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Summer Fest Swabian or Not?

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Summer Fest Swabian or Not?

German-American Fest in Lincoln Square (Photo by Mark Susina)

German immigrants in the United States are preparing for a few weeks of partying. The 88th Annual German-American Festival comes to Chicago's Lincoln Square neighborhood for the first weekend of September. Meanwhile, Octoberfest is just about a month away, and the second largest festival in Germany begins right around the same time in Stuttgart. The people from this region who now live in Chicago celebrate their own Summer Fest each year. It took place last weekend. Chicago Public Radio's Achim Wendler joined them.

No doubt, that's a Swabian Summerfest I am hearing as I stand in a beer tent in the city of Buffalo Grove, 35 miles north of Chicago.

Beertent Singalongs: Zicke, zacke, zicke, zacke – hoi hoi hoi!

Swabia or “Schwaben” is a part of southern Germany. It's people has a long history and include a couple of middle age imperators, for example Friedrich Barbarossa. Today, the Swabians are famous for their car plants Mercedes and Porsche, and for being teased for their accent. It sounds like this.

ambi: Scene of “Die Hard 4.0” in Swabian

As a recent new Chicagoan, I am now exited to meet up with people from back home. According to the invitation, Buffalo Grove is supposed to be kind of a Swabian exklave this weekend. And indeed, the music is played by the German Band “Die Dorfmusikanten.” But something seems wrong: They are singing about Baden – which is an area of Germany, but it is not Schwaben, as band member Stefan Stiegeler admits.

STIEGELER: We are of the Southwest of Germany, close to the Swiss border and the France border.
WENDLER: But this is not Schwaben, right?
STIEGELER: Yes, this is called Baden there, but Schwaben is pretty close to there.
WENDLER: And the music you play: Is it Swabian or close to Swabian?
STIEGELER: You can't say it really. It's close to Swabian.

So, what is really Swabian about this Summerfest? If anyone knows, then it's George Boehm, the president of the organization.

BOEHM: I am born in Unterfranken, Germany. Which belongs also to Bavaria.
WENDLER: But it is not Schwaben, right?
BOEHM: No, it is not. It takes me about three hours to drive down to Schwabenland.
WENDLER: How can a man from Unterfranken become the President of the Schwabenclub?
BOEHM: Well, you know, when I came to this country here, my friends were Schwaben from Schwabenland, and so I joyned them. When we were young, we went out to dance and that stuff, and then we got stuck with that, right!

I continue my search for authentically Swabian people or items. What about the cake offered in the snack tent over there: baked and delivered by Michael Mikusch.

MIKUSCH: I am from Austria, the beautiful small country. And it's a pleasure for me to be here. To bring like a plum cake and an apple cake.  Which is a traditional cake for outdoor festivals…

Am I at a Swabian fest without Swabians? Indeed, that's a problem for a most traditional german organizations here in America, says Helga Zettl, the Swabian Clubs secretary and: more importantly – a real Swabian!

ZETTL: We actually don't have too much anymore with the Schwaben, because we don't have any more new people coming to this country. We only have the ones that are here – and those are from all over Germany.

Schwabenverein Chicago's membership is down to 400 members, losing thousands since the 1970s. Looking at the audience in the beer tent, I see lots of grey and silver heads. Very few young people. It's obviously getting harder to preserve the Swabian heritage. There are not enough girls left like Emily Winter, who's entering the stage now.

Announcer: Welcome the Edelweiss – they are here to entertain you with slapdance!

WINTER: I am 16 years old. I learned that when I was younger, and I really like doing it. I was also dancing with my dad. And I love doing this, it's a lot of fun!

After all, this Summerfest seems to be less about preserving the entire Swabian tradition. It's about a part of this tradition: the party and fun part. President George Boehm says, they'll keep their Summerfest: For it's written down in ohe Organizations bylaws. So I guess I'll give them a pass on the authenticity, this time.

For Chicago Public Radio, this is Achim Wendler.

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