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Ze Zum Schneider Festival in Manhattan

A German Immigrant Brings his Homeland Culture to Manhattan

September 24, 2018 / Near the Gramercy Neighborhood & Stuyvestant Town & Peter Cooper Village Neighborhoods in Midtown / East Village Restaurants Manhattan / Manhattan Buzz NYC.

zum schneider restaurant east village german restaurants manhattan oktoberfest zum schneider fest manhattan nycA couple of years ago I attended the Zum Schneider Festival along the East River at 23rd Street. What I witnessed was a mirthful display of old fashioned fun. The whole event is led by a restaurateur with a giant sized personality, who sings, eats and talks his way through the ten day Oktoberfest celebration.

I arrived on a Saturday afternoon and began by inquiring for the press liaison, with whom I had made prior arrangements. It wasn’t long before she appeared and began introducing me to the cast of characters who would play roles in the activities planned for the afternoon.

The most memorable of the character introductions was the man for whom the festival was named, Sylvester Schneider, restaurateur of Zum Schneider. Zum, in the German language, means Go To, so the Zum Schneider restaurant includes some subliminal advertising – telling all those who come across it, to ‘go to the Schneider restaurant’. Funny. Cute. Befitting the character I would get to know a little better as the afternoon unfolded.

The first tent on the East River opened in 2014, while the Zum Schneider restaurant, I was told had opened in 2002. Sylvester told me he had come to America from Bavaria where Oktoberfest had originated.

Ze Zum Schneider Festival in Manhattan

A German Immigrant Brings his Homeland Culture to Manhattan

September 24, 2018 / Near the Gramercy Neighborhood & Stuyvestant Town & Peter Cooper Village Neighborhoods in Midtown / East Village Restaurants Manhattan / Manhattan Buzz NYC. Continued.

Sylvester told me that King Ludwig of Munich, Germany held the first Oktoberfest in Bavaria in honor of his new wife, Theresa Saxe-Hildberghausen in 1810. He mentioned that horse races were a big part of the first festival and some of them thereafter. According to Wikipedia, the festival went on hiatus in 1812 due to the Napoleonic Wars, but resumed thereafter, intermittently going on hiatus for other wars and at least one cholera epidemic. A few years after the first Oktoberfest, carnival booths were added and the event became a full blown Bavarian cultural festival, at times renamed or hijacked for political purposes, such as when the Nazis came to power. Beer drinking, as well as Bavarian music and costumes have long been a part of the festival.

Sylvester came to the U.S. in 1987 as a musician. He played in Oktoberfests as on the 8th day of the traditionally 16 day event, drums and singing were the focus of the event. Sylvester was joined by two associates, Sylvia and Tony, who were also co-organizers of the event.

Sylvester told me that he tried to maintain an authentic Bavarian Oktoberfest experience, and that he was among one of the first to provide a new generational Oktoberfest experience. He said that in 2015, about 7,500 people attended the event, coming from parts of Long Island and New Jersey, as well as NYC.

When we talked about the fare being served, he noted that the cuisine reflected a limited menu from his East Village Restaurant, Zum Schneider, but that it did not include embellishments added at the restaurant [for pragmatic / logistical reasons].

I had an opportunity to sample the offerings which included fish, pork, chicken, salads, beers and pretzels – everything you would expect to find at a real Oktoberfest.

I walked around the big carnival sized tent. There were picnic tables filled with guests and plenty of food beer throughout the tent. In the back the food was served, in the middle of the tent the beer was poured [generally served by the waiting staff], and in the middle of the tent there was an elevated stage.

At one point during my visit, Sylvester and his band got up to perform some traditional Oktoberfest sing alongs, which seemed very popular with the boisterous, well fed, well sated crowd. There was an accordion player, a tuba player, a clarinet player, and of course Sylvester playing the drums and leading the sing along.

Outside the big tent there were a couple of carnival rides, a couple of booths, a line waiting of folks waiting to get in, and the East River. I took my plate of food outside and sampled the bratwurst which was very moist and flavorful, the chicken which was also quite good, and the pork – again another high quality, well cooked piece of meat.

Many years ago I had attended a real Oktoberfest in Germany, in the Rhine wine region of the country. As I began to leave, I felt that I had briefly returned to the celebratory feast of German culture. The Zum Schneider Fest seemed to do what Sylvester had intended, bringing a little bit of Bavarian culture to the East side of Manhattan on the East River.

Prost [means cheers in German].

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