Onkel Hans is star of Oktoberfest
KITCHENER — It takes a team to get Onkel Hans to Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest every year.
“Hans — he’s the brand, he’s the man,” said Mark Potter, chair of the festival’s mascot committee. “He’s the one who’s requested the most.”
The lovable, orange Oktoberfest mascot makes about 250 event appearances a year — about 50 more than both the president and Miss Oktoberfest, said Potter.
But there’s more to Hans than his pumpkin-shaped head and green lederhosen — there’s a volunteer committee of 30 people.
Many of those committee members are on a rotation to wear Hans, as well as Tante Frieda and the two Steiner brothers. Because the costumes are bulky and vision is limited, others on the mascot committee serve as chaperones.
Onkel Hans has up to eight escorts at any one time. The high number is particularly important when the mascot interacts with rowdy festhall guests.
“Hans is a target in festhalls,” said Potter, who has served on the mascot committee for 16 years. “He gets punched.”
Despite some unfortunate encounters with the mascots, the committee knows that no Oktoberfest party is a real one without an appearance from Hans and maybe even a bird dance.
That’s why there is more than one Onkel Hans costume.
“At any one time there’s two Hanses out,” Potter acknowledged with some reluctance. The mascot committee chair is serious about protecting the image of Hans, likening him to Mickey Mouse.
“We try to keep it as mysterious as possible,” he said, adding that the No. 1 rule of wearing the mascot is to never reveal who is behind the costume while it’s out in public.
“We don’t like to publicize it because we like to keep the illusion,” said Potter.
However, Potter will admit that he’s worn Onkel Hans quite a few times in the past.
“It’s probably the greatest experience, arguably that I can experience in a lifetime” he said. “The most memorable thing is being up on a stage and you’ve got 6-7,000 people in a tent screaming — you feel like a rock star.”
Others wearing the costumes this year vary in age and profession. One of the recent hires is a former university student who was the mascot at her school.
There are also former school teachers and retired police officers. Everyone who volunteers for the festival undergoes an application process and has a criminal reference check completed.
They also have to be able to fit into the costumes. Tante Frieda is a smaller costume and Onkel Hans is mostly suited for taller folk.
The mascot costumes are awkward to wear, quite warm, and a little cumbersome, said Potter, adding that Onkel Hans’ head weighs a few pounds.
The current Onkel Hans costumes have been around for about nine years and are approaching the end of their lifespan, said Potter, who thinks the committee might get another year out of them.
There is also an earlier version of Hans tucked away in the top floor mascot storage room in the Oktoberfest office in downtown Kitchener. He’s got darker eyes and can “wink” with the pull of a small chain attached to the bottom of his head.
When this year’s 49th annual Oktoberfest celebrations come to an end Saturday, all three Onkel Hans mascots and his festival comrades will join the retired Hans in the storage room — at least for a little while.
The mascot committee takes a month-long break from their duties following Oktoberfest and then they’re back at it, appearing year-long at special events.
Onkel Hans, accompanied by Ashley-Anne Flynn, left, and Julie Gow Vandonk, ducks as he walks through a doorway after an appearance at the Concordia Club in Kitchener on Thursday.
Onkel Hans proves to be a popular figure during an appearance at the Concordia Club in Kitchener.