Things to Do in Fort Wayne and Beyond

Germanfest celebrating 40th year in city

Nation's heritage showcased during Headwaters party


Wheat Williams

Whatzup Features Writer

Published June 1, 2022

Germanfest has been rollicking Fort Wayne since 1981, but for newcomers to the Midwest like me, it’s good to get some perspective. 

Germanfest spokesperson Abby Heidenreich, who has been involved with the festival 32 of its 40 years, said, “Fort Wayne is known as the most German town” of the region. 

German immigrant institutions go back to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, founded in 1837, and the second-oldest continuously operating church in Indiana. St. Mary’s Catholic Church, here since 1848, shares that heritage. 

However, the major influx of German immigrants did not come to Fort Wayne until the turn of the 20th century, where they took jobs in the booming manufacturing industry, boosting the German contribution to Midwest culture.

Festival organizers

Germanfest is sponsored by four long-running Fort Wayne groups: Fort Wayne Turners, The Fort Wayne Männerchor/Damenchor, Fort Wayne Sport Club, and German Heritage Society.

“Turner,” is German word for “gymnast,” and the Turnverein movement in the USA goes back to the 1820s, with German immigrants founding gymnasiums and promoting athletics and health. Fort Wayne Turners is over 400 members strong and one of about 54 Turner societies throughout the nation.

The Fort Wayne Männerchor/Damenchor, the German-singing men’s and women’s choir founded in 1869, rehearses weekly at Park Edelweiss, the historic renovated barn, and performs throughout the year.

The Fort Wayne Sport Club was founded in 1927 by German immigrant laborers who played for the soccer teams at General Electric, Pennsylvania Railroad, and International Harvester.

The German Heritage Society is the youngest group of the four, formed in Fort Wayne in 1986 as an outgrowth of Germanfest itself. It’s an informal group with monthly events that promote German culture through learning and speaking the language and understanding the effect that German culture has had on Fort Wayne. For instance, did you know that since 1992 Fort Wayne has had a sister city named Gera, in Thuringia, in eastern Germany?

Early start

There’s a perception that Germanfest begins with the festive parade at Headwaters Park on Wednesday, June 8, but it really begins in solemn fashion Sunday, June 5 at 11 a.m. when St. Peter’s Catholic Church hosts the Gottesdienst, a Mass in German, accompanied by the Männerchor/Damenchor. 

Later, at 4 p.m. at Park Edelweiss, the Männerchor/Damenchor host a concert of German folk songs, followed at 6 p.m. by Heimatabend, a full German festival dinner. Dinner tickets are $12 at the door.

Get your Bach on

The Fort Wayne chapter of the American Guild of Organists is partnering with five historic churches to present free lunchtime concerts throughout the week, highlighting the unique characters of the city’s pipe organs with music that goes back to the 1600s.

Performances include:

Monday, June 6, 12:15 p.m., Emmanuel Lutheran, with Noah Vancina

Tuesday, June 7, 12:15 p.m., Zion Lutheran, with Michael Hollman

Wednesday, June 8, 12:15 p.m., First Wayne Street United Methodist, with Geoffrey North

Thursday, June 9, 12:15 p.m., Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, with Michael Dulac

Friday, June 10, 12:15 p.m., Trinity Episcopal, with Ryan Kennedy

Main events

And now some highlights from the big events downtown at Headwaters Park. 

From Wednesday, June 8, to Sunday, June 12, there will be eating, drinking, live music, and dancing. 

The festival opens at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, then at 11 a.m. Thursday through Sunday. Admission is free for lunchtime, $2 after 2 p.m., and $5 after 5 p.m. Participation in all events within the festival are at no additional fee.

Germanfest is extremely proud of their food, featuring a specially commissioned bratwurst made locally and only available at Germanfest.

Beer comes by the pint or the pitcher. German and domestic wines will be for sale, along with non-alcoholic refreshments.

Daily schedule

On Wednesday, the Grand Parade marches downtown at 5 p.m., where the mayors of Fort Wayne and Gera tap the first keg of German dark beer at 6 p.m.

At 7 p.m., any adult can try their hand at the Hammerschlagen competition, followed by perhaps the silliest event of the festival at 8 p.m.,  the Ferkelwurst Stuffin’, for 18 and older, where folks compete by speedily stuffing little plush piggies into ladies’ hosiery.

A slight jog away from Headwaters, the Germanfest 5K will take place at 7 p.m. at Lawton Park. A fun run for the kids will precede the official adult race. Participants get free entrance to the festival later.

On Thursday,  the Legs ’n Lederhosen contest will begin at 7:30 p.m. The second-silliest event finds men and women dancing to compete for the trophy. Participation is limited to 25 contestants, with advance registration available online.

“That one usually brings a huge crowd,” Heidenreich said. “It’s a wonderful, fun thing. A 90-year-old man held the title for several years, bless his heart. He’s passed away. I came in second place one year when I wore my dad’s Lederhosen and stiletto heels.”

Friday’s Beer Mug Race, Masskrugrennen, will be from 4:30-8:30 p.m., sponsored by Granite City Brewing and 96.3 XKE, with JJ Fabin serving as master of ceremonies. In the race, three four-person teams compete in a relay of Man vs. Beer vs. Balloons. Sign up at the information booth at the entrance.

On Saturday, things actually get started at 8 a.m., as the Foundation Fighting Blindness invites you to help raise critical research dollars during their Visionwalk. 

Also starting early is the Volksmarch, a 10K walking tour of Downtown, the River Greenway, and neighborhoods of Fort Wayne,  that is sponsored by the Three Rivers Strollers Club and the American Volksport Association. This event will take place from 8-11 a.m.

Back at Headwaters, things heat up with the Black Forest Stone Challenge from noon-7 p.m., where men and women meet in weightlifting competitions, Bavarian style. Fees apply and registration is required.

The fan favorite Wienerdog Nationals will be from 1-5 p.m., and all dogs must be registered prior to the race day.

Fort Wayne Tänzer, traditional German-Austrian Schuhplattler folk dances with couples in traditional dress. will be at 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m., and 8:30 p.m. 

At 7 p.m., Polka Like a Star takes center stage, with Patrick Didier facilitating this time-honored traditional polka contest for couples. 

Things wind down on Sunday, with a German-language church service at 11 a.m. and the Sorgenbrecher Band playing from 12:45-5 p.m.

And when you hoist that Bierstein, raise the toast: “Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit”!

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