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Town’s festival noses out most

Sat., Sept. 20, 2008

Odessa relishes sharing its German heritage

No matter where you are in Odessa this weekend, you can smell the sausage. And it’s really difficult to leave town without at least one bag of homebaked cookies.

The tiny central Washington town celebrates its German heritage with Deutschesfest, which runs through Sunday.

“People should come out and visit for the activities, for the small-town flavor and for the uniqueness,” said Phyllis Sebesta, who volunteered at the information booth Friday morning. “I just love it here. I’m from just north of Davenport, but I’ve lived here for 31 years and raised my kids here – it’s a great little town.”

Odessa was settled in the late 1800s, mostly by Germans who had first migrated to Russia, but soon left the Black Sea and Volga area for the promise of religious freedom and prosperity in the New World. Encouraged by the railroad and huge tracts of farmland, they settled around Odessa.

During the annual Deutschesfest celebration, German music plays over the town’s loudspeakers and everywhere you turn food is at the center of the celebration.

Just outside Das Kraut Haus, 9-year-old Molly Schaefer was selling bags of homemade Pfeffernusse, little spice cookies traditionally made for Christmas.

“I got help from my grandma baking them,” said Schaefer, whose business was booming. By 10:30 a.m. she had only eight bags left.

“When I’m out, I’m out,” she said matter-of-factly, smoothing out the beautiful German-style floral print dress she was wearing.

Booths sell homemade sausage hot dogs, sauerkraut and potato salad. You can find soft pretzels and many types of homemade breads and pies – including those baked at the nearby Hutterite colony.

At the Old Town Hall there’s an arts and crafts sale going on, and just a short stroll south of downtown St. Matthew’s Church is hosting an antique quilt show put together by the Fronen Steppdecker, also known as the Odessa Quilt Club.

One quilt was made before the Civil War.

“We have a rule that once you’ve showed your quilt here, you can’t bring it again,” said Susan Ryan, of the quilt club. “I really enjoy the craftsmanship. Imagine how long it took to make all these little stitches.”

Ryan, who moved to Odessa three years ago and lives on a farm just outside of town, joined the Quilt Club this winter.

“I find that in a small town, to meet people, you have to do stuff,” said Ryan.

Next door is the town’s genealogy room where visitors can search for relatives with last names such as Grening, Heimbigner and Schulz.

Odessa usually has about 1,000 residents, but during Deutschesfest the population grows to as many as 10,000. Every available lawn is turned into an RV parking lot.

“This is my first visit to Odessa,” said Cindy Starr, who lives in Vancouver, Wash. “Well, soon I’ll actually be moving here.” Starr’s husband just accepted a job with a startup biodiesel plant in Odessa, so Starr was house hunting.

“There aren’t that many houses to choose from,” she said, “but it’s a very cute little town – I think we are going to like it.”

Aside from the food and the live music there are dozens of yard sales in town this weekend.

“We have a map with everyone who wanted to be on it,” Sebesta said. “That way it’s easy for people to find the sales.”

In the evening, if one is the beer-drinking kind, the Bier Garten is the place to be.

“That’s where everyone goes,” Sebesta said. “There’s sawdust on the floor and the food and music is just great. This is a great weekend for people to come out and see what a small town can do.”

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