Festivals, Groups Keep Boerne's German Influences Alive

By Joe Morris on April 28, 2011 at 6:01 pm EST
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The locale may be Texas‚ but the feeling is all German‚ at least every Father’s Day weekend when the annual Boerne Berges Fest pays homage to the city’s German heritage.

“Berges” means “Festival of the Hills‚” according to the Fest’s past president‚ Blake McCarter‚ commenting on the 36-year-old festival’s beginnings. “We try to highlight traditional German activities and food‚ and we always bring out a big crowd.”

Small wonder that all things German remain popular in Boerne: To a degree‚ the city owes its existence to immigrants from that country. In 1849 colonists set up camp near what is now Boerne‚ creating the city of Tusculum. In 1852 Gustav Theissen and John James laid out new borders and renamed the community Boerne in honor of Ludwig Börne‚ a German poet and publicist.

Over the years as the city has grown in size and population‚ Germany’s traditions found a variety of outlets. The Boerne Gesangverein‚ a singing society‚ was organized in 1860 and lasted until 1977. The Boerne Village Band‚ which dates back to the time of the singing society‚ and the Boerne Schuetzen Verein‚ or shooting club‚ are still going strong.

While the German influence has been diluted somewhat as other ethnic groups have settled on Boerne‚ it still is quite evident‚ says Bettie Edmonds‚ vice president of the Boerne Area Historical Society.

“You don’t hear German spoken as much as you used to‚ but I’ve been here 30 years‚” Edmond says. “At one time it was even taught in the schools. But the architecture is still here‚ the old pioneer style that the Germans built. Other people came through for cattle drives or to make money‚ but the Germans came to stay.”

Traditional customs around the Christmas holidays also are still very much a part of Boerne’s culture‚ she adds.

“They adapted to the Texas hill country very well between the 1840s and 1880s‚ and really made this area a second home for themselves‚” Edmonds says. “I think that’s why we have things like the Boerne Village Band‚ which is the oldest German band found outside Germany. “

As far as the festival is concerned‚ it’s all about fun‚ and all about charitable giving. Despite its free admission‚ the event raises funds every year for a variety of local charities.

“We provide scholarships for needy high-school students‚ give the sheriff’s department money for projects … a lot of individual programs‚” McCarter says. “The more we make‚ the more we give out.”

And with activities as diverse as mud volleyball and dachshund races‚ it’s easy to overlook just how hard the Berges Fest’s organizers work to be as authentic as possible.

“The directors are in full German costume‚ including leather lederhosen and the long socks‚” McCarter says. “It’s three days in June‚ so it’s awful hot.”

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