The Gebirgstrachten Verein Almrausch, founded in April 1925 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a 501(c)(3) organization, creates and fosters among its members a genuine love for Alpine traditions, customs, "Schuhplattler" (alpine folkdances) and comradeship. We uphold and display original Bavarian costumes,and encourage both the study of, and participation in, the common aspects of American and Alpine folklore.
In 1925, at the Österricher Hilfs-Gesellschaft Farmer's Ball, a small group of German and Austrian immigrants offered to perform the Schuhplattler. This was the beginning of the Gebirgstrachten-Verein Almrausch, one of America's oldest German dance clubs. The group, led by Frank J. Piazzi, included dancers Michael Weigert, Michael Koerner, Mally Piazzi, Bertha Piazzi, and Bertha Weigert. After this first "performance" they were approached by Eugene Schick, who wanted to perform the "Figurentanz" with them. This tiny nucleus decided that very night to form a permanent Verein to perpetuate the customs, dances, and culture they left behind in the "alte Heimat." The group began meeting regularly, and soon word spread throughout the local German community of the new Verein. Before long the Gebirgstrachten-Verein Almrausch Schuhplattler group had more than twenty dancers. As the group grew in size, it also grew in popularity. The dancers were soon appearing at many social and benefit events in the Philadelphia area.
In 2000, we discovered a 16mm film that gave us new insight into our founding members. The rare footage shows the members of the Almrausch attending two different events, a soccer game in 1927 and a picnic at a farm in Allentown, Pennsylvania circa 1930. Although these were primarily social events, the members attended in the Lederhosen and Dirndl, and entertained themselves and other guests by dancing and playing music. The Gemütlichkeit is evident in scenes such as then Almrausch President, Frank Piazzi, mischievously riding one of the cows while being chased by a less-than-pleased farmer, and clips of the members leading impromptu parades.
The Almrausch continued to actively perform throughout the Depression Era, bringing cheer and entertainment to innumerable people. The Verein hosted five Feste each year, a New Year's ball, Weinfest, Stiftungsfest, Farmer's Ball and an Edelweiss Ball. At the Edelweiss Ball, each woman was given a small bouquet of edelweiss to take home. These Feste were very well attended, 1200 edelweiss were given away in 1927. World War II temporarily suspended the activities, but not the spirit, of the group until 1946.
The Almrausch practiced at the Allemannia in Philadelphia until 1959. From 1959 until 1973 the club practiced at the Liedertafel in North Philadelphia. Neither of these halls was large enough to use for the club's Feste, so many different halls were used around the city, including Philadelphia Quartett Hall, Turngemeinde Hall, St. Adalbert's Hall and Gewerbe Hall. Many of these halls, unfortunately, no longer exist due to changes in the communities. In 1963, the Almrausch held its 38th Stiftungsfest at the Cannstatter Volksfest-Verein in Northeast Philadelphia. Since 1973 both practices and Feste have been held at the Cannstatter. Each spring, our Stiftungsfest is attended by our friends from other Schuhplattler clubs in the Philadelphia area and throughout the East Coast. The Almrausch Oktoberfest, held the first weekend in November, has taken place annually since 1969. At this event, which begins traditionally with a parade led by a Münchner Kindl seated atop a barrel, Almrausch members showcase talents including yodeling and bell-ringing. Each year the entire Verein performs a new dance and demonstrates their acting ability by entertaining guests with humorous skits.
Throughout its ninety-four year history, the Almrausch has performed for many Philadelphia-area German-American organizations, country clubs, schools and universities, hospitals, and nursing and retirement homes. The Almrausch has frequently appeared on television. The first time was in 1948 at the Philco Radio Co. The group's performances are not limited to the Philadelphia area. We have traveled up and down the East Coat to perform at many different Oktoberfeste. This included Feste in Atlantic City, North Carolina, Florida, New Hampshire, and Tennessee. During the summers of 1960 and 1961, the Almrausch performed every weekend at the Pocono Mountain Inn (PMI) in Cresco, Pennsylvania. For 11 years, from 1979 through 1990, we performed in Melbourne, Florida at its annual four-day Oktoberfest. These events, along with many others, hold fond memories for Almrausch members and tales of performances and the accompanying Gemütlichkeit have been passed from member to member and generation to generation.
Philadelphia is a city that loves parades, and the Almrausch has participated in a wide variety of them. We annually march in the German-American Steuben Parade. Some of our members have also had the honor of marching in the New Year's Day Parade, known as the Mummers' Parade, in 1978 and 1988. We also joined with many other ethnic groups and marched in the Constitution's Bicentennial Parade in 1987.
