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Music, dance and diversity at Olympia's Ethnic Celebration

The city of Olympia's Ethnic Celebration features music and dance on two stages, crafts and plenty of opportunities to learn about cultures from Hawaiian to Finnish.

But Stephanie Johnson, the city’s arts and events manager, is most looking forward to the pretzels at Saturday’s celebration.

“These are the real pretzels,” said Johnson, whose grandparents emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1913. “They are nothing like the pretzels you get with the mustard. They boil them like you would boil a bagel, and they get this lovely, crispy, brown crust. They have a texture to them, and they’re just delicious.”

The German Club of Olympia, which is providing the on-site food for this year’s celebration, will have mustard available, though, to please the American palate.

Also on the menu: bratwurst, sauerkraut, cheese sandwiches on pretzel-stick buns, and homemade pastries baked by club members.

The celebration features only one food vendor each year because of limited space for concessions at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts.

But the center has plenty of room for performances, and that’s the focus of the celebration.

The 24 performances will range from martial arts demonstrations by the Olympia Kung-Fu and Tai Chi Club to West African/American drumming by Crow Drummers, and from Indian dance by the India South Sound Association to Irish tunes by the Burren Boys. Hawaii will be represented by the Hokunani Dancers and Finland by musician Wilho Saari.

This is likely the last year the city will host the Ethnic Celebration, which offers a full day of free entertainment in The Washington Center for the Performing Arts. Budget cuts led to staff cuts, which are forcing the city to reduce the number of events it produces.

“It would be great if another organization could take it over,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of information about how all the planning is done for it, and we are willing to help the community or another organization take on this event.”

But for Saturday, at least, a crowd will be gathering for the entertainment. Past celebrations have attracted 2,500 to 3,000 people, Johnson said. And the German Club is ready to feed them – or at least those who choose to eat in the center. The city also suggests visiting one of downtown Olympia’s numerous ethnic eateries as an adjunct to the festivities.

The club members will be dressed in traditional costumes for the event and playing German music in the concession stand as they serve fresh-cooked sausages – and those pretzels.

“In Germany, we eat them blank, or we cut them open and put butter on them,” said Sandy Nelson, president of the German Club. “And the same dough that they make pretzels out of they use to make rolls, and those are traditionally cut open and served with cheese or butter or ham or any kind of cold cut.”

Traditional or not, pretzels might seem a funny thing to be excited about.

But Johnson pointed out that they exemplify what the Ethnic Celebration is all about.

“It’s about food and culture and

,” she said “That’s the thing about the Ethnic Celebration; we all have these traditions. These are the traditions that people celebrate in their homes, whether they came from another country several generations ago or in the last few generations.”

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