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Amana Oktoberfest to feature revival of Amana Colony Folksingers

Ladies show off their dirndl dresses at the Amana Colony Oktoberfest. (Photo courtesy of Lothar Beyer)
Ladies show off their dirndl dresses at the Amana Colony Oktoberfest. (Photo courtesy of Lothar Beyer)
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AMANA — Members of the singing and dancing troupe that helped make Amana’s Oktoberfest what it is, are joining a new generation of colony musicians to form the new Amana Colony Folksingers.

The group has an entertaining mix of solos, small group vocal numbers, folk dancing and lots of audience participation. New this year is the addition of a men’s dance troupe, The Schuhplatters — a show that’s sure to get the crowd in the “Oktoberfest” frame of mind.

The first Amana Colony Folksingers show took place during in 1965 with the help of native German and Austrian war brides and refugees who had come to live in the colonies after World War II. The cast numbered 40 people and packed the Amana School gym for three performances.

“The group decided to would be fun to put on a show with music and folk songs, but I don’t think they knew what they were getting into when they started because it became this huge hit,” said David Rettig, executive director of the Amana Colonies Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It became this huge tradition that everyone looked forward to and it lasted for about 20 years.”

By 1970 the Amana Colony Folksingers show was named a top-20 “must see” event, as promoted by the American Travel Association. In 1979 the last big stage show was held in the Amana gym.

Rettig said the responsibility of the show — and all the organization and coordination it took — likely got too big for the performers.

The following year Oktoberfest was discontinued as the community hosted the World Ag Expo and then the Farm Progress Show for several years. No Oktoberfest took place in Amana from 1980 to 1986.

But in 1987, with the Iowa State Fair featuring “Amana on the Hill,” a new group of area musicians stepped up to provide entertainment.

This group created a shorter version of the stage play and performed at various venues and Oktoberfest, and continued to do so into the 1990s.

In 1995, in addition to the adult group, a new Amana Colony Folksinger children’s group joined the show. The Colony Folksinger Children spanned the ages of 3 to 12, and through the years of 1995 to 2002 the group grew as large as 18 performers. Each child learned the German language through the love of singing and dancing.

Now it’s 2018 and a new generation of performers, many the children of the original folk singers, had a desire to celebrate German folk music and dance. These performers, along with a few remaining veterans who know the music well and Harry Zuber, the group’s director, banded together to re-create the Amana Colony Folksingers.

“We all got together and thought, Why not? Oktoberfest needs an Amana folk singing/dance troupe and it’s time to celebrate our German heritage in song I think everyone is going to find it an entertaining show,” Zuber said. “Somewhere in that big stage in the sky, all past performers who passed on, are smiling and singing along.”

You can catch their act at the Amana Oktoberfest on Friday in the Festhalle in Main Amana, at which the Amana Colony Folksingers will revive a proud tradition of “Amana stage show” performance at Oktoberfest.

The group’s director, Harry Zuber said the singers will perform at 7 p.m. at the Amana Festhalle before local Amana Colonies’ band, Die Tiefen Keller Kinder takes the stage at 8 p.m.

For many of Amana’s older generation, Rettig said the performance will bring with it a welcome trip down memory lane.

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“For the older Amana people who will be in the crowd, I think it will bring back memories of those people — those original performers. We knew all those people who started in 1965, and I think they had no idea what they were creating,” he said. “I think it’s tremendously significant. It gives people a glimpse of our German heritage, and they get to see that in music and dance and they get to see that performed by local people. And it’s just fantastic that some of the people who are performing this year are the children and grandchildren of the original people who started it. What a fantastic tribute to their legacy.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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