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A History of HSV Bavaria 1966 – 2016

 

             Our 50th Anniversary calls us to look back on our story, in context with the presence and influence of Germans, particularly Bavarians, in America. By the mid-1800's, Germans had become the largest ethnic group in the United States, and Bavarians became part of that migration a few decades later. The first American Schuhplattler Verein on record was Edelweiss of Chicago in 1914. Other groups formed shortly after in northern states from New York to Minnesota, and by WWII, there were at least 20 such Vereine in America.

 

Our group, like many younger clubs, was an off-shoot of a German-American Verein – The Harugari Singing Society. “Harugari,” a Teutonic name for “priest,” also refers to “a meeting place under oak trees.” The HSS moved to its present Lokal in West Haven, CT after WWII.

           

Fifty years ago, in 1966, 12 members of that singing society established a group at the club, for the purpose of preserving Bavarian/Tyrolean folk dance, costume, and tradition. They called themselves the Harugari Schuhplattlers and were taught by Joe Suess, a zither player and former Schuhplattler. When their first Tracht, ordered from Bavaria, was delayed, Joe approached Alpenland Taenzer of New Britain for the loan of their Tracht. Fortunately the shipment arrived the day of their first performance at the Harugari Hall in May,1966; Vorplattler Charlie Yaeger led the six couples in “Der Bandltanz,” while a greatly relieved Joe provided the music on his zither!

           

In those early days through the late 1960's and the mid-1970's, membership fluctuated considerably, often dwindling to a steadfast core group of four couples. Thanks mostly to the Walz family, the group survived with a bare minimum of structure; Annie Walz Heise took care of just about everything. We began adding new jobs at various clubs in the state, as her husband Herb Heise's Alpine Echo Band played many of those same events, and together we began making a name for ourselves. Those jobs led to further performances in Massachusetts and New York, and a favorite Bummel Tour was the annual week-end at the Crystal Brook House and Mountain Brauhaus in the Catskills.

           

During those years, Annie's father Albert Walz saw the need to create a children's group, and in 1974 founded the Harugari Junior Schuhplattlers. Many of those “Juniors” including Andrew Horn, Karen Grether, and Tricia Grether Kemperle, are leaders in adult groups today. But Albert did not stop there; he convinced us and the HSS that we should sponsor our own fest, and in 1978 we held what came to be known as our “Schuhplattlerfest,” which continues to be a successful annual event.

           

The 1980's saw growth in numbers and performances, but we needed more direction in many aspects of the traditions we wanted to uphold. When Peter Diedrichsen, a former Oberlandler, became Vorplattler in 1981, he drew upon his Gaufest experiences, and convinced most of our members to attend the 1981 Gaufest in New York City, hosted by (prophetically) Die Gemuetlichen Enzianer (GE).

           

This proved to be a turning point, as that first Gaufest pointed us in the right direction. But as Albert would say: “Aller Anfang ist schwer!” To meet the Gau requirements we needed to restructure under a formal Constitution and a name that reflected our Bavarian/Tyrolean heritage. So we elected our officers with Erika Walz as President and Peter as Vorplattler, and wrote a constitution under our new name, while preserving our original name's initials; thus “Harugari Schuhplattler Verein” became “HSV Bavaria.” With that, Peter finalized our acceptance into Gauverband Nordamerika at the 1984 Delegates Meeting. But there was still much more to do.

We started with our Tracht. Like several newer clubs, our Dirndls were influenced by the current fashion, rather than “Sitt und Tracht der Alten, wollen wir erhalten!” (Customs and costumes of old, we want to preserve!) But skirt lengths were only the beginning; our women's Tracht has gone through many restylings, each one tending to be more according to tradition, if not more comfortable.

