|© J. Adrian Wylie|
by Charmie Gholson
Weaving among the older folks, families, hippies, and leather-clad Harley bikers are gaggles of barely-twenty-one-looking kids carrying buckets of beer. They don't look German. They look like partyers.
I approach a white-haired gentleman in traditional German dress: brown velvet knickers, white stockings and shirt, and leather suspenders. Strung between the suspenders, at chest level, is a leather-embossed breastplate. Arnold Surdyk has a sharp nose and ocean blue eyes, and was president of the German Park Recreational Club for eight years. His whole family is German. "My little granddaughter's name is Heidi," he says with raised eyebrows. "And we all speak German."
A carpenter by trade, Surdyk played semipro soccer in Hamburg before coming to America in the early 1950s. At that time, the area that is now the club's parking lot was used as a soccer field. He helped build or remodel many of the rustic, heavy wooden buildings.
Surdyk says the club bought these ten wooded acres off Pontiac Trail in 1938. At first only members could attend the picnics. "We had a hard time during the war," he says. "Nobody liked Germans." Today there are 140 members, and on the last Friday of June, July, and August, the picnics are open to the public (admission is $5, food and drink extra). If you're an active member and work the picnics, the club pays for half of a trip to Germany for you.
The women and men working in the kitchen are laughing and joking, even though it feels like about 500 degrees. I buy a sausage and sauerkraut and sit down at another picnic table to ask the man sitting across from me how long he's been coming to these picnics. "Since 1958," he says. "Today is my birthday." The woman on my left surprises me by requesting my last food ticket, which I give to her. The band is playing "Edelweiss."
"My dad was a welder and fabricator," the man says, searching his
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