German heritage on display at StrassenfestAugust 2, 2019
By ALLEN LAMAN
JASPER — Laura Grammer dreams big. And then she reels it in.
Before designing and planning the activities that were part of the revamped opening night of Jasper Strassenfest on Thursday, she thought of the detailed choreography and fanfare that preceded the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
As she stood perspiring in the heat of the 2017 lead-off ceremony, she wondered. What if she could organize something like that to captivate an audience that regularly packs the downtown Square?
See a gallery of photos from opening night of Strassenfest
“Wouldn’t it be so cool if people could come to the Jasper Strassenfest and feel like they’re in Little Germany,” Grammer, who is the festival’s German Heritage Night liaison, said in a Thursday interview. “They’re here and they get to do all this free stuff, and they’re gonna go buy food, and they’re gonna go be involved in all this stuff. How many people would that bring every year?”
Those questions will guide her approach to organizing the first night of the annual event in the future, as she searches to find more and more guests to the four-day party.
The early results: Thursday’s opening ceremonies included singing and dancing, in addition to the traditional speeches, and immediately after the introduction ended, festivalgoers of all ages could watch and learn the steps to traditional German dances and play a simple dice game that yielded free candy from Chocolate Bliss.
“It’s like audience involvement,” said Brenda Heeke of Jasper, who participated in the Schuhplattler dance with a crowd of fellow amateurs. “And that’s what I thought was neat. Because the audience was involved in it. It’s not like we’re just standing there and watching them, but it’s like we got to do something.”
Introducing children to the festival and the city’s heritage is also important to Grammer. A group of kids sang in a Kinderchor — a “children’s choir” — during the opening ceremonies, and they also wove ribbons around a maypole, which is “Maibaum” in German.
Victoria Gunselman, 9, was part of the festivities. She wanted to sing in the choir because it sounded like fun, and after it was over, she smiled and said it was. Her father, Josh, said the activity was a way for his daughter to both get the experience of being in front of a crowd and learn about the city’s history.
“We’ve got to know where we came from to get to where we’re going,” Josh said of the Strassenfest and what it does for the city. “This is a big economic boost for the community, so kind of understanding why we do this kind of helps prolong it into the future.”
While Lynn Wagner’s daughters, Ella and Ally, played the Schokospiel — meaning “chocolate game” — Mom expressed a similar sentiment. She’s noticed more kids becoming involved in the fest over the years, and sees value in introducing youngsters to their ancestors’ traditions in simple ways.
“They’ve definitely become more inquisitive, and questioning our German heritage,” Lynn said of her daughters. “And it’s been a good learning experience for them to see all these activities.”
And this is only the beginning.
“If we can just keep building on this year after year after year, and add more things and make things just continue to grow, this could be like a free Disney World,” Grammer said. “Or a Disney World that it might cost you 20 bucks to do this or 10 bucks to do that. But that assumes that I don’t run out of ideas.”
A full Strassenfest schedule can be found at jasperstrassenfest.org. Fest-related activities will take place through Sunday evening.
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