GermanFest to celebrate 30th anniversary

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The Guttenberg GermanFest will mark its 30-year anniversary on Sept. 24-25. GermanFest committee members are Lora Kolker, Amy Speed, LeAnn Esmann, Michelle Geuder, Jane Augustyn and Brandie Tomkins. From left, Jane Augustyn and Brandie Tomkins pose with the GermanFest cutouts that will be available for photo ops on the festival grounds. (Photo submitted)

By Caroline Rosacker

The Guttenberg GermanFest will mark its 30-year anniversary on Sept. 24-25. The festival, which celebrates our community's rich German heritage, has transformed and grown throughout the years, and requires an army of ambitious planners and volunteers to steer the two-day event.  

Former Guttenberg Mayor Karen Merrick and Karin Bahls, who grew up in Germany, are credited for spearheading the first GermanFest celebration. Merrick was asked to serve as the voluntary head of the Guttenberg Economic and Industrial Development Committee at the end of her mayoral term. She and members of the committee began searching for ideas to promote tourism and bring recognition to the community. During her research she learned from an Ohio University professor, an expert in German immigration, that Guttenberg is one of three communities that had historically promoted German settlements – the other two being New Ulm Minn., and Hermann, Mo. 

Karin Bahls was instrumental in selecting and preparing authentic German fare. People stood in line and returned year-after-year for her famous Rouladen, German noodles and red cabbage. 

Throughout the years many local residents have dedicated their time and talent to create an authentic German experience. Local businesses alter their menus to include Deutsches Essen, and for many years Rose Kann and the late Toni Schuster  were responsible for ordering, stocking and rounding up volunteers to man the popular beer tent. Michelle Geuder, Chamber of Commerce President and GermanFest committee member, has taken over the reins and shared her thoughts on the yearly tradition. 

"The Guttenberg German Band was also formed during the time of the first GermanFest," said Geuder. "Dennis and Gayle Hanna, retired local teachers, thought that you couldn't have a GermanFest without German music so the Guttenberg German Band was born. The German Band is an integral part of our festival. Without them, we couldn't have a true GermanFest." 

Geuder has been a member of the GermanFest committee for approximately 15 years, taking a two-year break in 2014. "I don't have hard statistics, however our hotels are booked out a year in advance, and that is mostly tourists," noted Geuder. "Restaurants are packed and the retail businesses are full and that's locals and visitors alike. That influx of money into the community trickles down and is a boon for all. And those people who are coming to GermanFest usually come back at some other point in the next year, or tell friends and family and then they visit Guttenberg. I can't count the number of times people have stopped in my office to inquire about something local and mention that they're here in some way that originated from GermanFest or Stars and Stripes. I know of several instances where visitors to our festival ended up purchasing homes and moving here." 

Guttenberg's early festivals were held during the fall leaf tour season, but later moved to September for warmer weather. Some of the activities have changed throughout the years, but the festival tent housing good food, cold beer, and live entertainment has remained the same. "Throughout the years so many more people have gotten involved," Geuder commented. "At some points, there were two or three people doing everything, and a festival the size of GermanFest is nearly impossible to be put on by two people. We've added a lot of fun, new events.  The Wiener Dog Dash has become very popular and people come from all over, not just to enter their dog, but also to watch. Everyone seems to love our German car show.  And the vendor/craft market has grown exponentially. I started it my first year and I had 5 vendors. In 2019 I had close to 40!"

Geuder has spent many years advocating for her community.  "We have a beautiful town and I love to see all the locals and visitors out being able to enjoy what we have to offer," she said with pride. "I'm not talking just at GermanFest, but at the brick and mortar businesses. Our goal is never to take away from our businesses that support us all year long, but to get customers through their doors via GermanFest and other events throughout the year."

The GermanFest committee is always looking for additional help. "We are always looking for more volunteers," said Geuder. "You don't have to be involved in every facet of the festival, but if we had at least one person dedicated to each event, it would make everything much easier for all."

For additional information or if you would like to become a volunteer, or even an event sponsor, contact the Guttenberg Chamber of Commerce at 563-252-2323 or find them on Facebook.

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