By Myra Lee Adams Goff
Eleven years ago Rosemarie Gregory and I wrote a book called “Kindermaskenball, Past and Present”. It’s about an event here in New Braunfels that goes back to the early days of the settlement. At the beginning of the book we made this statement: “Kindermaskenball is about tradition and make-believe. Children particularly flourish in this world of make-believe and adults create the tradition by recreating what they themselves enjoyed in childhood.” Isn’t that what tradition is?
Next weekend on Saturday, April 12, and Sunday, April 13, Heritage Society’s annual Folkfest will be held on their grounds on Churchill Drive. The Kindermaskenball parade downtown NB will be part of this celebration on Saturday.
The Kindermaskenball is believed to be a celebration of spring, as in Germany it dates back to the Teutonic custom of the coming of this season. Another theory claims it was a pre-Lenten observance in Germany called Fasching. According to German teacher, Benno Engel, Fasching began on the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the month lasting until Ash Wednesday. Parades and masked dances prevailed.
The event used to be called Kindermaskenball. Yes, Kinder is “children”, Masken is “masks”, and Ball is “dance”. For several years the term Kindermasken has applied. That’s possible because there is no dance connected to it now. Hermann Seele is given credit for starting Kindermaskenball in 1846 but some written accounts say 1856. Which is a type 0? The Neu Braunfelser Zeitung says that children assembled at the New Braunfels Academy (on Mill St.) dressed in costumes, led by their leaders (probably teachers), and a brass band. They frolicked through the streets, engaged in plays and sang at the Saengerhalle. At a time, when the norm was for children to be seen and not heard, this must have been quite a show.
Nevertheless, after parading through the streets they moved out to Seele’s Saengerhalle. Hermann Seele in 1855 had built a large hall next to his home on the Guadalupe River. There is no building standing now but if you drive to the foot of Seele Street, you can pick out the location. Another street in that area is Saenger. That makes sense because the first state-wide Saengerfest (Festival of Singers) was held at Seele’s Hall. All his life he was active on the music scene. Oscar Haas stated that the Kindermaskenball parade ended up at the hall for 20 or more years.
The next location for Kindermaskenball was the Lenzen Halle located where the Courthouse Annex stands on Seguin Ave. This hall burned in 1895 and after that the children paraded to Matzdorf Halle (formerly Rheinlaender Halle, and later named Echo Hall and now Eagle’s Hall.)
In 1901 the Seekatz Opera House opened on San Antonio St. In reference to this location, a 1917 news article tells of “merry dancing and romping by children until 10 o’clock when the hall was turned over to grownups to “render homage to Terpsichore”. I love that statement. Not only did I not know who Terpsichore was, but I didn’t know how to pronounce it. It’s pronounced “terp-sick-o ree” just in case you want to use it in your every-day conversation. Terpsichore was the Greek muse of dancing.
It is believed that the custom of the Grand March began about this time. The Grand March is hard to describe in words and certainly didn’t begin in New Braunfels, but during the 1920s, 30s, 40s and 50s it was a big part of the dance.
Elaborate costumes became popular in the early 1900s and by the 1920s, Landa Park was a favorite destination after the parade. Serious costume making began by mothers, aunts, grandmothers, and seamstresses. Thousands watched the parade according to the newspaper. Ballerinas, dancers, Indians, soldiers, cowboys and clowns marched down the street. The 1920s brought in the innovation of lipstick and eye makeup. Little girls and big girls were allowed this luxury during the Kindermaskentall but it was a “no-no” on ordinary days.
Eventually the parade culminated about where the old City Hall is on Seguin Ave. and then families got together in Landa Park. In Landa Park, there was a wooden hall that was located between the Pioneer Statue and the Outdoor Dance Slab. Children through Jr. High age would play and dance “Put Your Little Foot”, “Herr Schmidt” and “The Bunny Hop” inside the wooden pavilion that has been torn down.
In the evening, the crowd would move over to the open-air dance slab. Christmas tree lights adorned the big tree in the center of the floor. On this tree-house pavilion the orchestra sat and played. Dancing on the slab would take place until 9 o’clock when an announcement was made that the Grand March would begin. Two by two, children followed the leaders by grade level. “Under the Double Eagle” was the favorite march. The custom was for boys to ask girls to be their Grand March partner, usually at school.
The NBISD sponsored the event for years, then the Beta Sigma Phi sorority and finally it became a part of Folkfest in 1992.
In the past, costumes were very elaborate. There were some women in town that were very handy with needle, thread, ribbon, sequins and net. Photos reflect these costumes. The Sophienburg has a large collection of some of these costumes on mannequins inside the museum. Joline Erben, Marie Jarisch and Antoinette Malmstead designed costumes that are still in the collections.
Gone are the days when thousands participated. I have my own theory. In the 1920s, 30s and 40s all the elementary schools had an end of school event. These were programs in April and parents were asked to furnish costumes. Then World War II came along, and everything was scarce, especially for such frivolous things. Programs turned to “non-costumed” events.
Folkfest, which is all about tradition, is keeping the tradition alive. Tina Lindeman, chairman, asks all participants to line up at 10 a.m. at the Central Fire Station in downtown New Braunfels and then, along with parents, make their way to Folkfest after the parade.