John Roh and his children, 6-month-old Trishla and John David, 2, at the 1980 German Festival at Rash Field. (Baltimore Sun photo by Danielle M. Palotto, June 28, 1980)
Baltimoreans have been maching schnell to their German Festival since two turns of the century ago. And this weekend, the wurst will be here yet again.
Sponsored by the Deutschamerikanischer Bürgerverein von Maryland, Inc. (German-American Citizens Association of Maryland, for those non-conversant in German), the festival has run continuously since 1900, according to the group’s website. That’s a lot of sausage, beer, sauerkraut and lederhosen, but perhaps not surprising in a city that’s always had a prominent German presence.
(A presence that doubtless caused some ill feelings during the two world wars, and has even left a few lasting scars – including downtown’s Redwood Street, which until World War I was known as German Street. But this is also a city whose most beloved restaurant for years was the decidedly Germanic Haussner’s.)
Edith Baginski, of Arnold, listens to 6-year-old Betty Hawkins at the 1990 German Festival, held at Carroll Park. (Baltimore Sun photo by Perry Thorsvik, Aug. 19, 1990)
According to a 1999 Baltimore Sun article by Frederick Rasmussen, German immigrants were living along the Chesapeake Bay even before Baltimore Town was established in 1732. Four of the seven members of the original town council were German. As late as the 1920s, one in four Baltimoreans spoke fluent German, and a third of the city’s public schools included German as part of the curriculum.
Baltimore even had three German-language newspapers. The last, the Baltimore Correspondent, only ceased publication in 1976.
Not surprisingly, the annual German Festival is, in the words of the Bürgerverein’s website, “the oldest celebration of ethnic pride in the state of Maryland.” It’s been staged in various places throughout the city, including Canton (where rain and some overflowing storm drains barely put a damper on the 1984 festival), Carroll Park (where 100-degree temperatures at the 1997 festival made cold beer especially invaluable) and the Inner Harbor’s Rash Field.
Samuel Laudenslager, of The Old Comrades German Band (from Fairfax, Va.) leads attendees at the 99th annual German Festival at Carroll Park in a traditional German prost (toast). Perry Seip, pictured in center, and Brian Priebe, at far right, play trombones. (Baltimore Sun photo by Elizabeth Malby, Aug. 21, 1999)
For the past few years, the Maryland German Festival has been held in the air-conditioned comfort of the exhibition halls at the state fairgrounds in Timonium, which is where it will be this Saturday and Sunday as, for the 114th time, German-Americans and their descendants seek that wonderful feeling of gemutlichkeit (which loosely translates to peace of mind, comfort or social acceptance).
Then again, as one visitor to the 1984 festival mused, maybe it’s all about “the music and the beer – not necessarily in that order.”
-For information on the 2014 German Festival at Maryland State Fairgrounds, click here.