Twist and shout

Pretzel Festival in historic Germantown

By Paula Johnson

Photo: The Germantown Pretzel Festival begins at 9 a.m. on Sept. 27

At the entrance to Germantown, a historic hamlet southwest of Dayton, there’s a plaque that reads, “Germantown, Jewel of Twin Valley, founded in 1804 by Philip Gunckel.” It’s a safe bet that Gunckel, a German immigrant, probably enjoyed pretzels. It’s also a pretty safe bet Gunckel never imagined, 210 years later, Germantown would be celebrating its 35th Annual Pretzel Festival. And for the first time this year, The Twisted Pretzel Tour and Biergarten would offer him a chance to have a cold beer to wash those pretzels down.

If you are looking for a hometown family festival filled with a variety of food and entertainment, The Germantown Pretzel Festival fills that bill. Commencing on Saturday Sept. 27 and running through the evening of the 28th, this year’s event has grown to include 135 vendors, a far cry from the 25 booths in the festival’s first year. The event’s steady growth necessitated moving from Germantown’s downtown area to the adjacent Veteran’s Municipal Park. Attendance last year was estimated at 28,000.

This year’s culinary highlights include pretzel sandwiches, smoked BBQ, Asian food and the ever-popular pork chop sandwich. If your taste runs toward the sweet, there’s kettle corn, ice cream, flavored pretzels and deep-fried candy bars. While the event started with a focus on pretzels, there’s clearly much more to be sampled and enjoyed.

That’s twisted

And after all that food, what’s more fun than spinning carnival rides? Yep, the festival’s got those, as well as games for the kids. A range of offerings from regional artisans and craftspeople will feature sewing, jewelry, pottery, toys, woodcrafts, African art and products and locally-made honey. So, while the kids are riding, let the shopping commence!

National recording artists McGuffey Lane headline the Saturday evening entertainment schedule with a 7:30 p.m. country rock performance. The Columbus-based group has toured with the Charlie Daniels Band, The Judds and The Allman Brothers Band. After years of trying, festival entertainment coordinator Jason Cassam was finally able to secure the booking, perhaps due to the newly-renovated and expanded stage set up.

Bluegrass music, high school bands and the farewell performance of The Greasers, a 1950’s doo wop ensemble round out the weekend line up. It’s a fitting finish for The Greasers, as their first performance was at the Germantown festival. So, if you’re a fan of fifties music and ShaNaNa, you won’t want to miss their Sunday 4 p.m. show.

There is even an Interactive Character Performer – that’s a mime to you and me – scheduled for both days. Mark Abbati is most noted for his human statues, convincingly portraying everything from ancient Romans to soldiers. Invited to train with Marcel Marceau, Abbati has won numerous talent awards and has even performed for President Reagan. “He was so popular last year that we booked him for both days this year!” said festival chair Lois Boyd-Mays.

Asked what she thinks is most special about the event, Boyd-Mays continued, “I’ve been with the Germantown Pretzel Festival since the beginning. It feels like homecoming. I’ve watched kids grow up and now bring their own families. It’s really something special!”

Now, if your taste runs less of the shopping, eating and easy listening kind, and more toward testing your physical limits, then this is your year, with the advent of Saturday’s Twisted Pretzel Tour. The brainchild of bike fanatic Steve Mersch and arranged in conjunction with the Germantown Lion’s Club, the tour bills itself as “A Pretzel Party That Thinks It’s A Race!” All levels of skill are welcome, with the Pretzel Ring running for eight miles over mostly level to gently rolling hills. More adventurous riders can choose the Pretzel Rod at 18 miles, or the Giant Pretzel at 38 miles. Both of the more challenging options will lead participants over the scenic Germantown Dam.

All three cross the 1870 Germantown covered bridge, notable as the only inverted bow string covered bridge in existence. Along all routes, riders can sample warm pretzels with various dipping sauces made by area restaurants, and can vote for their favorite to win the Twisted Dip Award. All voters are eligible for a prize drawing by casting a ballot. In keeping with Mersch’s twisted theme, awards to be given to the riders are the “Twisted Middle of the Group” award and the “For No Particular Reason Just Because You’re Here” award.

“Since it’s our first year, we’re not certain, but we expect approximately 500 riders,” Mersch noted.

Ein Bier Bitte!

And when the ride is over, cyclists (or anyone) can cool down by quaffing craft beers in the old-fashioned German-style Biergarten located in the Germantown Public Library parking lot. Six regional craft brewers are participating, showcasing Belgian-style cream ale, Bavarian Hefewiezen and Czech pilsner to name a few. Participating breweries include Warped Wing Brewing Co., Lucky Star Brewery, Star City Brewing, Rhinegest and Yellow Springs Brewing. For those who don’t wish to imbibe, there will be craft root beers and ginger ales available. A flight of four seven-ounce samples will go for $5. Brewers and the UD alumni band will be on hand to chat and entertain from noon–6 p.m. With all proceeds going to charity, Steve Mersch said, “Riding bikes, drinking beer, eating pretzels – it just doesn’t get any better than this!”

I am inclined to think Philip Gunckel would agree.

The Germantown Pretzel Festival will be held Saturday, Sept. 27 from 9 a.m. –9 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 28 from noon–6 p.m. at Veterans Memorial Playground, 190 W. Warren St. in Germantown. Admission is free and street parking is available. For more information, please visit

Reach DCP freelance writer Paula Johnson at

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Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at

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