IN THE BEGINNING…..
In the spring of 1957 at a meeting of the German-Austrian War Veterans Societies at Fritz Meister’s Club, (48th & State St.), Mr. John Schmeissing† made the motion that Milwaukee should have it’s own German Drum & Bugle Corps. Mr. Schmeissing was the Tambormajor (drum major) from the Chicago German-Austrian War Veterans. His Motion was accepted.
In September 1957, the Spielmannszug, still a part of the German-Austrians, held it’s first meeting under the leadership of Mr. Schmeissing at George Schaefer’s Pioneer Inn, (2570 N. 3rd St.). Members present at this first meeting were: John Schmeissing, Richard Oehme†, Willy Ritter Sr., Kurt Scherer, Vinzenz Blendl†, and Herman Lauterbach†.
Through private donations and financial help of it’s mother organization, the German-Austrian War Veterans, the Spielmannszug imported authentic Fanfaren, Fifes and Drums from Germany. The eager new players bought their own makeshift uniforms and after many tiring hours of practicing, the Spielmannszug Milwaukee appeared in public for the first time at our first Stiftungsfest (Anniversary Party) in September 1958 at the Jefferson Halle (2627 W. Fond du Lac Ave.).
A VOTE FOR INDEPENDENCE….
On February 6, 1960 at the Steuben Lounge (2924 W. North Ave.), the Representatives of the Spielmannszug voted for an independent club and broke its official ties with its Mother Club.
These first few public appearances brought new members, active and passive, to the young Spielmannszug. It was not only hard work that kept the Spielmannszug together, lasting friendships were formed and good times were had by all! The Bummelschatzmeister (Petty Cash Officer) was a very popular person, then as he is now, keeping the members happy with full glasses of refreshments! New Uniforms for the players was one of the first major obstacles of the Independent Club! Card parties were scheduled, raffles were solicited and these dedicated members themselves chipped in for their new uniforms!
The uniforms were first worn in public on June 19, 1960 at the German-American Day in Chicago. Milwaukee got its first view of the 22 newly outfitted players at the Schwaben Picnic at Old Heidelberg Park.
THE JUGENDGRUPPE IS FORMED……
Picnics and parties brought not only the men closer but also their families. In 1962, a decision was made that would insure the future of the Spielmannszug for many years to come. It was decided to expand the active participants by forming a Jugendgruppe (Youth Group). Fritz Fischer† and Guenther Hieke† were the patient instructors. We are proud that many of these youngsters eventually joined the adult group. At present we have about 24 young people from age 6 to 18 in our Youth and Tanzsterne Groups, keeping those old traditions alive.
KARNEVAL COMES ALIVE IN MILWAUKEE……..
In 1961 the Spielmannszug sponsored its first Mardi Gras Dance at the Jefferson Halle. Hardworking members transformed the hall into St. Pauli and the event “Blaue Nacht im Hafen” was a smash as was the Maskenball the following year. These early years really showed how dedicated our members were. [A little known ‘secret’…the first Mardi Gras Hats (“Kappen”) were sewn by our ladies from leftover leather Lina Blendl† salvaged from American Motors!] Sewing these hats was no easy task and the Kappen were beautiful as well as unique! Frank Gruenwald† hand made the first Orden, which were beautifully decorated.
By 1963 it was obvious to our far-sighted members that a Mardi Gras/Karneval Festival needs some Royalty. A Sparkling Princess by the name of Vivian Jung was chosen for this honor. Mr. Joe Dorp was her unofficial Prinz. The following year, things were started on the right track when both a Prinz and Prinzessin were officially crowned. To this day, each November a royal couple along with their court is installed.
In 2002, under the direction of Udo† and Helga† Spilker, a dream became reality when the Tanzsterne were born. This dedicated group of young girls keep the tradition of Mardi Gras Tanzmarienchen alive with their lively dances.
The Mardi Gras Season needs to end sometime, so the Spielmannszug decided through the brainchild of Vinzenz Blendl to hold an annual “Lumpenball”(Hobo Ball). Since the mid 60’s, this has been the night where being the ‘worst’ dressed is the best! Our Lumpenball continues to fill up the Schwabenhof as people come to help us “Sweep out the spirit of Karneval”!
ANOTHER CORNERSTONE IS LAID……..
The first Spielmannszug charter flight to Germany was organized in 1962. According to Government regulations and for it’s own protection, the Club filed Incorporation papers with the State. The incorporation papers were signed by: John Schmeissing, Ewald Bollmann, Heinz Phillip, Franz Gruenwald, and John Dorp.
