I first encountered the United German Hungarians’ Cultural Group two years ago. I was sitting at a table with my family during Maifest at the Cannstatter. The group took the stage and began to do a partnered folk dance. I was struck by the grace of the dancers, the beauty of the music and the traditional dress. I felt pride for my German-Hungarian descent rise in me—and a desire to be part of what I was witnessing. After a few dances, the group opened the stage, and I brought my Oma up to do my best attempt at a waltz with her. Afterwards, I approached a few members of the group who were standing around at a table. I told them that I was impressed by their performance and asked if they ever took on new members. I received an encouraging reply along with contact information for the group. I followed up and was planning to attend one of the practices. Then 2020 happened.
In 2021, I reached out again and attended my first practice held at the Phoenix Sport Club. Everyone was so welcoming, from my initial contact, Alex, to the bartenders, Christina, and Ruth, to the club president, Janet. I spent the first few practices observing and learning basic steps with the help of Marlene and Nichole. Then, I was invited to participate in my first dance, the Hammerschmiede. After a few weeks of practice, I attended my first event with the group, Brauhaus Schmitz’s Oktoberfest. That day, wearing lederhosen generously lent to me by Alex, I felt like I was officially part of the Cultural Group. While doing the Hammerschmiede, I experienced the thrill of performing in front of an audience and pride for my German-Hungarian heritage. Afterwards, I took in the band’s music, people dancing, and beer cups filling and reflected that, after a year of no Oktoberfests, we were part of the return of joy and life to Philadelphia.
One event that made a special impression on me was the Kirchweihfest. I had read an article about this tradition by Michael Fricker in advance. In the article, he talked about Kirchweih’s origins in Germany as well as its religious and communal significance. He described the “Strauss,” a bush decorated with ribbons that gets passed around during the event. Reading about and looking at pictures of the Strauss was one thing; actually, seeing and holding it in person was much more impressive. On the day of the Kirchweihfest, when I wasn’t dancing, I decided to adopt the role of a quiet observer. As I took in the scenes of young and old coming together, the various beautiful dresses worn by the girls, and the charming performances of the children, one word seemed to encapsulate it all: beauty. Kirchweihfest was a “thing of beauty,” in the words of John Keats. In his poem “Endymion,” Keats writes:
“A thing of beauty is a joy forever: / Its loveliness increases; it will never / Pass into nothingness…”
While some members of the group may be unfamiliar with this poem, I sense that they all intuitively grasp that Kirchweihfest is for us a “thing of beauty.”
The last event that I attended was the banquet for the 110th Anniversary of the United German Hungarians. I had spent weeks practicing the Grand March and the Bis Bald dance and song. I even translated the song with the help of members of the group so that I could better understand what I was singing. Sadly, about a week before the event, I got a serious eye infection. I still planned to attend, just once again in the role of observer versus participant at the Cannstatter. However, unlike when I first encountered the group, this time felt different. I had attended practices, gotten to know members, and was sitting at a table with people I now considered friends. During the Bis Bald dance I sang along, and after every dance I clapped enthusiastically with pride and recognition of the hard work and dedication that went into them. I did not feel separate from the group.
In closing, I wanted to share something Marlene Fricker once shared with me, which is that “it’s important to be part of something bigger than yourself.” I feel that I have begun to understand the meaning of this.
I also wanted to share a small final anecdote. During Volksfest at the Cannstatter I met Emily Fricker. She was sitting at a table where other German Hungarians had gathered. I struck up a conversation with her and was excited to learn that she was the grandmother of so many of the new friends I had made in the club as well as a founder of the Cultural Group. As I think back on meeting Emily and my experiences so far with the group, it strikes me that the ‘something bigger’ I’ve become part of might be, for me, a kind of family.
Mike Stirm II