Raise a stein if you know that Wisconsin has the second-largest percentage of self-identified German-Americans in the U.S.
StatisticalAtlas.com, which uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau, puts only North Dakota ahead of Wisconsin, with 44.4 percent of the state’s population identifying as German, compared to Wisconsin’s 42.3 percent. However, Wisconsin’s millions far outweigh the 304,000 German-Americans you’ll find in North Dakota.
It would seem the Badger State is an ideal place for a celebration of German heritage, and this year Walworth County is hosting exactly that type of event.
DAS Fest USA – a free festival dedicated to German-American history – takes place Aug. 13-15 at the Walworth County Fairgrounds in Elkhorn.
“It’s a time for family and friends to get together and celebrate life outside, on what we hope is the heels of this trying pandemic,” says Tammy Dunn, executive director at United Way of Walworth County and the driving force behind the gathering of an impressive lineup of German entertainment and cultural experiences.“We have a lot of exciting acts that will be entertaining for our guests, including educational attributes and a few surprises that will make DAS Fest unique.”
In its inaugural season, DAS Fest offers three stages of German entertainment, including Grammy-nominated musician and producer Alex Meixner – performing all three evenings – and plenty of polka.
There also will be authentic German cuisine, highlighted by Mader’s Restaurant of Milwaukee, voted the top German restaurant in mid-America by TripAdvisor.
“We’re really excited about having Mader’s Restaurant,” says Chris Clapper, a director of the festival and executive director of the Elkhorn Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Center. “As our headlining food vendor on DAS Fest grounds, Mader’s will occupy the Methodist Dining Hall and offer a sit-down dining experience with a menu that includes their famous pork shank dinner. It’s exciting that we have been able to engage someone like Mader’s, and they are behind us 110 percent in kicking off DAS Fest.”
German-inspired activities include Dachshund races, Bingo games – patrons have to yell “Volltreffer” to claim their prize – and other German competitions like stein hoisting, plus shopping at the indoor and outdoor Marktplatz for authentic German wares.
And, of course, there will be plenty of German bier. Friday’s opening ceremony features the Freistadt Alte Kameraden Band who will help tap a keg and distribute free beer until it’s gone.
If you miss that experience, just stroll down Stein Street to enjoy German-style beverages from local wineries and breweries like East Troy Brewery, Duesterbeck’s Brewing Company of Elkhorn, and Wein-Bauer of Franklin Park. There even will be authentic bier all the way from Camba Brewery in Germany.
However, DAS Fest is more than just raising a stein – which patrons are encouraged to bring.
“This event is being brought to the community by the Elkhorn Chamber and the United Way of Walworth County, where revenue captured by this event will be poured back into nonprofit agencies and businesses for the betterment of the county,” says Kate Abbe, a festival director who oversees partner engagement and marketing at the Elkhorn Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Center.
“It’s not to build wealth for one entity, but ultimately to build a sustainable pool of resources for the entire business community and the nonprofit arm of our county,” she adds. “The UWWC supports over 40 nonprofit agencies. A lot of them struggled through 2020, and added support is necessary. This is an opportunity to band together in a unique way, under a beer tent … and we just happen to be drinking Hofbräu.”
DAS Fest directors have high expectations for their first festival.
“We’re hoping for 30,000 over the three days,” says Clapper. “And it’s obtainable.”
DAS Fest received a Joint Effort Marketing (JEM) grant through Travel Wisconsin, which has given the directors nearly $40,000 to use for marketing.
“They believe in the event,” Clapper says of Travel Wisconsin. “I think because we are easily accessible from Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee, that this will be big. That’s what we’re hoping. Our tagline is #DiscoverYourDeutsch, and we look forward to creating a space for German enthusiasts to ‘prost’ with us and to introduce German culture to an audience eager to be together this summer.”
DAS Fest USA happens Aug. 13-15 at the Walworth County Fairgrounds, 411 E. Court St., in Elkhorn, Wis. Learn more at dasfestusa.com. ❚