By Myra Lee Adams Goff
The third weekend in May I realized how hard it was to preserve historic customs. We can remodel, renovate and preserve buildings, bridges and artifacts. Even history is preserved when we write it down. But the arbitrary laws of custom are transient. In other words,” at random” customs are changeable.
Anhalt in the western area of Comal County has held on to old traditions with their Maifest and Octoberfest. Members of the Comal County Historical Commission went to Maifest and observed these old traditions first hand. The Anhalt Association is interested in getting an historical marker on their property. Preserving the history of Anhalt got a big boost when Harvey Schaefer in 2000 wrote the history using the minutes of the organization going back to when they were still written in German.
Comal County was created in 1846. The area of Anhalt in Comal County is typical of other hill country areas with rocky terrain covered with elm, mesquite, oak trees and abundant water. Farming is possible but ranching is preferable.
Way back in 1859 this area was known as Krause’s Settlement founded by Conrad Krause and sons with a store, residence and dancehall. A Post Office was established in 1879 and the settlement name changed to Anhalt, meaning “stopping place”, because that was what it was. Farmers gathered at the store to discuss their common problems, one of which was what to do about cattle rustlers that had become a big problem particularly after the Civil War. Since there was no fencing in the area, stock ran loose.
The solution to this problem was to form the Germania Farmer Verein in 1875. Thirty- five farmers met earlier at Krause’s store and decided to organize to protect their livestock by branding the letter “G” on the left shoulder of the cattle, along with the rancher’s own brand. This practice eliminated the cattle rustling problem. The all male organization leased and later purchased nearby land for their hall (across the highway from the original Krause’s Settlement). Over the years the organization built and added on to many sections of the building and in 1908 the large hall was built. It has a well-polished floor and unique arches in its architectural design.
The Spring Festival began as an annual event in May when planting was complete. Then a Fall Festival was held in October when harvesting was finished. Fairs were held to exhibit stock and vegetables, however, this practice ceased when the Comal County Fair organized in 1898.
Now let’s look at the customs that have been preserved:
The 2013 Maifest began at Anhalt Hall at noon. Food was served all day and the menu hasn’t changed much over the years. Due to a lack of refrigeration in the old days, nothing could be served that would spoil. Several men were making meat out back – potroast and sausage. Also sauerkraut and German potato salad which is served warm with no mayonnaise were served. There were two modern inventions served from cans - peas and peaches. In the old days food was served family style, but now by plate only.
Here is the real reason for the Maifest- the dance. Starting at noon the atmosphere is strictly German. An Oompah band plays German music until 4:00 o’clock at which time there is a Grand March. After that the music and crowd is strictly western. This is, after all, ranch land. Along the side of the wall western straw hats are for sale. At one time hats were not allowed on the dance floor.
Signs on the wall make it very clear as to what is acceptable on the dance floor and what is not. “No shorts, pedal pushers, blue jeans allowed on the dance floor”. That custom was obviously modified because there were many clad in blue jeans, shorts and boots.
Another sign posted says: “Indecent, uncommonly dancing in the hall is strictly prohibited.” Since there was none of the above taking place, I have a feeling they mean that one. Even the Chicken Dance and Put Your Little Foot were done with utmost precision.
Couples danced polkas and waltzes in a circle around the hall. Some danced holding babies and small children twirled around the outside of the moving circle. In the old days there was an area in the corner where children were bedded down. These dances, after all, lasted way into the night and it was a long way home.
Do you remember Gerhard and Regina Adam who married on our Plaza during our Sesquicentennial in 1995? He was representing Braunfels, our sister city. He and Regina came to Anhalt with Dr. Fred Frueholz. The Adams glided across the floor. He told me later that this old time polka and waltz was no longer done in Germany except occasionally in Bavaria. So Anhalt is preserving a custom brought from Germany that is no longer preserved in Germany.
A real treat was a performance in costume by the Austin International Folk Dancers. They performed several old dances like the Ländlar, Schottish.
A tee shirt for sale read “Wo in Himmel ist Anhalt? “ (Where in heaven (?) is Anhalt? I know where it is and I’ll be back the third Sunday in October for Octoberfest.