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German-American Journal

October / November 2008

Traditional Culture in 2008… Is It Relevant? By: Reuel Zielke

The Milwaukee “German Fest Trachtenschau” has been present at North America ’s largest festival of German traditional culture for the past 28 years. It started out as a venue to identify some of the traditional clothing that was worn by the various club members who participated in the festival. In the early years, about 30 people modeled traditional clothing or “Trachten” from 10 different regions of Germany and Austria. The “Trachtenschau” has grown into an educational and entertaining production, which includes information on geography, history and the enacting of folklore customs. The presentation of Trachten from the many regions of German-speaking people of Europe, is still a sight enjoyed by many. In 2008, there were 94 participants in the show representing 20 different Trachten with guest presenters from Central Wisconsin, Chicago , Upper Michigan and Texas.  Participation in German Fest, the Trachtenschau and the other festivals in the greater Milwaukee area, has encouraged people to actually wear Trachten and Trachten Mode (traditional German styled clothing with a modern touch). But, why are people doing this and why does it have relevance in their lives? Are people interested and exploring their German heritage and/or German culture in general? Are individuals actually pursuing their cultural interests or are these elements thought of as nice, but un-important in the world today?  I conducted a brief survey of 24 individuals, which included a cross section of Trachtenschau and Cultural Tent participants at German Fest this year. Along with the main question of the survey, “Why are you doing this?”,  I asked a few other related questions with the following results. (The number after each question is the number of people responding.)

• Traveled to Germany/Austria/Switzerland (13) • Pursued genealogical study of family (8) • Study German history as a hobby (7) • Dance group member (7) • Director of dance group (6) • Follow German news & current events (6) • Read German literature, newspapers, publications (6) • Organizer of cultural exhibit(s) (5) • Watch German sports on television (4) • Produce/study a German folk art or craft (4) • Play soccer (2) • Teach German or organize German language classes (2) So, is German traditional culture relevant in North America today? The answer is that it depends on personal interest, opportunities and/or organized events to participate in, and geographic location. Some areas are strong with numerous cultural organizations, festivals and events, while other areas have little or nothing to actively partake in. We are lucky in the Wisconsin and Illinois regions to have many events that keep the various German cultural aspects alive. It would be interesting to know how people maintain their German/Austrian/Swiss heritage in other areas of North America, especially where the opportunities for participation are limited. Perhaps this can be explored in future articles.

Why do these people participate in German cultural activities? 1. Why are you participating in the Trachtenschau and/or Cultural Tent? • Want to preserve traditional culture for new generation (9) • Want to educate people about Trachten and folk culture in an entertaining and positive way (5) • Want to actively show pride in their heritage (3) • Enjoyment of participation in cultural activity (2) • Keep the German culture alive/relevant (2) • Want to learn more about their own heritage & other German-speaking cultures (2) • Want exposure for their cultural organization (1) 2. Do you wear Tracht or Trachten Mode any other time of the year?     No other time (3)     Once or twice (4)      Three or more times per year (17)  3. Do you speak German?     Not at all (5)         A little bit (10)        Fluently (9)   4. What aspects of German culture are you interested in? History Music Travel Food Language Studies (13) (13) (12) (12) (4)

Three generations of Trachtenschau participants, Gina Hirt, daughter Emma Hirt and grandmother, Mrs. Gruendler. They stay involved to preserve their Thüringian heritage and enjoy a family activity together. Mrs. Gruendler sews Trachten for her family.

Joel Beck, Assistant Chairman of the German Fest Cultural Tent enjoys working with the various German clubs and hearing stories about their history and heritage. He is a member of the Pomeranian dance group “Pommersche Tanzdeel Freistadt” and wears Tracht from the Island of Rügen.

Donald & Lou Ann Zamzow from Wausau, WI wear the “Jamunder Tracht” from eastern Pomerania. They helped to organize the “Pommersche Verein of Central Wisconsin” and are heavily involved in cultural activities. They want to relate to their heritage in a meaningful way and are also fluent speakers of Platt Düütsch.

Paula Schumann & Joel Rutledge from Dallas, Texas were guest presenters in the Trachtenschau, wearing the “Ober Lechgau Tracht”. They both want to preserve their cultural heritage and wear Tracht numerous times throughout the year. They are members of the “Schuhplattler und Trachtenverein Almraussch.”

Trachten Geneology Current Events Literature Cultural Geography (7) (7) (6) (5) (2) Sports (5)

Politics (5)

Dance (8)

Folklore (5)

Engineering/Technology (2)

5. Do you actively pursue any of these interests?   How?            • Cook traditional German/Austrian/Swiss foods (21) • Member of cultural society/club (16) • Listen to German music; attend concerts (16)

Karl-Heinz Bauer (second from right, back row) and the “Egerländer Tanz Gruppe” from Chicago were special guest presenters in the Milwaukee German Fest Trachtenschau. They do this to actively represent their heritage.

DANK Oct/Nov 08.indd 12

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German-American Journal | October/November 2008  

Volume 56, Issue 5