Long time Fort Wayne residents know that once summer time comes to northeast Indiana, it is time to break out the polka moves and head downtown to Headwaters Park for Germanfest.
For those who may be new to the area, Germanfest is exactly what it sounds like, a yearly week-long festival where Fort Wayne residents celebrate our city’s German heritage. Beer, brats and live music are all on the agenda.
Germanfest treasurer Robert Anweiler says this week is all about Gemütlichkeit.
“What it means literally is hospitality, eating drinking and generally have a good time with your friends.”
For the 37 years Fort Wayne has celebrated Germanfest, the focus has always been on community and conviviality, Anweiler says.
“I think a lot of people look forward to getting out to it because you’re going to run into a lot of people there ... People can come down and sit and relax in the beer garden and talk.”
Whether folks are looking to have a drink with friends, meet some new friends over a brat or enjoy a day with the family, Germanfest offers activities for all interests.
All ages are welcome at the festival until 9:30 p.m., and children under age 14 are granted free admission with a guardian.
“One of the things that we strive for is to make it an accessible festival,” Anweiler said. “We still have hot dogs for a buck for the kids.”
And inclusivity is what Germanfest is all about. When the festival began in 1981, it served as a way to unite the local German clubs and recognize Fort Wayne’s strong German heritage.
“The only festival in town back then was Three Rivers,” Anweiler said. “I think it was Mayor Win Moses who said, ‘Well, why don’t we have a Germanfest?’ We’re such a German town.”
For its first few years, Germanfest was held in parking lots, then in various parks around town. Eventually, in 1994, when Headwaters Park was built, the festival moved there and has attracted crowds downtown every year since.
The City of Fort Wayne took the region’s pride in German culture to the next level by teaming with a German sister city in 1992. Community members and leaders from the German city of Gera come to Fort Wayne the week of Germanfest to celebrate our shared heritage.
This June Germanfest celebrates its 37th year of Gemütlichkeit, and each year it seems the festival gets more and more vibrant.
Attendees of Germanfest 2018 can expect the same energetic vibe but with new menu items and an added full day of celebration.
“We’ve added food. That is one of our big things this year,” Anweiler said. “The really new things this year are [that] in addition to the bratwurst we are also going to do some schnitzel and fries, and we’re also working on adding roast chicken like they do at Oktoberfest in Munich.”
Of course, traditional Germanfest crowd pleasers like currywurst and sauerkraut will be available too.
A full list of food, events and entertainment are available on the Fort Wayne Germanfest web page, germanfest.org.
With such a robust agenda, guests may have to take multiple trips out to Headwaters Park to try everything Germanfest has to offer. To help attendees make the most of the week and keep the good times rollin’, the Germanfest Board decided to open the festival for an additional day this year.
“Germanfest has always gone from Sunday to Sunday, the last Sunday was usually just a church service at a church, but we’re adding a day of the tent being open so all the way up to June 10 this year we’ll be open from 11-5 at the main festival tent.”
Anweiler also noted there will still be a German church service this year, but instead of worship being held in a church, it will be held at the tent at 11 a.m. with food following.
Hosted by local German clubs, proceeds of Germanfest are directed back into the community.
The four Fort Wayne German clubs are not only proud to host Germanfest the week of June 3, but they also uphold and preserve German tradition in the region all other weeks of the year.
Honoring arts, academia and athletics, each club has the common goal of keeping German culture alive in northeast Indiana.
Anweiler provided some insight on the specialization of each German club.
“Fort Wayne Männerchor Damenchor is the oldest German club in Fort Wayne, started in 1869, and they still do concerts and sing in German,” he said. “They even go to German singing group competitions.”
The Fort Wayne Turners and the Fort Wayne Sports Club focus on gymnastics and soccer, respectively, and incorporate various other athletic and social activities.
Lastly, the German Heritage Society upholds German tradition and culture locally and maintains relationships in our sister city. According to Anweiler, the German Heritage Society also provides scholarships for students wishing to study abroad in Germany.
These four committees work together to create a light-hearted and memorable week for Fort Wayne, and in return the funding from the festival helps them continue promoting German tradition.
What better way to kick off summer festival season than supporting local cultural organizations while meeting friends and munching on an order of schnitzel fries (or two)?
We won’t judge. At Germanfest there’s plenty Gemütlichkeit to go around.