Peter Herdeg has been promoting German culture in Forest Park since he moved here in 1968. The native of Zurich, Switzerland got involved in the village’s Oktoberfest that same year. Forest Park was a pioneer in celebrating this German tradition. It was originally held on Madison Street but later moved to Roosevelt Road. Oktoberfest ended in 1988, but Peter hasn’t given up on supporting all things German. He is the driving force behind German Fest 2015.
The two-day event will be held June 12-13 at The Grove, adjacent to the Altenheim. Peter is partnering with a prominent German organization with the initials DANK West. They sponsor large-scale festivals in Chicago and have hired one of the best bands in the city, Phenix, who will play both days. The beer tent will feature BBK beer, a premier brand in Germany.
All the ingredients of a German good time will be on hand: brats, thuringer, German potato salad, potato pancakes, strudel and less-Germanic specialties like funnel cake and cotton candy. There will be schnapps- and beer-tastings every night and costumed dancers. Men are encouraged to wear lederhosen and women can wear dirndls, made famous by the St. Paulie Girls.
This enterprise has Forest Park connections galore. The band leader of Phenix is Johnny Wagner, former director of the Harlem Maenner und Damenchor. Peter joined this German singing group in 1976 and has served as its president the last 16 years. “I used to be a tenor but I switched to bass,” he said. “Now I’m a tenor again.”
Besides lending his tenor to the choir, Peter is always recruiting new singers. They are lucky to have two college-aged voices, the daughter of a member and her cousin. The group is doing workshops at high schools to recruit more young members. At German Fest, the oldest organization in Forest Park will celebrate its 150th birthday.
It also happens that the head of DANK is Fred Leinwebber, who comes from one of Forest Park’s oldest families. Fred attended school in town with Peter’s daughter, Andrea, and new Village Commissioner Dan Novak. As Peter put it, “We’re all one big family.”
Speaking of which, he is hoping local businesses and nonprofits will participate in the fest. He’s recruiting the VFW, Kiwanis and American Legion to help out and promote their organizations. There will be a vendors row with 10 x 10-foot tents. He also envisions some of our local taverns “extending the celebration” beyond the 11 p.m. closing time.
Though these type of festivals are traditionally held in the fall, Peter picked a time when they won’t be competing with other German-style events. He also wanted to fill the void caused by the cancellation of Summerfest and the 4th of July fireworks. He does not foresee rowdiness becoming a problem thanks to a perimeter fence and a nominal admission cost, $2 for adults, $1 for 12 and under.
Peter, the instigator, will advertise the event in German newspapers. He also set up a website, germanfestforestpark.com. He might even spread the word to the German language students he teaches.
When asked if he had concerns about hosting such a weather-sensitive event, Peter replied, “In Europe, the weather god is named Peter, so I have connections.”
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.