Listen in on a conversation in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect in the Nachbarshaft Haus (Neighborhood House) at the Kutztown Festival and you will sense the colorful traditions of the Pennsylvania Germans in southeastern Pennsylvania. This is where Carl Snyder, Paul Kunkel and their fellow members of the Grundsow Lodge gladly greet visitors and answer their questions about the “Pennsylvania Dutch,” as they are widely known.
Attend a seminar on Pennsylvania German home life, hear the melodic Mennonite hymn singing, or sample typical foods prepared in the summer kitchen, and you will appreciate the culture of the people who settled this area starting over 200 years ago.
Then, take in the festival’s 4th of July parade and you’ll witness the great pride Pennsylvania Germans have in being Americans.
You will see all of this and much more at the Kutztown Festival – the oldest continuing folklife festival in America – July 1 to 9 at the Kutztown Fairgrounds.
“The festival originated 57 years ago to present Pennsylvania German culture to a wide audience. It has evolved into an entertaining family event that maintains its original emphasis on Pennsylvania German traditions and history,“ says Festival Executive Director Dave Fooks.
Discussions, presentations, and reenactments at the 2006 festival will give visitors the opportunity to learn more about the folklore and folklife traditions that have been passed down through generations.
The seminar stage is the focal point for learning about the Pennsylvania Germans. Topics presented by expert speakers include local history, family life, food, holiday traditions, clothing, folk superstitions, folk medicine, and Pennsylvania Dutch humor.
Religion and spirituality among the Pennsylvania Germans are reflected in the Mennonite meeting house services held each day, and in presentations on the Mennonites and Plain People given by Mike Rhode, a practicing Mennonite. The “churched” Reformed and Lutherans congregations formed the majority of the settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries, and their customs are discussed by Dr. Harry Serio, an ordained United Church of Christ minister.
On the lighter side, the Pennsylvania Dutch are known for their humor. Two of the best presenters on the seminar stage are Bill Meck and Leroy Brown, both fluent in the dialect, who tell their comical stories in Pennsylvania Dutch and then with an English translation.
Meals made from generations-old Pennsylvania Dutch recipes are prepared at the summer kitchen, cooked on an authentic, turn-of-the-century wood fired stove and other old-fashioned appliances. This is the place to get truly authoritative answers on food and cooking from local culinary experts. Often during the day, visitors are offered samples of foods, fresh from the oven.
A stop at the traditional family farm 4-square garden, where plants were grown for both medicinal use and cooking, gives additional insight into the mainly agricultural life of the Pennsylvania Germans. Then there is the huge display of antique tractors, plows, and threshing equipment used a century ago and still in operating condition, including the “miracle” Frick Eclipse steam engine tractor, introduced in 1876.
Reenactments of the simple and beautiful Mennonite wedding, the tragic 19th century hanging of Suzanna Cox, and lessons in a one-room school house are
presented daily at the festival. And visitors can try their luck at dowsing, the unscientific but still proven method of finding lost items – a common practice in the Pennsylvania Dutch region in the late 19th century – as performed successf