Reading Liederkranz in Pennsylvania's Americana Region By Bryan Hay

Gemütlichkeit doesn’t translate well into English, but you’ll find its meaning in abundance at the Reading Liederkranz.  Since 1885, when a group of men gathered for a birthday party, to sing German songs and reconnect to their native Germany, the Reading Liederkranz has been doling out German culture, festivals, food, and drink in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Americana Region.  On Wednesday night, Oktoberfest, its signature event, gets underway with the ceremonial tapping of the Hofbrau Amber Oktoberfest.

Reading Liederkranz in Pennsylvania's Americana RegionThe event, which attracts thousands of people, still holds first place in the USA Today’s poll of the best Oktoberfests in the nation. The club and faithful guests hope to toast that top position again when the newspaper reveals the results of its next Oktoberfest poll on Sept. 29. Volunteers are hard at work, hand-peeling and cutting about 1,000 pounds of potatoes for German potato salad. “We also hand-bread about 1,500 schnitzels prior to the event,” said Carin Stunz, long-time board member of the Reading Liederkranz.  “I can’t begin to tell you how many hundreds of gallons of goulash we make.”  But there’s so much than wursts and kraut at this cultural destination.

Reading Liederkranz in Pennsylvania's Americana Region On the first Sunday of December, the club hosts a Christkindlmarkt, offering traditional German crafts and food, and hot mulled “Glȕhwein,” a traditional and tasty German Christmas drink. “We also have a nice fire pit and strolling brass bands that play carols,” Stunz said.  Before Lent, the Reading Liederkranz hosts Fasching, the German equivalent of Mardi Gras, where people dress up and eat, and not long after that, there’s a bock beer festival to welcome spring with a live goat parade, dancers, and imported German bock beer.  A Maifest in May, a traditional German event to welcome spring, marks the official opening of the club’s beer garden.

“We offer free German lessons to members once a month, usually on Wednesday,” Stunz said. “And we still maintain our strong musical roots, with German carol singing at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Reading and participation in competitions with other singing societies.”  Not a bad deal for an initial annual membership of $35, $25 after that.  The club has about 2,700 members, but you don’t have to be of German descent to belong. “You just have to like German traditions and food,” Stunz said, adding that the Reading Liederkranz brings out the best of German culture.

“The exterior looks like a building you’d find in Germany; you’ll notice that right off the bat,” she said. “The German clubhouse is very charming. It’s an old building and very well maintained, and as soon as you step inside you get the feeling of Gemütlichkeit, a warm hospitable feeling, and well-being.”  Originally serving the growing German immigrant population of the late 19th century in the Reading area, the Reading Liederkranz and its events, particularly the Oktoberfest, provide the most authentic German experience on the East Coast, Stunz said.  “It’s just the feel of it here,” she said. “You feel like you’re in Germany.”  Prosit!

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