Walking into Beethoven Maennerchor Hall, the air smells like sauerkraut and bratwurst, and for a second I can believe I’ve walked into a traditional German tavern.
The average age range of its guests supports that impression. I follow the group who entered before me, and I’m greeted by a buffet that serves sauerkraut, goulash, marble cake (a staple on every German coffee table on Sundays) and big pretzels. Real pretzels, not the ones that are served with mustard.
Around me people are clad in red-and-white checked shirts – and lederhosen, of course. One man even has the iconic outfit screen-printed on a T-shirt. Everyone seems to be having a good time, with live brass band music encouraging people to sway in their seats and beer flowing freely.
For almost two months now, I’ve been the resident German at the Rivard Report. I’m working as an editorial intern as part of San Antonio’s sister city program with Darmstadt, Germany, my home. So of course, when I heard about the Fiesta Gartenfest, hosted by the Beethoven Maennerchor, I had to see for myself what German culture in Texas looks like.
It’s different from what I would have expected as celebratory German culture and maybe in the best of ways – except for the beer in plastic pitchers. That’s simply not done back home.
In Germany we’re not very used to celebrating our own culture, partly because some traditions are so integrated into normal living they do not seem necessary to celebrate. But apart from the soccer World Cup, there’s not much flag-waving or patriotism to be seen. And most Germans accept that, due to our history, it simply isn’t what we should be doing.
But Gartenfest, with
its many black, red and gold flags decorating the area, doesn’t feel excessively patriotic. Maybe that’s because San Antonio is a city so diverse, it seems almost any culture can be celebrated.
Especially during Fiesta, explains David Uhler, vice president of the Beethoven Maennerchor. “I think Fiesta is kind of the intersection of different cultures,” he said. “We’ve got Hispanic culture, we’ve got German culture, we have French culture.”
Uhler has been a singer with the organization for six years, after having covered it as a reporter. He seems to know everyone, constantly raising his custom stein beer mug to greet others.
“You don’t need to be German to join. You don’t need to speak German,” he said of Gartenfest. “You don’t need to be Anglo, you can be Hispanic or African-American. It’s kind of a comfortable meeting place for people of all cultures to get together.”
To me, that is the only way to celebrate German culture, by enjoying its music, food, and laid-back gemütlichkeit – together. An event like Gartenfest is not 100 percent traditionally German, because it’s not trying to be.
Its value is in helping weave together the strands of the different cultures that make up the city and Fiesta into the city’s vibrant fabric.