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Celebrating the German Heritage of St. Charles

Midwest Maifest
Midwest Maifest (Source: St. Charles-Ludwigsburg Germany Sister Cities)

German immigrants have had influence on Missouri heritage since they first stepped foot onto Missouri soil. 

Beginning in the 1830s, tens of thousands of German immigrants settled in large groups along the Missouri River Valley where German communities still exist. They were inspired to come to Missouri due to a glowing report of the area by German traveler Gottfried Duden, who lived in what is now Warren County from 1824-1827. He described the Missouri River Valley as “idyllic with cheap land and rich resources.” He also noted its resemblance to Germany’s Rhineland. 

By 1860 Germans comprised more than half of Missouri’s foreign-born residents. Between Indian Grove in northwest Missouri (Chariton County) to St. Louis, a distance of about 175 miles along Interstate 70, 16 counties have German roots. In 2016, then Gov. Jay Nixon officially designated that region as the “German Heritage Corridor” when he signed House Bill 1851 into law.

Present day Missouri life remains rich with German culture. From agriculture to wine and beer making to language, religion, customs, celebrations and even architecture – all have left a lasting mark on Missouri and especially on St. Charles County.

Celebrating Midwest Maifest

One prime example of how German culture continues to influence regional residents is the annual Midwest Maifest, scheduled this year for Sunday, May 16. 

The one-day festival, hosted by the St. Charles-Ludwigsburg Germany Sister Cities, will be held from 2-6 p.m. at the New Town Amphitheater in St. Charles. Festivities will include samples from local craft breweries, wineries and spirit distilleries, food and local craft vendors, and German entertainment.

After having to postpone Maifest last year from May to August due to COVID-19, the St. Charles-Ludwigsburg Germany Sister Cities is excited to make Maifest 2021 better than ever. With the addition of more breweries and the much requested pretzels, this year’s Maifest is sure to be a “gute Zeit,” German for “good time.”

An outdoor festival, Maifest is open to all ages without capacity limits. Masks are encouraged when social distancing cannot be achieved but not required. Organizers will have masks and sanitizers available for those who wish to use them. 

Admission is free for all, but attendees age 21 and older who want to sample adult beverages must purchase a wrist band at a pre-festival cost of $25 or $35 if purchased at the festival. Guests with wristbands will receive a souvenir sample cup and product samples throughout the festival. 

According to its organizers, there will be at least 10 beer brewery vendors, six spirit distillers and six wineries represented at Maifest and each of them will have many different samples to share. In addition, food trucks at the festival will offer a wide range of food and drink options for purchase. To purchase a tasting wristband or for updates about Maifest, visit midwestmaifest.org.

Wolfgang Volz
Wolfgang Volz

Musical guests include accordion player Wolfgang Volz, Ubercool – a German party band, and D’Fröhliche Schuhplattler – a group of local dancers who perform the Schuhplattler, a traditional style of folk dance popular in southern Germany, Austria and the German-speaking regions of northern Italy. In this dance, the performers stomp, clap and strike the soles of their shoes (schuhe), thighs and knees with their hands held flat (platt).

“The German Cook,” a Jackson, Missouri, resident who has been a Maifest fan favorite for several years will be cooking up delicious, authentic farm-to-table German food, including German bratwurst and pork burgers, sauerkraut, salads and stews. Beautifully made German Springerle cookies also will be available for purchase. 

Proceeds from the Midwest Maifest benefit the German Chapter of the St. Charles Sister Cities Programs, a nonprofit that supports educational and cultural high school home-stay exchanges as well as adult exchanges.

Fostering friendships here and abroad

Sister Cities International was founded in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s People-To-People Citizen Diplomacy initiative. His goal was to try to “heal the world” after the end of World War II. Eisenhower wanted a way to bring Americans back together and Sister Cities was a big part of that initiative. 

Midwest Maifest 2019 dancers
Midwest Maifest 2019

The mission of Sister Cities International is to “foster mutual understanding, to champion peace, make lasting friendships and promote goodwill through cultural, social, business and educational exchanges between St. Charles and her sisters.”

While there are some Sister Cities around the country and the world that are over 60 years old, the St. Charles-Ludwigsburg Germany Sister Cities Exchange Program is celebrating its 25th anniversary – and still growing. 

Joe Daues is credited with starting the German Chapter of the St. Charles Sister Cities Programs in the early 1990s. At that time, Daues was a member of the St. Charles German Heritage Club. Along with several other club members, Daues wanted to connect to a sister city in Germany. Twenty-four letters were sent to different towns in Germany that were similar in size to St. Charles, but only four towns responded. 

Ludwigsburg was chosen by the St. Charles Heritage group for a visit. Located in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, and with a population of 91,000, Ludwigsburg is one of the most prosperous economic centers in the state. Travel between the cities ensued until the groups decided that Ludwigsburg would be the perfect place for a St. Charles partnership. Although some exchanges were completed with the cities in 1993, the partnership wasn’t made official until 1996.

“The whole goal of diplomacy is even more important now than it was 60 years ago,” explained Mary Johnson, president of the St. Charles Sister Cities Program. “We should always be striving to make global relations better. 

“It doesn’t matter to us who sits in the White House or who the chancellor of Germany is because it’s about personal connections. We are about education, culture and friendship. My husband and I have personally hosted seven adults and two students and our world has expanded exponentially. I just wish everyone could partake in this program. Life-changing is not an overstatement.”

Currently, the high schools of St. Charles, St. Charles West, Orchard Farm and Lutheran in St. Peters participate in the program. Three high schools in Germany (or “gymnasiums” as they are called there) also participate. 

“It would be ideal if the program could add another school district in the area so that more German students would have the opportunity to come here,” Johnson said. “They are able to send many more kids here than we are to them and opening the opportunity to another district in the area would help make that happen.” 

Johnson said one of her favorite things about the program is how it brings people together – not just globally but locally as well. Host families get to know one another while their exchange students are in town. Under the Sisters Cities program, the student exchanges last for just two weeks but the bond created through those two weeks lasts a lifetime. 

“I have lifelong friends in St. Charles that I wouldn’t have met if it wasn’t for the exchange program,” Johnson said. 

Some original members of the St. Charles Sister Cities Program are still active participants in the group. However, Marcia Daues, wife of founding member, Joe Daues, passed away this year leaving a huge vacancy within the group, Johnson said. She was heavily involved and loved being an active member for so many years. 

Membership in the group is open to anyone who has an interest. Individual membership is $15, family membership is $30 and corporate membership is $100. Perks of membership include a monthly newsletter, beer seminars, discounts for festivals and more. 

Meetings, featuring informative and fun guest speakers, are held at 6 p.m. on the fourth Monday of the month at Culpepper’s in St. Charles. Membership is not required to attend meetings; all are welcome.

The future of St. Charles-Ludwigsburg Germany Sister Cities is looking bright, as the group is expanding into the craft brew beer and winery industry. In 2022, it is planning brewery and winery exchanges from Germany and eventually France. Germans would be hosted by, and work with, people in the craft brew beer industry and winery industry in Missouri. Should they choose to, St. Charles residents could go to Germany to continue the experience. 

For more information about the German Chapter of the St. Charles Sister Cities Program, visit the group’s Facebook page or send an email to stcharlessistercities@gmail.com. 

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