The Beginnings of Tradition (Part II), by Mike Stirm II

This is the second part of a two-part series about the history of the German Hungarian’s Cultural Group. If you haven’t already, go and read Part I.

“I read somewhere that in the thirties the main clubs: Cannstatter, Erzgebirge, the German Hungarians, Bayern and later Phoenix and Donauschwaben got together and decided which club would have their picnic during the weekends of September” Marlene explains.  For many years, the United German Hungarians held their picnic during the 2nd weekend in September. In actuality, the picnic was a 3-day Kirchweih that included a show given by a big-ticket entertainer. Over the years, the entertainment that hadn’t been featured there dwindled, and in the early 1980s, following an expensive performance by Bobby Rydel, Marlene’s father, Werner had an idea.

The Kirchweih Tent

“My Dad said, ‘you three get together and come up with the entertainment’” relates Marlene. Those three people were Marlene, John Galgon, and Heinz Kerber. Werner had the authority to do this as Chairman of the Kirchweih 3-day weekend, but he also likely had the insight to figure that Marlene, with her strong educational background in Dance, along with John and Heinz-creatives in their own right-could come up with a solid offering. And come up with they did. For twenty-one years the dance group put on successful Kirchweih shows that included comedy skits, coupled dances, and musical reviews. At their peak, the shows attracted 800-900 people. When I watch clips from the shows, I can see why.

One of the Many Kirchweih Shows

They were of a very high caliber. One performance I saw-a rendition of the dance number “America” from the play West Side Story-was as good as I remember it from the movie version with Rita Moreno. When watching the shows, one senses a great synergy within the group as well as a healthy share of talent among its members. However, even members who did not perform contributed to the show’s success, like founder-and seamstress- Antonia Kreutzer, who, with other dance group mothers, fashioned costumes from basic ideas given by Marlene, and Betty Buerger Wagner, who was principal photographer and videographer of shows during that time. “We just pulled it off” sums up Betty.

In her 2022 President’s Report, Janet Fricker states, “The Club is the people not a building or location. We can thrive anywhere.”  I believe the same can be said of the Cultural Group, which is part of the club. I’ve seen it thrive in the Phoenix Club building, on South Street, at Independence Hall, and at other addresses. I began this article with the goal of understanding how this tradition began, but in the process, I learned something about tradition itself: that it exists in the hearts and minds of people. The Cultural Group is wherever Linda Galgon is, who told me “I still have a love for the music and dancing.”  It’s wherever Michael Wagner is, who told me “We’re not gonna let it die” and whose young grandson, Alex, participated in the Nativity scene at the 2021 Club Christmas party. “I hope that it continues to exist,” Marlene Fricker tells me in the course of my conversation with her.

I echo that hope and am glad that I’ve been able to play a small role in its preservation.

by Mike Stirm II

The 2021 Kirchweih Group

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