Three years ago, I met seven members of the United German Hungarians on the cultural trip of a lifetime to Hungary and Romania. Over several meals and many glasses of wine, they told me all about their club and the many events that they participate in. Besides being active with the Donauschwaben, I learned that U.G.H. are also members of the Gauverband, an organization that promotes Bavarian and Tyrolean heritage. Even though both are German subcultures, their styles are very distinct from each other, so I was very much looking forward to attending my first Gaufest this last July with the German Hungarians to finally experience the Schuhplattler traditions.
I have been a lifelong member of the Donauschwaben community and have attended the annual Labor Day Treffens since I was a pre-teen. These Labor Day weekends were what I anticipated the Gaufest weekend to be like as it was the only cultural activity that I had been exposed to. However, my immediate impression of the Gaufest was that it’s completely unlike the annual Treffen. Maybe it’s because I do not know any members of the Gauverband outside of U.G.H., but Donauschwaben Treffens feel more to me like a big family reunion than the conference that Gaufest is. Since the Gauverband has substantially more members than the Donauschwaben, it’s more practical for them to hold their events at large convention centers rather than a member clubhouse. When I walked into the banquet hall that first evening at Harrah’s, the vastness of the room, the seemingly endless row of tables, and sea of people in dirndls and lederhosen took my breath away. Each day the grand hall was filled with people proudly dressed in Tracht and each day I was more awestruck than the day before.
The Gaufest was meticulously organized to ensure the many moving parts flowed seamlessly. While the entrance ticket was significantly more expensive than those to Treffens, it was well worth the price. Each of the four evenings included excellent musical entertainment from a variety of bands, a delicious meal was provided on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, a variety of workshops were given, and performances from each group were peppered throughout the band breaks. Because there was almost always a band playing many polkas were meant to be danced. I was enjoying dancing so much that at first, I didn’t notice a few fellow dancers on the floor quizzically looking at me when they saw me dancing a Seppl like my Omi taught me. I didn’t realize that the Bavarians have a different polka style than us! The best part of the ticket was the daily wristband that granted you unlimited beer and wine. It took away the hassle of pulling out cash (or the dreaded Treffen tickets) each time you wanted a Paulaner refill. There was never a line at the multiple beer trucks because of the ease at which you just walked up, and a bartender would quickly fill your cup.
In addition to the Gaufest events, U.G.H. hosts their own party suite, or B.S. room as it were. The B.S. room serves as a central meeting place for U.G.H. to coordinate the days, give information, and have a great time. I have never seen anything that compares to the well-oiled machine that is the U.G.H. B.S. Room. The components are planned weeks in advance where every member is given assignments from decorating the room, down to who is bringing the liverwurst. Since I was a newbie, I was assigned an easy task of bringing Ziploc bags and pretzels. When we arrived on Thursday afternoon, I decided to help the girls decorate the room to make myself useful. We hung pictures from Gaufests past along with U.G.H. paraphernalia all around the room. As we decorated, people wheeled in suitcases and duffle bags filled with cases of beer, schnapps, wine, snacks, and the ingredients for hundreds of sandwiches. The bathroom of the suite was transformed into a bar. Everyone took turns getting buckets of ice from the ice machine down the hall (until it had no more ice to give) to transform the spa tub into a cooler for the beers. Schnapps bottles were also kept on ice in the double sinks to ‘prost’ with old and new friends as the evenings wore on. The walk-in shower served as a locker of organized beverage supply for when the ice-cold cooler ran low. Every detail in this room was so fine-tuned from years of practice, that U.G.H. even has their own accordion player to entertain those who show up to the B.S. room. The evenings always turned into standing room only affairs as it is well known that U.G.H. hosts a great 12:01 party. Needless to say, I had a great time in the B.S. room because it is where I made many new acquaintances, had the best conversations, and laughed – a lot!
My favorite, and the most undeniably heartwarming feature of the weekend, was how inclusive and supportive the group is as a whole. Everyone from the newest member of two weeks old, to the matriarch of 84 years old, were welcome to participate at the events and B.S. room festivities. Everyone took turns holding, and dancing with the babies. Older members were looked after and made sure to have a place to sit. Sandwiches were lovingly made to fill our bellies and Sasha Sr. was heard all weekend reminding us “Make sure you eat, guys!” Several members generously loaned me various pieces of Tracht and jewelry making sure that I was dressed to match the other women, and my hair was neatly braided and pinned to complete the look. If I had questions about anything, they were pleasantly answered. The icing on top of the ‘Fest-Cake,’ was when the prize announcements were made and three U.G.H. members placed in their categories along with the team placing third in the group event. There were ninety-six people enthusiastically cheering and celebrating the winners as if they had been on the dancefloor competing right alongside them. It brought tears to my eyes to see how happy and proud everyone was of each other, and it made me incredibly grateful to be a member of such a fantastic club.
I am already looking forward to Gaufest 2023!