It only took a whiff of bratwurst and a few chords from George Bergers accordion to set the mood Sunday as parishioners and guests of St. Peter Catholic Church kicked off Germanfest 2012, the citys annual celebration of German heritage and culture.
After a German-language Mass inside the church, Berger, dressed in lederhosen, roamed the dining room inside the St. Peter pavilion, playing tableside as revelers dined on sauerkraut, bratwurst, cherry and apple küchen and German potato salad.
I play whatever the people want me to play, Berger said, readjusting the straps of his mirrored, red Tyrolean and releasing a loud oom-pah-pah for the crowd. People always have requests.
Near the front of the room, Berger and parishioner Kathy Helmsing engaged in an impromptu duet of her request, Muss Idenn, a German folk song sung by a soldier to his sweetheart. Between verses in both German and English, Berger reminded Helmsing that the song was a favorite of Elvis Presley, who sang a version of it in the movie G.I. Blues.
It was my dads favorite, too, Helmsing said, clapping.
To help the non-German speakers near her, she began translating the lyrics into English.
Hes saying, When I come home, well be married. Its a great old song.
Helmsing and Katie Devine spent the early afternoon sitting at a table by the door, selling meals to a line of people that snaked out the door and around the steps of the pavilion. Both women were especially eager for people to try some of the 85 pounds of German potato salad on the menu.
It took 10 of us to peel and slice the potatoes, Helmsing said. But we got it done in 2 1/2 hours.
Were pretty good at cutting up, Devine added. Then the men put on gloves and mixed the potatoes with the bacon and onion and dressing. They wanted to use their feet but we wouldnt let them.
The celebration began Sunday morning, with a German-language Mass inside St. Peter, where swags of red and gold fabric were draped between the churchs columns.
During Mass, Scripture was read in both German and English and attendees were given booklets featuring prayers in German.
In the choir loft, Fort Wayne Männerchor/Damenchor performed German hymns.
But the Mass was only one of the many events scheduled for Germanfest. Sprinkled throughout the week, festival-goers will be treated to German language lessons, concerts, a citywide chicken dance, the National Wiener Dog finals and a Legs n Lederhosen contest.
Its such a great event, the Rev. Charles Herman said. My ancestry is 100 percent German, so saying Mass in German is something I really enjoy.
After Mass, Herman, pastor at Holy Family Catholic Church in South Bend, visited with parishioners for nearly an hour. Herman, who studied to be a priest in Germany more than 40 years ago, celebrates the German-language Mass once a year.
I tend to get a little rusty, he said I only do this during Germanfest at St. Peters. But its something I look forward to.
As the last parishioner left the church Sunday afternoon, Herman himself headed over to the pavilion, ready to eat, he said.
Beers and brats, he said. Its a great way to end the morning.