In the Amanas, Oktoberfest is one of the biggest events of the year, funneling thousands of tourists to the surrounding restaurants and shops. So canceling it wasn’t an easy decision, but the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t make anything easy.
“Losing the festivals is a blow, they bring a large number of people in. With Oktoberfest, we had plans on how to do it, but the biggest concern was the sheer number of people who would come to town, and we just didn’t feel that was a safe situation,” said David Rettig, executive director of the Amana Colonies Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Even if they could put social distancing measures in place for the festival itself, they didn’t want hundreds of people flooding into their small community’s businesses at once, he said. But he knows those people are vital to keeping those same businesses going. So instead of one big fall festival, the community is planning a series of smaller events, called Autumn in the Amanas.
“We hope to spread people out over eight weeks,” he said.
The series kicks off this weekend with Apfelfest, a celebration of the apple harvest. Among other things, the weekend features Allen’s Orchard apples for sale at the Visitor’s Center from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, a Sampling Stroll on Saturday, with apple treats at several businesses, a German-Amana carryout meal from the Amana Heritage Museum on Friday (call 319-622-3567 or visit amanaheritage.org/store) and a Saturday evening performance by the River bottom Ramblers at Millstream Brewery, with apple Gouda brats on the menu.
Apfelfest also includes a collaboration between chef Cynthia Romstadt at Ox Yoke Inn in Amana and chef Reiner Erdt of the Hessen Krone Hotel in Ronneburg, Germany. Ronneburg is the part of Germany that the original Amana Church followers immigrated from before settling in Iowa, and many residents maintain ties between the regions.
Maintaining those ties “Is tremendously important,” Rettig said. “We still have connections in Amana back to that area of Germany, and those connections are getting stronger and stronger.”
He said some Amana families never lost touch with their German relatives. Other relationships have been built through biannual exchange visits between residents of the two countries.
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“We were scheduled to go over there in June but couldn’t because of pandemic,” Rettig said. “Chef Reiner from Germany is a friend of mine and a friend of many people here in the Amana Colonies. It’s our sister city there near Frankfurt, from the area of Germany where many of our ancestors are from.”
For the collaboration, the two chefs exchanged recipes. Erdt will be cooking dishes from the Ox Yoke Inn at his hotel in Germany throughout the month, and Romstadt will feature one of his recipes, a Gorgonzola and apple crusted steak with bacon wrapped plums and rosemary reduced apples, brussels sprouts and potatoes at Ox Yoke Inn throughout the weekend.
The Ox Yoke Inn also is hosting a special apple-focused Vitner’s Diner on Saturday, with wine pairing from White Cross Cellars. Seating is limited and may be sold out, but they hold a vitner’s dinner monthly; call (319) 622-3441 for details.
Romstadt said the restaurant’s business has dropped by about 50 percent during the pandemic, and they have lost the 60 to 70 bus tours they normally host each year. Things like the recipe collaboration and vitner’s dinners aim to draw people in.
An added bonus was the chance to get creative with another chef’s recipes.
“I just enjoyed exchanging different pictures and seeing his ideas for flavor collaborations. And how he interpreted my menu and plated and presented it might have been different than what I would have done. I really liked seeing his take on things,” she said.
Rettig said seeing the similarities and differences between the Amana and Ronneburg cuisines is fascinating, as German recipes were adapted for local ingredients and to integrate other dishes from other cultures that settled in Iowa.
“In Amana, a lot of the food we would serve in our own homes are old recipes that came over with our ancestors. When he (Erdt) comes over, he often knows exactly what things are, but some are completely different,” Rettig said.
Autumn in the Amanas continues Sunday with a German tradition, the Volksmarch. Participants will walk from the Nature Trail in Homestead to the Iowa River and back between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
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Other Autumn in the Amanas events:
Sept. 26 to 27: A Taste of the Colonies
A celebration of food and drink with a 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday Sampling Stroll and a 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday Wine, Chocolate and Beer Walk, rescheduled from Maifest. The Sampling Stroll is free and the Wine, Chocolate and Beer Walk is $3 and open to those 21 and older.
Oct. 3 to 4: A Touch of Germany
Dress up for the lederhosen and dirndl parade at 10 a.m. Oct. 3, listen to a strolling accordionist and try special German foods.
Oct. 10 to 11: Leaf us Alone! A Weekend Full of Outdoor Fun
Millstream Brewery will be hosting the Tour de Brew ride on Oct. 10, with additional outdoor activities in the Amanas throughout the weekend.
Oct. 17 to 18: Arts and Antiques in the Amana Colonies
Visit the Amana Arts Guild Pop-Up Art Mart at the Amana Heritage Museum in Amana on Oct. 17, along with activities and specials at Amana shops all weekend.
Oct. 24 to 25: Pumpkinfest
Pumpkins and pumpkin treats will be featured in shops. There also will be a pumpkin carving and decorating competition and pumpkin scavenger hunt.
Oct. 31 to Nov. 1: Halloweekend
Spooky specials, haunted happenings and other Halloween fun will include a costume parade through town.
Nov. 6 to 8: Girls Getaway Weekend
A weekend full of samples, shopping and entertainment.
Learn more about all the Autumn in the Amanas events at amanacolonies.com.
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