Fahnenweihe and 50th Anniversary
The group's long history has blended well with that of Philadelphia, the "Cradle of our Nation's Liberty." On the two hundredth anniversary of the United States, the Almrausch celebrated its own fiftieth anniversary and Fahnenweihe. Dozens of Vereine participated in our three-day event. The Almrausch hosted a welcome dance on Friday evening at the historic Bellevue Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia. Saturday saw the blessing of the group's new flag at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, followed by a Massenplattler on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Later that evening, a banquet for more than eight hundred Schuhplattler was held in the hotel's main ballroom. This historic weekend ended on Sunday, July 4, 1976, with a picnic for all the Trachtler at the Cannstatter Volksfest-Verein. A sudden thunderstorm in the afternoon put a dramatic cap on the celebration.
Membership in Gauverband Nordamerika
Over the years, the Almrausch has developed strong bonds with other Schuhplattler Vereine and traveled to many Feste. In 1954, the Verein participated in Preisplatteln in North Bergen, N.J. hosted by Schlierachtaler Stamm and was awarded six prizes, including first prize. The Almrausch is proud to be one of the founding members of the Gauverband Nordamerika. In May 1967 at the first Gaufest, Almrausch participated in Preisplatteln and placed fifth.
We have attended every Gaufest since then and have competed in most of them. We placed fifth in Gruppenpreisplatteln at 19. Gaufest in Philadelphia, PA. in May 2003 and again at 23. Gaufest in Orlando, FL. in June 2011. We were thrilled to place third at 26. Gaufest in Buffalo, NY. in July 2017.
For the first time in Almrausch history, we placed first in Gruppenpreisplatteln at 27. Gaufest in Washington, DC in July 2019. The dancing team of four couples consisted of Pete Fischer and Karin Schwab, John Stubenrauch and Kristen Schwab, Alex Jakovasic and Katie Siegmann, and John Schwab and Stefanie Schwab. Alternates included Sarah Streng, Erika Pregler, Elise Buffinton, Bob Eppinger and Terry Wheeler. Having placed first, this qualifies us to dance in the Bayerischer Löwe competition in 2020!
Travel to Germany and Participation in the Bayerischer Löwe
We have been fortunate to travel as a club to Germany on five occasions. The first was in 2006 when we attended the 116. Gaufest des Gauverbandes 1 in Töging, Bavaria as guests of Trachtenverein "Enzian" Töging. We attended the outdoor Mass which was held in a large meadow. We marched in the parade from the meadow through the town to the Fest tent. Eight thousand Trachtlers were in attendance. We had never seen anything like it before and were excited to be a part of such an enormous celebration. One of our early Vorplattlers was originally from Gau 1 and encouraged the Almrausch deandl to adopt the Gau 1 signature fast spinning style. It was particularly meaningful and inspiring to see this style in all of the performances that weekend.
In June 2014, the Almrausch began its 90th Anniversary celebration with a trip to the Bayerischer Löwe competition and Gautrachtenfest in Königsbrunn, Germany. Five members, John and Karin Schwab, Kristen Schwab, Stefanie Schwab and Gene Zaiser had placed in the top three of their age categories in Einzelpreisplatteln at 24. Gaufest in Cleveland, Ohio the previous July. This qualified them to dance in the Bayerischer Löwe competition. A total of twenty-seven Almrausch members traveled to Königsbrunn for the event. All of our competitors did well, with two earning top three distinction; Stefanie placed 2nd in her age category and Karin placed 3rd. We were invited by the host club, D'Lechauer e.V. Königsbrunn, to march in the parade and to perform an Ehrentanz at the Gautrachtenfest on Sunday. Six proud Almrausch couples danced, marking the first time in our history that the Almrausch performed as a club in Germany.
In September 2014, five members of the Almrausch joined approximately 240 Gauverband Nordamerika members for our Gauverband's first participation in the Munich Oktoberfest Trachtenzug. We marched in the 4.3 mile parade through the streets of Munich on Sunday in front of over 100,000 spectators. Then, on Monday, we danced in the 110 couple Gauplattler at the Festzelt Tradition. As one of the charter member Vereine of the Gauverband Nordamerika, we were thrilled to be a part of this momentous occasion in our Gauverband's history.
In July 2016, ten members of the Almrausch traveled to the Bayerischer Löwe competition and Gautrachtenfest in Steingaden, Germany. This trip was used as an opportunity to visit the site of the 2018 Bayerischer Löwe competition, which would be hosted by Gauverband Nordamerika in Haldenwang, Germany.
