We Found It: The Saddest Oktoberfest Ever
There should be a reality show in which some adventurous person sets out to find the single most depressing things on Earth. Not places where children are dying of a plague or anything -- that's horrifying and tragic, not depressing. We're talking about events or situations that would make you say, "Maybe that time I thought my co-workers were throwing me a surprise birthday party but they were actually calling me into the office to criticize my hygiene wasn't that bad."
Well, we think we've found just such a thing. Friends, this is the tale of the Saddest Oktoberfest Ever.
It Starts With A Dying Amusement Park
Let's set the scene.
Geauga Lake was a successful theme park serving Cleveland and Akron starting in 1889, back when the bar for "amusement" was admittedly much lower. More than century later, Geauga Lake and neighboring SeaWorld of Ohio (yes, there was a SeaWorld in Ohio, for some godforsaken reason) were sold to Six Flags. It was later sold again, the park getting a little sadder each time it changed hands. From 2001 to 2004 visitors dropped by 74 percent, with the park slashing ticket prices to try to draw people back, to no avail.
So what we're saying is that by the mid-2000s, the place was starting to drift into "the abandoned carnival from The Killing Joke" territory.
"Kevin" worked there for the last two years, until 2007, and said it became an alarming hodgepodge of broken-down or removed rides and badly improvised decorations. "For direction poles, they wanted us to make them 'not look like something from Six Flags,' because they were the signs from Six Flags years before that we just never changed. Some still had Bugs Bunny on them." Note: Under the rules, they were forbidden from using the Looney Tunes or DC Comics characters that had been part of the Six Flags branding.
So on the inside, the place was recognizable as a dressed-up corpse of a Six Flags park, kind of like when you see an old Pizza Hut that's been repainted and turned into a bait shop. The old SeaWorld areas were roped off entirely. "All the notepads were still from the old Geauga Lake of the '90s. Some of the vehicles on site still were from SeaWorld ... The computers were all Windows 95 from the SeaWorld days, and we never bothered to change them."
An expensive water park was opened nearby, but the amusement park slowly died. Imagine sparse crowds shuffling past silent rides. "We removed about half the coasters before the last year, and also removed several food stalls. Not everything we said was staying was staying." He says they even got rid of two of the public restrooms. If you look at the festive maps the park handed out, you can see it slowly getting reclaimed by the wilderness -- the top one is from 2005, bottom from just two years later:
You can just imagine a child crying, asking why they can't go to Disney World. A single mother replies that money is tight, because the system has failed us all. That bitter child will grow up and, less than a decade later, help Trump carry the state in the 2016 election. Probably.
They Went To Great, Sad, Lengths To Maintain The Illusion
Everyone hates crowds at an amusement park, but an empty park is even more alarming, if not depressing. Thus, part of Kevin's job was to make it seem like people were still having fun.
"We were told to start our own lines in front of places, especially in the last year. Like when the media came. The owners felt they were out to get them, so when a news crew or a reporter was there, we'd have an employee lead them to where they wanted to shoot the story ... and then have a bunch of employees out of uniform go out so that it looked like a long line."
Not that it helped; the park was in a death spiral. The "Raging Wolf Bobs" roller coaster was destroyed in an accident (though thankfully no one onboard was hurt). Low attendance and general giving up made 2007 the park's last season. Even kids playing Roller Coaster Tycoon solely to drown mascots couldn't have done worse.
So now imagine it's the last days of summer 2007. The Iraq War is a disaster and the bumbling president's approval rating is much lower than Trump's is now. Osama bin Laden has been gleefully taunting the country for six consecutive years, despite the most powerful military in history's desperate attempts to find him. The top-selling album of the year is from American Idol finalist Daughtry. The top-grossing movie is Spider-Man 3, followed by Shrek 3. Banks are pushing dirt-cheap mortgages to a public that has no idea that in exactly one year, the entire world economy will collapse, crushing their plans for the future in one fell swoop.
Kevin and his fellow workers hear rumblings that it will soon be announced that the park will close entirely, and that only the water park will survive (well, until it also closed in 2016). The doomed employees knew they had only one event left before closing it down for good: Oktoberfest.
Oh, they didn't set out to throw the Saddest Oktoberfest Ever, any more than the organizers of Woodstock knew they were creating a pivotal event that would forever change the culture. In both cases, history just converged in such a way as to make it happen.
But No One Can Be Sad At Oktoberfest!
"Our last event was this beer festival, and you can tell no one cared. There were two types of beer there, none German. It was Bud and Bud Lite ... There were a few tents, a few costumes, and like one mini-Bavarian flag chain." The seating was folding chairs and pressed wood folding tables.
Summer is over. Everyone knows they are losing their jobs. The few visitors probably got lost on the way to the water park. They're living in northeastern Ohio.
"What I remember most was the music," says Kevin. And no, he's not referring to Crank That by Soulja Boy, the #1 song at the time. He's referring to the traditional Oktoberfest music they wanted playing over the speakers. "I was in charge of it, but they didn't want to spring for anything. My boss told me, 'This is it. It's our last event. We have no money. Do what you can.'"
He did what he could.
"I went to LimeWire, illegally downloaded songs, and we had poor-quality German music coming in. But I didn't know what the drinking songs were, and I didn't have time to go online and make sure, so I downloaded every one I could find. So half were traditional drinking songs, and then the rest was Rammstein, some Monty Python Germany song, and other 'traditional' songs ..."
"... and by 'traditional,' I mean I had put some Nazi songs, like 'Horst-Wessel-Lied,' in there, and didn't know it."
Oh Wait, Oktoberfest Can Actually Be Very, Very Sad
Ohio. The Bush years. An almost totally abandoned amusement park full of silent rides and a bunch of cheap fixes and peeling paint. In the middle of it all is this somewhat-attended Oktoberfest that's only serving the Kevin James of beers. And then, suddenly, this comes on. Sure, after about 24 Bud Lites, it probably kinda sounds like a drinking song. Then someone in attendance who happens to speak the language points out exactly what's being played:
Raise the flag! The ranks tightly closed!
The SA marches with calm, steady step.
Comrades shot by the Red Front and reactionaries
March in spirit within our ranks.
Clear the streets for the brown battalions,
Clear the streets for the storm division!
Millions are looking upon the swastika full of hope,
The day of freedom and of bread dawns!
And then comes "Es zttern die morschen Knochen," a tune that would get you deported from Germany today:
The rotten bones are trembling,
Of the World for the great War.
We have smashed this terror,
For us it was a great victory.
We will continue to march,
When everything shatters;
Because today Germany hears us,
And tomorrow the whole World.
"That's how much we cared at that point," says Kevin. "We allowed songs from Nazi Germany to be played at Oktoberfest. If that happened now, we'd probably be in the news. But then, with our last real event, no one -- not us, not management, and not the customers -- really cared. We shut down after that." In fact, the announcement came from management less than a week later that they would not be opening for the 2008 season.
The part about how this would have wound up on the news today tells you everything you need to know about how the world changed since then. In the next year would come candidate Obama, the Twitter explosion, the collapse of Lehman Brothers ... the seeds of all sorts of resentment and anxiety that would sprout into the chaos we have today. And no one there could have known.
But hey, if you believe you have in fact been to a sadder party than this, feel free to share your story in the comments, and we'll all get depressed together.
Evan V. Symon is an interviewer, journalist and interview finder guy at Cracked. Have an awesome job/experience you'd like to see? Hit us up on the forum today!
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