With a loud "Oompah!," German culture is once again invading Redstone Arsenal.

This week, as the tents at the parade field go up and carnival workers set up a pageant of carnival rides, food vendors and midway games, the Arsenal is making plans for its annual weekend of German food, music and fun.

Now in its 13th year, Oktoberfest will be bigger and better than ever, with rides for children and adults, a smorgasbord of German foods and beers, an outdoor circus and several craft and art vendors.

The fun starts Thursday when Arsenal officials join with representatives from title sponsor Papa John's Pizza and other sponsors at a grand opening reception at 5 p.m. in the Fest Hall Tent, complete with a keg tapping and music by ever-popular Terry Cavanaugh and the Alpine Express. But, while the grand opening will be celebratory, it will also include a more somber element in honor of those who died in the attack on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.

"We are starting the festival on a day that is important in our nation's history," said Derrick Gould, director of Family Morale Welfare and Recreation, which hosts Oktoberfest every year. "We will have a moment of remembrance during our opening ceremony to recognize the loss we had on Sept. 11, 2001."

Thursday evening's opening ceremony will begin a weekend of Oktoberfest fun known to residents throughout North Alabama and South Tennessee. Although Arsenal employees, Soldiers and their families are often part of the carnival crowds, Oktoberfest is also open to the general public with access provided through Gate 10 on Jordan Lane/Patton Road.

"Visitors can come through Gate 10 as long as they have a driver's license, and proof of vehicle insurance and registration," Gould said. "Once they get in the gate, they will be directed to parking near the parade field."

Festival hours are from 5 to 11 p.m. Thursday, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday, noon to 1 a.m. Saturday and 1 to 8 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $8 on Thursday and Sunday, and $10 on Friday and Saturday.

While the music, food and beer will have a German flare, the Oktoberfest crowd is sure to overflow with a variety of carnival-fun seekers.

"The atmosphere at Oktoberfest is really an interesting phenomenon," Gould said. "We have a lot of families that enjoy both sides of the carnival - the German food and entertainment and the carnival rides and games. But then we have people who are there mostly for the German fun in the Fest Hall Tent. And then we have another crowd who is there mostly for the carnival rides and the carnival food. Our Oktoberfest is fun because you can enjoy all that at one festival."

Last year, about 13,000 carnival-goers enjoyed Oktoberfest. Gould is hoping that number will increase to about 15,000 this year.

"Our biggest Oktoberfest was last year because we had great weather," Gould said. "But every year our weekend crowd is always big. Our smallest crowd is on Thursday night. Even though we always have to compete with sports events and other activities, we always get a large crowd for the overall weekend."

To increase the Thursday night crowd, Oktoberfest will offer $2 off admission to active duty military and their immediate families.

And to offset the competition from sporting events, Oktoberfest will offer again for the second year a Sports Tent, sponsored by Knology and H.H. Gregg, where sports enthusiasts can watch their favorite sporting event on one of five big screen televisions.

"The Sports Tent was an overwhelming success last year. We've put an Alabama spin on Oktoberfest with the Sports Tent," Gould said. "Visitors can watch college football on Saturday and professional football on Sunday. There is also a NASCAR race that weekend."

The Sports Tent will include plenty of tables and chairs. And this year, for the first time, tent visitors will be able to enjoy Southern barbecue and Hot Wings provided by the Officers and Civilians Club.

Oktoberfest will also offer a local art show and a craft vendor area, and an outdoor circus that will perform at various times during the day. There will also be festival sponsors exhibiting their products, such as vehicles displayed by Bill Heard Chevrolet and Enterprise Rent-A-Car and recreational vehicles displayed by Madison RV. Home Depot, another festival sponsor, will offer a chance for children to make a birdhouse or small bench. Other sponsors with displays will include WZYP, Redstone Federal Credit Union, Verizon, Fox 54, the Arsenal's Child & Youth Services and The Huntsville Times. Supreme Beverage Co. and Coca-Cola are also festival sponsors, and the Officers and Civilians Club will be a sponsor exhibitor this year with a crowd-pleasing special.

"One thing we've noticed is our lines at the funnel cake vendors have always been long at Oktoberfest," Gould said. "So, this year, we will also be selling funnel cakes at the ROCC exhibit area."

Festival organizers will also work to keep lines down in the Fest Hall Tent, where German and domestic beers along with German foods such as bratwurst, schnitzel, sauerkraut and red cabbage will be served. Of course, the main event under the Fest Hall Tent will be Terry Cavanaugh and the Alpine Express, which has brought its style of traditional German music and polkas to Oktoberfest for many years.

"They are always a big hit," Gould said. "The kind of music they play and the German-inspired dancing and celebrating are the centerpiece for our Oktoberfest."

Terry Cavanaugh and the Alpine Express will perform from 6 to 11 p.m. Thursday, 7 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, and 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday.

There will also be a German-inspired carnival souvenir available at Oktoberfest. FMWR's Arts and Crafts Center will be offering a festival mug personalized with a photo.

Whether Oktoberfest is attractive because of its authentic German food and music or because of its carnival rides, there's plenty for everyone to enjoy at this festival.

"We want everyone to have fun," Gould said. "We have always offered a lot of things to do at Oktoberfest and at a cost that is much more affordable than some of the other local festivals."