections of a tree trunk),” she explains, shouting over the polka music coming from the stage at the Big Bear Lake Convention Center. “I love this event. I come every year.”
Vazquez is one of more than three dozen women who have competed for the annual title through the years. The queen of queens, Bonnie Kelso, carried a world-record 21 steins (105 pounds) in 1974. Her sister and daughter also earned royal titles in 1980 and 1994 respectively.
Tonight, though, Vazquez is not here to compete. She just wants to enjoy the festivities — the music, dancing, contests and German food and beer that comprise one of the country’s most highly rated Oktoberfests.
Big Bear Lake’s tradition began in 1970 in the home of German immigrants Hans and Erika Bandows, who first came to New York City, then moved to this mountain town in 1969.
“I needed a mortgage payment,” Hans explains, sitting just outside the convention center. So he and his wife invited friends and business associates to the old Wawona Lodge (which they had recently purchased) for authentic German food and entertainment. When the party was over, their guests were hooked and wanted a repeat performance the following year.
So was born a tradition that has endured for 45 years and grown larger every year. When asked why Big Bear Lake is an ideal place for Oktoberfest, Hans replies “better in the pines than the palms. This is the perfect setting.”
Hans and Erika Bandows have passed the Oktoberfest torch to their daughter and her husband. These days, Hans sits back, enjoys the party and relishes his title of burgermeister.
Organizers say that this year’s revelers will consume about 5,000 potato dumplings, 2,000 slices of apple strudel, and thousands of pounds of German sausages, potato salad and sauerkraut. There will be plenty of imported German beer, entertainment by bands from Germany and contests: beer-drinking (with non-alcoholic beer); log-sawing; beer pong and more. (No charge to enter any of the contests and sign-ups are just prior to the competitions.) There also are activities for children and shopping on the Budenstrasse (Avenue of Booths).
More than two dozen beers are on tap — both American and German — and include non-alcoholic and gluten-free selections.
Not only is the weather and alpine setting reminiscent of the Bandows’ homeland, but the Bavarian theme carries into the architecture of Big Bear Village where there is a strong autumn/Halloween vibe. More than 40 scarecrows can be found throughout the village — all within walking distance. Each reflects one of six themes, and the public will judge the winners in each category. Merchants will play host to the town’s trick-or-treaters on Halloween, providing a safe place for kids to collect their goodies.
Visitors who haven’t been to Big Bear Village in a while will notice changes: new hardscape and landscape; outdoor fire pits; new lighting and signage; and flowers everywhere, And for those cold and snowy winter days for which everyone is hoping, there are heated sidewalks.
Big Bear Oktoberfest runs weekends through Oct. 31. A free shuttle service to your lodging’s door is available for those who feel that driving home is not a good choice. Designated drivers get free coffee and soft drinks all night.
For information about activities, restaurants and lodging at Big Bear Lake, visit www.bigbear.com or call (800) 424-4232.