 

Our men's Tracht was allowed some leeway in the various Stickerei (embroidery) designs on our Lederhosen, as long as the thread color more or less matched. But we replaced the original Stutzerl (half socks) with white and gray Trachten socks, and the black “Hakel” feather with the eagle feather, added the vest, and eventually the Trachtenschuhe and Miesbacher Jacket. As we came to respect the   Tracht traditions, the plastic pins disappeared from hats and vests. GE's Eric Bayer, GauVorplattler at the time, was very helpful in educating us in all matters of Tracht. A later addition was our custom club belt, the brain child of Marcus Dreher.

 

The 1980's also saw growth on the state-wide level. In 1983, couples from Alpenland Taenzer of New Britain, Edelweiss of Danbury, and HSV rehearsed together, then and performed at Southern Connecticut State University to commemorate 300 years of German immigration to America. Frank Billowitz coached the rehearsals and provided the music, and the event attracted an enthusiastic crowd, including Connecticut state dignitaries.

 

A year later, one such dignitary, the late Senator George Gunther, led in establishing October 6 as the first official German-American Day (GAD). Taking the next step in 1987, HSV helped organize the first GAD Dinner-Dance, which brought over 1,000 people together for dinner and dancing, as well as choral music, folk dance, and Schuhplattler entertainment. Past and present Connecticut Governors have attended these celebrations.

 

By 1990, HSV's President Paul Schmidt was named GAD Chairman; in addition, our own Tricia Grether was GAD Queen in 1993, and Christine Heise was Princess in 1995. Through the efforts of Karin Gottier (Hartford Saengerbund Dancers and Alpenland Taenzer) and Allan Schuler (former HSV Vorplattler), the folk dancers and Schuhplattler Vereine of Connecticut have successfully combined to present topnotch entertainment at annual GAD events. The Fackeltanz (Torch Dance) by Alpenland and HSV at Gaufest XIII in Buffalo carried on that tradition to a large international audience.

 

With President Paul Schmidt, Vorplattler Allan Schuler, and Vortaenzerin Annie Heise, we held our 25th Anniversary in 1991, welcoming five of our founding members, (Helmut and Renate Mackenstein, Charlie and Louise Yeager, and Walter Steinau), and pausing in remembrance of Bob Derbacher, Bertrum Steinau, and Joe Suess). Six other Schuhplattler Vereine were represented, (another first) and the women introduced their new Vereine Dirndl by Trachtenmutter Kristin Leisgang.

 

The success of our first twenty-five years and our anniversary event sowed the seed for our future Fahnenweihe. A committee, with Erika Walz and Andrew Horn as co-chairs, began planning a   schedule and a budget for the next few years. New performances helped bring in more funds.

But the all-important task was the design for our flag. That challenge was trusted to the talents of Allan Schuler. With his drafting skills and inspired research, he created a large-scale design honoring not only our German heritage, but also our State of Connecticut's history – the oak tree representing both our origin and the storied Charter Oak of our colonial era. The dancers depicted on the back of the flag were inspired by the original table standard crafted 30 years earlier by Renate Mackenstein, but we know them as “Ewald and Hildegard.”

 

Tragically, on Oct. 7, 1994, Allan suffered a massive heart attack and passed away just a month after   finishing the preliminary design. To this day we honor him annually on German-American Day, raising our Schnapps in remembrance as the current Vorplattler announces: “To Allan Schuler, our Vorplattler and friend!” and finishing with a single stomp to punctuate the message: “Ruhe im Frieden, Allan.”

 

The new year of 1995 had hardly begun when we lost another beloved friend:  Albert Walz passed away on Jan. 22 after a long battle with cancer. For 28 years he had been an indispensable leader, often saving us from disaster, and serving as peacemaker among the different factions. As his daughter Erika eulogized: “We are his legacy, and through our dancing, he will always be remembered.” As a final gesture, we officially recognized Albert as our “Honorary President.”

