Germanfest celebrates church’s heritage

POLKA: Joyce and Larry Staffen polka dance to the musical styling of The Vagabonds at last year’s Germanfest at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church. Organizers expect the sixth annual event, which will be held on Sept. 16, to raise more than $40,000 for the church and school. (Pioneer file photos)

Sixth annual event expected to raise more than $40,000

BIG RAPIDS — St. Peter’s Lutheran Church of Big Rapids was founded in 1870 by German immigrants. More than 140 years later, the church still celebrates its Old World heritage.

The sixth annual Germanfest will be held from 7 to 11 p.m. on Sept. 16 at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, located at 408 W. Bellevue St. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Tickets cost $35, which includes dinner and dancing. Drink tickets are available with a three-drink maximum per person.

Proceeds from the festival will benefit children’s programs at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church and School. Last year, 800 people attended the event and more than $40,000 was raised. Organizer and event founder Mark Viel expects at least that much to be raised again this year, with more than 900 people attending.

“We started this event five years ago with 250 people in the gym, and it has grown to where we have three circus-sized tents in the parking lot and use the gym for serving lines,” Viel said. “It just keeps growing. I think it’s because everything is authentic and first-rate. We don’t skimp on anything.”

Organizers take pride in providing authentic German food, drinks and music to the people of Big Rapids.

This year’s menu will have a variety of sausages — provided by the Bavarian Sausage Company of Madison, Wis. — including knackwurst, smoked garlic sausage and traditional bratwurst with marjoram spice. Also on the menu is sauerkraut, red cabbage, various German potato salads, creamed herring, pretzel rolls and spaetzle — a German noodle dish. There also will be a homemade dessert buffet.

Organizers will begin preparing the food several days in advance. More than 450 pounds of bratwurst and knackwurst, about 25 gallons of sauerkraut and about 13 gallons of red cabbage, amongst other food dishes, will be prepared throughout the week leading up to the event.

Authentic German beer and wine will be available at the event. The beer is ordered straight from the Hofbrauhaus in Munich, Germany, and will include Oktoberfest, dunkel (dark) and weiss (wheat) beers. Wines from the Rhein and Mosel areas also will be available.

“This is not an Oktoberfest, it’s a Germanfest,” Viel said. “We still have a number of families at the church who can trace back their ancestry to our founding. That’s why we call it a Germanfest, because we’re really celebrating the church.”

Those who attend the festival will enjoy live German polka music from The Vagabonds and Linda Lee and Wild Bill, as they dance on a large wooden dance floor set Sup for the event.

GERMANFEST: A crowd of 800 enjoyed authentic German food, beer and music during last year’s Germanfest at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church. Tickets are available for the sixth annual event, which will be held on Sept. 16 at the church. No tickets will be sold at the door.

Germanfest has grown in size and number of attendees since it began in 2006. Of the more than 900 people expected to attend, Viel estimates that nearly 300 will come from outside Mecosta County.

“We probably have one of the highest percentages of visitors coming to our community from out of town,” Viel said. “This really is something the whole community can embrace. It really has become a regional draw for people.”

For more information about Germanfest or to order tickets, contact Mark or Laura Viel at (231) 796-2511. There will not be any ticket sales at the door. The event is for people 21 and older.

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