SOMETHING DIFFERENT IN BREWTOWN…….
In the fall of 1964, our annual “Stiftungsfest” was replaced with the first “Weinfest” (winefest) in Milwaukee at the Jefferson Halle. The event was repeated every fall until 1973. At that time it was decided that the Spielmannszug would support the “Sterne Der Heimat” event which eventually evolved into the annual “Miss German American Queen Contest”.
INTERNATIONAL IS THE WAY TO GO………
In 1968, under the leadership of Helmut Schuetzler†, the Spielmannszug plunged into another undertaking of “International” proportions. As part of the Kulturvereinigung, we represented the Germans in the Folk Spectacle, Beer Garden, Sidewalk Café, and Children’s program at the International Institute’s annual Holiday Folk Fair. The German Food Booth was always crowded as people eagerly awaited Sauerbraten Dinners, Knackwurst and fine German baked goods! The Players performed in front of thousands of people in the Arena at first alone and then for years with the Alte Kameraden Band. Performances in the Beer Garden were always followed by refreshments and Gemütlichkeit! Our Youth Group wowed audiences in the Children’s Program! We continued this tradition for the next 34 years.
A NEW INSTRUMENT IS INTRODUCED…
In 1971, Tambormajor Guenter Ille† introduced a new instrument to the Spielmannszug. German hunting horns were shipped from Germany. With Guenter as their teacher, our players soon mastered these unique instruments. Our players further showed their dedication by purchasing their own horns. The hunting horns were first incorporated into a performance at the German American Day in August 1971 at Carl Schurz Park.
A MORE TRADITIONAL LOOK…..
Recognizing the need for a more traditional ethnic looking costume, the “Miesbacher Trachtenuniform” was introduced in 1975. The new uniform was worn for the first time when we performed together with the Alte Kameraden Band at the Holiday Folk Fair. Although modified a bit over the years, this is still our traditional uniform worn today (except during Karneval).
A NEW BREW IN BREWTOWN…….
As the story goes…..In 1980, a discussion in Peter Ulrich’s Rec room between, Guenter Ille, Arnold Wissmann†, Frank Fink† and Peter lead to an idea which resulted in the Spielmannszug’s “first” annual Bockbierfest! Unbeknownst to these 4 gentlemen, the Spielmannszug had actually he1d several “Bockbierfests” in the mid-60’s that were also card parties!!
This Bockbierfest would be different! It would be held in the perfect beer hall…..Hart Park in Wauwatosa and would be open to the public as a fund raiser. Unfortunately for 2 years we held this wonderful event with little funds being raised! At the verge of being cancelled it was revived by a group of dedicated young adults lead by Guenter’s daughter Cornelia, and now it is the Spielmannszug’s single largest fundraiser.
Held the last Saturday in April at Hart Park, this Festival brings together the traditional German Americans with the people seeking to explore their German-American heritage. Many different Bockbiers as well as other beers and refreshments are available. People can also enjoy lot’s of Bockwurst and other fine German foods!! The highlight of the evening is the crowning of the Bockbier King and Queen.
The Spielmannszug not only patronizes strictly German events, but has also participated in many other community functions.
Over the years we have participated in such events as the City of Festivals Parade, Germantown Lions Club Parade, Oktoberfests, the Donauschwaben Father’s Day Picnic, and Cudahy, Whitefish Bay, Butler, Wauwatosa, Shorewood and Glendale 4th of July Parades.
But parades are just a small part of the other important events we have been a part of. Our Fanfaren players and drummers performed for the opening of the Performing Arts Center in 1973. The Spielmannszug also performed for the opening of the European Village at the Milwaukee Public Museum. In 1984, we had the honor of performing at the Bavarian Inn when President Ronald Reagan visited. For years the Spielmannszug also participated in the annual Milwaukee County Harvest Festival that was held at Enderis Park.
The Spielmannszug participates annually at Deutscher Tag (German Day), which is held the 2nd Sunday in August at Carl Schurz Park in Stone Bank. This is the annual fundraiser for the Kulturvereinigung’s Saturday German School. The Spielmannszug has been a long time member of the Kulturvereinigung and encourages all of its youth to attend the school by offering scholarships to our active youth!
Over the years we have also played at many different area nursing homes and other charitable events.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN…….
Over the years road trips have always been a favorite with the Members. We have performed in Chicago, Minneapolis, Las Vegas, Toledo, Cincinnati, Appleton, Kenosha and many other cities around Wisconsin. Each of these trips are adventures and good times are always had by all. Even the Sheepshead games on those long bus trips have become a tradition!!