October 24, 2017

Photo Essay: The Oktoberfest Running of the Weenies

Since 1978, people of German-American ancestry have dominated a rather unlikely place in Southern California: Huntington Beach, a.k.a. “Surf City.”

And that's thanks to a German immigrant named Josef Bischof, who came to the U.S. from Germany in 1952...

...and brought the Bavarian style to both the South Bay and Orange County...

...having founded both Alpine Village in Torrance and Old World Village in Huntington Beach.

At Old World, Oktoberfest is such a big deal that it starts in September.

Its main attraction is the adorable tradition of Dachshund wiener dog races, which take place every Sunday during the celebration.

While the Dachshund is a dog ("hund") that was originally bred in Germany to hunt badgers ("dachs") and, later, foxes and hares...

... a squeaky toy is usually enough to get these little frankfurters across the finish line.

And, judging by the crowd, the snout-to-snout competition is as exciting for the spectators as it is for the participants.

The key to winning seems to be a strong bond between dog owner and pooch.

Humans whisper words of encouragement to their pups...

...though some of them are so raring to go...

...they've got to be held back.

But when the moment of truth comes...

...and those gates open...

...there's no guarantee that both—or even either—of the doxies will actually go anywhere.

Sometimes they just linger at the starting point, seemingly preferring to hang out with their owners rather than run to their callers.

But that's all part of the show. It's almost better when a little hot dog makes it only halfway and then gets distracted by something and wanders off.

Although the Dachshund is a German dog, wiener racing didn't start in Germany—but rather, Australia, where one of the largest ethnic groups is comprised of Australians of German heritage.

And it's not an "old world" tradition, either. In fact, it didn't start until the 1970s, and it's really only been rising in popularity—at least here in the States—since the 1990s.

That must be why I've got no cultural reference for it, despite having grown up in a German-American family.

As for Old World and its decidedly antique appeal, with its cobblestone streets and red-tiled roofs, Joe’s family runs it, while he lives on the property.

That is, for now. It's not hard to imagine a storybook place like this meeting its demise like a character in a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm.

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