Three members of the Almrausch, John and Karin Schwab, and Stefanie Schwab, placed in the top three of their age categories in Einzelpreisplatteln at 26. Gaufest in Buffalo, NY in July 2017. This again qualified them to dance in the Bayerischer Löwe competition in 2018. A total of twenty-five Almrausch members traveled to Haldenwang for the event. Stefanie placed 3rd in her age category and Karin placed 1st.
Relationships with other Schuhplattler Vereine
The Almrausch has also played an important role in the history of other Schuhplattler Vereine. In 1949, Ray Piazzi, son of two of the Almrausch's founding members, along with Frank Lambert, drove the 120 miles to Reading each week to instruct the nucleus of ten dedicated couples that would become GTV Edelweiss, Reading, Pennsylvania. Though some members of the Almrausch have moved from the Philadelphia area, they have taken their love of Tracht and Schuhplattler with them. The daughter of two founders, Lilly (Weigert) Mittermaier, along with her husband John, founded Edelweiss Alpine Dancers in Phoenix, Arizona in 1950. Jesse and Joan Anthony were instrumental in founding the Schuhplattler-Gruppe Alpenrose in Orlando, Florida in 1980. And in the spring of 1983 Kurt Van Dexter, along with Justin Maguire, formerly of Edelweiss-Passaic, formed SGTV Alpenblumen, Providence, Rhode Island. The GTV Almrausch has the honor of being Patenverein to Edelweiss Reading and Alpenrose Orlando, and Co-Patenverein to Alpenblumen Providence.
In July 2018, we rediscovered a Fahnenband beautifully hand painted with enzian, almrausch and edelweiss and embroidered with the wording “Unserem Paten Verein G.T.V. Almrausch von Philadelphia, PA, V.V. Enzian, N.Y.C., 16. October 1926”. We knew that “V.V. Enzian” was the founding name of S.V.V. “Original Enzian” from Hempstead, NY. None of our current members were aware, however, that Almrausch was their Patenverein. How could it be possible that this relationship, established ninety-three years ago, was "lost" through the years? Almrausch is extremely fortunate to have all of our meeting minutes dating from our first meeting on 23. April 1925 to the current day. From a review of our minutes, two references to our history were discovered. In July, 1926, it was recorded that the wish of the New Yorker Plattlerverein requesting Almrausch to be their Patenverein was granted, and that a Fahnenband would be presented to V.V. Enzian. Then again in October, a letter from Enzian was read discussing their return visit for the acceptance of the Patenstelle.
As luck would have it, among other papers in the minute books, were two flyers advertising Almrausch’s Zweites Stiftungsfest, held on 5. April 1927. Who were our guest performers at the Stiftungsfest? Schuhplattler Kapelle V.V. Enzian from New York! Their picture was featured, along with names of the dances that would be performed, including a “Massenschuhplattler der beiden Vereine”. At the bottom of the flyer were the words “ZUM ZWEITEN MAL HIER IN PHILADELPHIA”. If it was V.V. Enzian’s second time appearing in Philadelphia, they were presumably guests at Almrausch’s 1st Stiftungsfest in April 1926. According to our minutes, the Patenverein request came three months later in July 1926.
The story of Original Enzian’s “First Flag Dedication” is on their website. It was “on the eve of its fourth anniversary”, in October 1926. A Patenverein is selected when a Verein has a Fahnenweihe. The dates matched, the pieces came together, it was official! Almrausch and Original Enzian were Patenverein and Patenkind!
Original Enzian was as surprised as we were to learn of our long-lost relationship. A celebration was in order! We invited Enzian to a Heimatabend to be held on the eve of our 94. Stiftungsfest. Thirty members traveled from New York on Friday night, April 26th, for an evening of dinner, dancing, and Gemütlichkeit! We may never know why this important Patenverein/Patenkind relationship was lost in our respective Verein histories, but we are happy to have rediscovered it!
On April 25, 2015, we were happy to welcome nearly 450 family, friends and fellow Schuhplattlers from around the country to help us mark our 90th Anniversary at an evening banquet. We followed this special event with a Frühschoppen the next morning at one of our favorite biergartens in Philadelphia, Frankford Hall. We were so grateful to be able to celebrate with so many people, and it is a weekend many of our members will never forget!
Continuing to Preserve Tradition
Over the past ninety-four years, the Gebirgstrachten-Verein Almrausch has occupied a very special place in the Delaware Valley Community. Our Verein, formed out of friendships of young German and Austrian immigrants, has acted as ambassadors of goodwill for the City of Philadelphia and for the German-American community at large. We are a thriving Verein, which includes third and fourth generation Trachtler who share a common goal to preserve and promote Bavarian dance, music and tradition.
Treu dem alten Brauch!