New Grundsow Lodge member Matt D'Ippolito, second from right, promises, along with fellow inductees, to preserve Pennsylvania German dialect and culture as he is inducted into the group.
Pennsylfawnish-Dietsche (Pennsylvania-German) culture is alive and well in the Upper Perkiomen Valley.
I’ve often thought that our community’s Pennsylvania-German heritage has become underappreciated, something we take for granted sometimes. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, despite my own Pennsylvania-German background, but have always wanted to learn more about it.
With this in mind, I attended Die Zwei un Sechtzich Fersommling of Grundsow Lodsh Nummer Sivva (The 62nd Gathering of Groundhog Lodge Number Seven) last Thursday at the East Greenville firehouse, and was inducted into a group that has taken on the responsibility of preserving the region’s Pennsylvania-German culture and dialect.
A fersommling is a Pennsylvania-German gathering that includes dinner, speeches in the dialect and g’spiel, or skits or acts for entertainment. About 100 guests attended Thursday’s event.
It was a bit verhuddlelt (confusing) for a first-timer, especially since much of the evening is conducted in the Mutterschproch (mother tongue), but it was also entertaining, educational and fun.
The entertainment for the evening featured folk music in the dialect by Berks County musicians Keith Britzenhoff and Mike Hertzog, and schpas mit (fun with) a stand-up comedy bit from Bill Meck and Leroy Brown.
The two comics translated each other’s jokes to English line-by-line for the benefit of those in the audience who weren’t fluent Mutterschproch speakers. They had the entire audience chuckling at each punch-line and weren’t afraid to get a little risky with their humor.
Dinner included corn, green beans, potato filling, ham and some of the best worsht (sausage) I’ve ever had. And I got to wash it all down with a kalt bier (cold beer) and good conversation.
In fact, meeting new people from the community who share my heritage was one of the highlights of dinner. And it also helped to have some Grundsow veterans familiar with the dialect to help translate throughout the evening.
The toughest part of the evening, though, came when the new attendees were called up to the front to be sworn in. We all had rot koppduchs (red kerchiefs) tied around our necks and were instructed to repeat after Rawdsman (board member) Clair Fox in Pennsylvania Dutch. I have no idea what promises I made (if any, since I surely butchered the dialect in my attempts to repeat it), but I had a feeling they were all along the lines of upholding Pennsylvania-German traditions with a few silly ones thrown in, based on the laughs from the audience. I hope one of my tablemates was joking when he laughed and said I had just promised to pay the lodge $50 a month for the rest of my life.
At one point the whole banquet hall filled with music as we all sang along to some familiar folk tunes in the dialect. Following along in our programs, we sang along to songs like “Goodbye Susannah, Goodbye” and “Hi Le Hi Lo.” The night also included a raffle and drawing for a chance to win a gift certificate.
The evening can probably best be summed up as good food, good entertainment, and good fellowship amid Pennsylvania Dutch culture. My experience at the fersommling has encouraged me to expand my vocabulary in the dialect beyond the few words and phrases I’ve picked up from my family and to learn more about the Pennsylfawnish-Dietsche heritage.
As they say in the dialect, “Liewer Gott im Himmel Drin, Loss uns Deitsche Was Mir Sin” (Dear God in Heaven, leave us Germans what we are).