JEFFERSON — For the last 50 years, Jefferson has been defined as “Gemuetlichkeit City.”
The appelation, celebrated on banners and city signs, celebrates the city’s strong German heritage and the community’s committment to the German concept of Gemuetlichkeit, which translates roughly to “good friends, good times, good food and drink, and good cheer.”
And for the past five decades, the highlight of the city’s social calendar has been Gemuetlichkeit Days, a three-day German heritage festival featuring German music, food dance, games and other entertainment, with multiple live performers on two stages throughout the event.
That is, every year but last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the cancellation of what was to be the festival’s 50th anniversary event.
Now, the event is back and enthusiasm is high in the community for the delayed “50th” celebration in 2021.
The event will be centered at Jefferson County Fair Park, running today, Saturday and Sunday.
Mike Landers, president of Gemuetlichkeit Days, said that organizers are excited to bring the big event back this year.
The longest-serving royal couple in the history of Gemuetlichkeit Days, Jeff and Debbie Hans had to put off their big announcement for a year due to the cancellation of the May Ball and Gemuetlichkeit Days in 2020.
Their secret identities were announced in May and they have spent the summer traveling to different parades and events to promote the Jefferson community and its annual German heritage festival.
Though the couple was hoping to share their big event with Jeff’s mom, a Gemuetlichkeit stalwart for decades, she passed away last year.
The couple was able to share with her the fact that they had been chosen as the next king and queen before she passed, the G-Days representatives said.
“We know Deb and Jeff will be great representatives for Gemuetlichkeit and the Jefferson community as a whole,” Landers said. “They’re so easy-going. They are a great couple and well known in the community.”
Landers noted that all of the bands the organization had originally scheduled for last year agreed to carry over to the 2021 fest.
The extra planning time also gave organizers the ability to hone some of the attractions at the event, including the resurrection of the Gemuetlichkeit “rolling pin toss, “which had been a highlight of the community’s German heritage fests some 30 years ago.
The rolling pin toss will take place at 3 p.m. Sunday after the parade.
“You have to toss the rolling pin at a moving target, a 2-D figure of a German man,” Landers said. “Different parts of the body have a different number of points,” he said.
With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing and the delta variant on the rise, organizers will be taking some steps to keep festivalgoers safe.
Fortunately, the activity center is a big space, planners said, and doors will be kept open to maximize ventilation. Social distancing will be encouraged.
In addition, there will be sanitation stations at various intervals throughout the activity center, and coordinators have set an extra-rigorous cleaning schedule.
“What we’ve heard from local folks is that they’re conscious of COVID but they’re also eager to get and have a good time, restoring our community traditions,” Landers said.
As usual, the festival will feature a number of live music acts performing on different stages throughout the event.
Longtime Gemuetlichkeit Days favorite Mike Schneider will kick off the event today in the main Black Forest Garten starting at 5 p.m., continuing through the opening ceremony at 6 p.m. and the ceremonial tapping of the first keg at 6:30 p.m.
At 6:30 p.m. Frida, Die Freistadt Alte Kameraden Band will take the stage in the Black Forest Garten.
“They’re an audience favorite,” said Judy Wollin, a longtime volunteer with the Gemuetlichkeit organization.
Alte Kameraden specializes in authentic traditional German music, interactive activities and lots of showmanship.
At 8 o’clock tonight, the presentation of all of the kings and queens from throughout the years will occur, starting in the side Linden Garten and then moving on to the Black Forest Garten.
In the Linden Garten Friday evening, Schneider will provide a more mellow atmosphere. Saturday, the Lloyd Gleisner band will perform in the morning, followed by Carol and the Keynotes from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Keith Gennerman, who has been a staple at Gemuetlichkeit Days will perform in the Black Forest Garden Saturday from 7 to 11 p.m.
Meanwhile, the Screaming Cucumbers, a Milwaukee area cover band, will perform in the Linden Garten Saturday from 7:30 to 11:30 p.m.
They play a good mix of music, from country and pop covers to classic rock from the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, Landers said.
“We try to have an option for people 40 and under who are not into polka music,” Wollin said. “We also try to get somebody different each year to keep it fresh, not always the same bands.”
On Sunday after the parade, musical entertainment will be provided by the Tom Brusky Band. The group will play from 3 to 6 p.m. in the Black Forest Garten, leading up to the final raffle drawing at 6.
Activities and contests
G-Days always features a number of unique contests, and this year is no different.
During a band break Friday night, the traditional Gemuetlichkeit sauerkraut-eating contest has been brought back by popular request. This will take place in the Black Forest Garten.
The children’s ethnic costume contest for youth age 12 and under starts at 9:15 a.m. Saturday in the Linden Garten.
Later on Saturday, there will be two more children’s events, the Little Tykes/Big Wheel race at 10:45 a.m. and the children’s stein carrying contest at noon, both taking place outside the activity center.
As usual, G-Days will include two card tournaments with numerous prizes. The euchre tournament will take place Saturday morning and the Schafskopf (sheepshead) competition will take place Saturday afternoon.
Saturday evening during another band break, the “Massrugstemmen” adult stein-holding contest will take place, and the final contest will be the rolling pin throw at 3 p.m. Sunday.
Sunday’s parade had drawn 43 entries by mid-August, a couple of weeks before registration closed.
Of the 43 entries to initially sign up, 10 of them were bands, which will be providing live music on the parade route, organizers said.
These included the University of Wisconsin-Madison Spirit Band, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater marching band, the Fort Atkinson High School marching band, the Milton Middle School and Jefferson Middle School bands and the Yankee Dutchmen polka band.
Again this year, the traditional Gemuetlichkeit Days button will serve as the ticket for entrance. Buttons cost $8 in advance and $10 at the door and each button includes one entry in the Gemuetlichkeit Days raffle, the drawing for which will take place Sunday evening.
Members of the Gemuetlichkeit organization will be wearing bigger buttons during the fest, and festivalgoers can feel free to approach any of these folks with any questions they might have.
Also returning this year is the annual 5K run walk and associated “Zero K” fundraiser with liquid refreshment on Saturday morning. These events will benefit the Randy Schopen Foundation.
Schopen, a huge community supporter through his local establishments and catering business, always took part in Gemuetlichkeit festivals in the past, and after his death, the foundation was established to benefit local community organizations and causes.
Also returning Saturday morning is the Vintage Car Show.
At 1 p.m. Saturday, the Wisconsin Polka Boosters will give free dance lessons in the Linden Garten.
With this being a big anniversary year, G-Days organizers would be remiss not to include some memorabilia at the 2021 fest.
Fulfilling that role, the Jefferson Historical Society will have a display of Gemuetlichkeit photos and ephemera from over the years at the event.
The Gemuetlichkeit organization is also expanding the variety of souvenirs available at the event.
Both the Daily Union and the Gemuetlichkeit Days organization itself have put together commemorative programs/booklets for the fest, which will be available around the community.
“The last time Gemuetlichkeit Days did a booklet was 1997-98, so it’s been a while,” Wollin said.