Onkel Hans is star of Ok­to­ber­fest

Waterloo Region Record - - FRONT PAGE - Laura Booth, Record staff

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.

MATHEW MCCARTHY, RECORD STAFF

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.

MATHEW MCCARTHY, RECORD STAFF

Onkel Hans proves to be a pop­u­lar fig­ure dur­ing an ap­pear­ance at the Con­cor­dia Club in Kitch­ener.

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