 

Sensing what Allan Schuler and Albert Walz would have wanted us to do, we focused on preparing for another busy season with the Fahnenweihe just a year away. The committee rallied, and with help from Niederbayerische Fahnenstickerei, the manufacturer of our flag, approved the final design, colors, and materials; our flag was ready for production! In the meantime, at our Schuhplattlerfest, we were thrilled to introduce a new band from New York that was attracting much attention in the German-American community: “Die Schlauberger” (“Wise Guys”).

 

1995 continued to be a year of Firsts. After watching Preisplattling at Gaufeste, Vorplattler Andrew Horn convinced us to compete for the first time at Gaufest XV in Milwaukee. After months of exhausting practice, and a very helpful workshop with Gau Vorplattler Marty Hubner, our team was ready. Andy led us to the dance floor, where we performed the “Reit im Winkl;” and finished in the top 10, an amazing accomplishment! Current HSV members of that first team include Andy Horn, Karen Grether, Tricia Kemperle, Paul Schmidt, and Hildegard Walz.

 

The highlight leading up to our Fahnenweihe was the formal Patenbitten ceremony of Memorial Day weekend, 1995, when HSV petitioned Die Gemuetlichen Enzianer to be our Patenverein (“Godfather” or sponsor club). After a Saturday evening get-together with music, song, and Schuhplattler, followed   a Sunday morning Fruehschoppen, then afternoon games, cocktails and finally dinner, GE's Vorstand Joe Hubner bid us to kneel down on individually selected painful logs: “Would you please do so in the age-old tradition – Down on your knees to file your petition!” To which our officers replied: “Our flag is in production – it will soon be on its way. We'd like to be your Patenkind on that wonderful day.” The bond between the two clubs had already been steadily growing, and became stronger when GE's Tim Kemperle and HSV's Tricia Grether announced their engagement!

 

The Fahnenweihe weekend in Hartford began on Friday, July 5, 1996 with that evening's welcome dance, “Oktoberfest im Juli.” The Alpine Echo, with our own Herb and Anna Heise, provided the dance music, and between sets a number of guest Vereine presented Ehrentaenze. Around midnight the hospitality room welcomed Trachtlers and musicians to our “Accordion & Plattler Jamboree,” where the Weissbier flowed till morning! But by 11:00a.m. on Saturday we were in Festtracht, each Verein marching behind its own flag, into St. Joseph's Cathedral for the Mass and blessing of our flag. Annie Heise served as Fahnenmutter, a well-deserved honor. After Mass we paraded to the State Capitol, encircling the park with a huge Massenplattler: our “Gauplattler,” of course, with choreography and music by GE's Marty Hubner.

 

The banquet at the Hartford Civic Center opened with a Parade of Flags and the national anthems of Austria, Canada, Germany, and the United States; a blessing was said, and dinner was served.   Fahnenweihe Committee Co-chair Andrew Horn recognized a number of HSV and Gau officials; Vorstand Erika Walz welcomed all the Trachtlers and friends, and dedicated our Fahnenweihe to the late Allan Schuler, who had created such a beautiful and meaningful flag. Next came Ehrentaenze,  alternating with dance music by the Dominoes International, and by midnight the hospitality room became the place to be with the Alpenblumen Musikanten playing into the wee hours.

 

Sunday's picnic, a traditional New England clambake, featured The Austrian Boys' dance music, complemented with the traditional parade of flags, anthems, Ehrentaenze, and presentation of gifts. In the end, HSV had fully orchestrated the most ambitious event in our history, a well-organized and gemuetliche Fahnenweihe that increased our reputation and our friendships in the Gau, reaching out to 26 Vereine.

 

In August that year we hosted our first Heimatabend under the Harugari's new pavilion, designed and built by the late Albert Walz and his sons Ewald and Richard, with help from club volunteers. Despite some challenges, the building turned out to be an ideal venue for club events; as Albert liked to say, “Ende gut, Alles gut!” The dancing, singing, yodeling, and laughter echoed under the roof, and Albert's parting gift became an integral part of HSV Bavaria life.

