Largest U.S. German Fest
TWIG - Thousands converged on the Milwaukee shore of Lake Michigan on Friday, July 23, for the kick-off of the largest German Fest in the United States. The Festival ran till Sunday.
The Milwaukee German Fest has been a staple of summer fun in the city for 24 years. Throughout the past quarter century, it has become one of the most important cultural events for the German-American community in the Midwest.
Wisconsin, along with Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska, comprise an area of the Midwest with the highest concentration of German ancestry in the country. In these states, as many as one half of all people claim German heritage.
But the visitors who flock to Milwaukee in celebration of German culture are not necessarily German-Americans in search of their roots. Visitors of all stripes come to enjoy a potent mix of food, drink and fun.
Coordinated by several area German-American associations and staffed by 3,000 volunteers, the festival attracts most of its visitors from out of town.
After days filled with beer, parades, dances, and activities for children, each evening ends with a fireworks display with Lake Michigan as its backdrop. On Sunday, the program traditionally concludes with a performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.
New to the festival this year was the German Sandwich house, featuring traditional German sandwiches such as head cheese, black forest smoked ham, sausage, Bavarian loaf, and boneless pickled pork hock. Another new feature was the Wine-Bauer Wine Tasting area, which premiered new vintages from the year 2003, considered the summer of the century for German wines.
The bands Die Stettholz, Heidi and Heiko, the Heidelberg Quartett, and Die Oswalder performed pieces from traditional oompah music to jazz and blues several times throughout the festival. Visitors tried their uvulas at the fest’s traditional yodeling contest as well as blew on one of the alphorns in a horn-playing contest.
Festival organizers will also raffled off a grand prize 2005 Volkswagen Beetle, as well as continental airline tickets from Midwest airlines and a selection of wine from a local German wine distributor.
German-Americans in Milwaukee
Milwaukee is certainly a befitting location for the largest Germanfest in the country. The first wave of German immigration to the city came on the heels of the failed Revolution of 1848-49, which brought thousands of liberal, intellectual "48ers" to the newly created state of Wisconsin. German immigrants contributed much to Wisconsin’s political, social and agricultural development. In 1852, the state legislature even established a "Commission of Immigration" to recruit more German settlers. Letters to the old country in praise of Wisconsin’s fertile land and business opportunities fed the flames, so that by the turn of the century one-third of Milwaukee’s population was German.
Newspapers such as "Germania Abendpost," and "Der Herold" enjoyed widespread readership, German-speaking schools, banks, churches, and businesses were commonplace, and the city’s beer gardens, social organizations, and fine arts scene earned Milwaukee the nickname "German Athens."
The immigrant architect Henry H. Koch designed the city’s famed Turner Hall, a name which referred not to a man named Turner, but the many gymnasts who practiced there. The building was dedicated in 1883, complete with murals of German landscapes and a massive bust of Turnvater Jahn. In 1888 the Milwaukee Turners traveled to Germany and took first place in national gymnastics competition. Six of Milwaukee’s mayors, three of them Socialists, have been proud Turner members.
Although German culture for most part left public life
during World War I, the city of Milwaukee has been rediscovering its German
flavor over the last few decades. Turner Hall continues to offer gymnastics
for children and serves arguably the best fish fry in town. A
Schiller-Goethe monument in Washington Park, German epitaphs on local
gravestones, and restaurants like Karl Ratsch’s and Mader’s with its Hummel
collection recall Milwaukee’s rich German legacy.
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