 

As the millennium approached, we grew more active than ever, averaging 30 performances, 20 rehearsals, and 10 meetings per year – peaking at 47 performances in 1998, then 50 in 1999! We found ourselves at Shea Stadium, Hunter Mountain, NY, Lake George, NY, Mohegan Sun, PA, and Portland, OR; and along the way we met people who became not only major resources for our group, but also good friends. They helped us to achieve higher levels of performance and business. And that led to our first invitation from abroad – performing in Germany with Manni Daum and the Dominoes, whom we had hired for our 1997 Schuhplattlerfest. We sent two couples, whose stories made us yearn for another overseas invitation. That September, Hildegard Walz attended a Fahnenweihe near Ammersee, and her stories heightened our desire to experience a Trachten event in Europe!

 

In 1999 we brought the first authentic Oktoberfest to the Island of Puerto Rico! It was Andy's dream of “Oktoberfest in a box” with a Caribbean flavor. Performances like this one required a great deal of time to plan and coordinate. So we filled that need by appointing a “Business Manager” to take on all the responsibility for arranging performances. Ewald Walz held this office for the first year; then it was passed on to Karen Grether. She has had it ever since, a major reason for our success in attracting and keeping jobs!

 

Back in Connecticut, when the time came, we welcomed “Y2K” hailing our own Melissa Ingersoll

as GAD Queen of Connecticut; once again, an HSV member was honored in New York's Steuben Day Parade.

 

The following year we added Columbus Day week-end performances at Newport Yachting Center, RI,  

and for the next 20 years, we shared the two Oktoberfest stages with our friends, Alpenblumen of Providence. Also in 2001, we began performing at the Taj Mahal's Atlantic City Oktoberfest week-end, generally alternating each year with another Verein.

 

 By this time we were gaining more media exposure; Lenny Coyne arranged for us to appear on national television, including CBS's “Early Show,” and several segments of “Fox & Friends,” leading up to the annual Steuben Parade. In 2006 several HSV members gave Hollywood a try, and auditioned for roles as, what else? Dancers for the film “Enchanted” starring Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey!

 

Paul and Barbara Schmidt, Karen Grether, Kevin Godau, George Behuniak, and Chrissy Heise auditioned in New York City. The scene was set in Central Park on an extremely hot day in July, 2006. The movie premiered in 2007, and our HSV movie stars went to the extras' premiere in NYC that fall.

In 2009, we found it necessary to move our home base from HSS in West Haven to the Meriden Turner Society, where several new members were recruited into our dance group.

 

It is every Trachtler's dream to visit Oberbayern/Tirol, especially during the Muenchener Oktoberfest. That dream came true for nearly 400 Gauverband Nordamerika (“Gau” for short)) members in 2014. All our Gau groups were invited by the Oktoberfest organizers to experience the fest from within, alongside the local Bavarian and Tirolean Trachtlers: we joined 9,000 Bavarian comrades in full Tracht for a 7.5 kilometer parade (three times the length of the Steuben Parade) through the streets of Munich, then into the “Tradition Tent” to find reserved seats, food and Mass Bier tickets awaiting us at no cost!

 

HSV brought 10 Schuhplattlers, accompanied by family and friends. We were one of only six American groups to present Ehrentaenze (Honor Dances) – and it was the honor of a lifetime! We performed the Chiemgauer and Obersdorfer on the central stage, accompanied by a six piece band; then we combined as Gauverband Nordamerika to dance the Gauplattler where it had never been done before, and received a 10-minute standing ovation from the entire tent! It just does not get any better than this! But wait! Shortly afterward, our own Muenchener, Fritz Wanner, appeared on German TV in a lengthy interview, and was also featured in the Munich newspapers!

 

           

 

            All in all, an amazing legacy for a small group with a big heart! May God grant us, and                  those who follow in our dance steps, the spirit to remain “Treu dem guten alten Brauch --                                                          “True to the good old ways!”

 

            *This history is made possible by the inspiring efforts of HSV Archiver Paul Schmidt.