A hidden Waynedale jewel is being filled with some of the most beautiful German music you’ve ever heard.
The Fort Wayne Mannerchor/Damenchor, a men’s and women’s choir that sings traditional German choral songs, regularly practices here, and is even bringing some national exposure to the area later this year.
The group’s meeting place is a spot called Bar Edelweiss. The building, secluded in a quiet neighborhood at 3355 Elmhurst Drive, was once a barn for a working dairy farm.
Located in the middle of a gravel parking lot at that address, the barn looks almost as storied as the group itself. The history of the group dates back nearly 150 years, all the way to 1869. On October 4 of that year, German immigrants established the first German male chorus in Fort Wayne. It was named the Sangerbund, and since then it “has been dedicated to the preservation and promotion of their German heritage as expressed in choral music.”
Locally, the choirs practiced at O’Sullivans bar in downtown Fort Wayne since 1922, and then moved to Bar Edelweiss in 2001, according to Klemens Zumbraegel, one of the choir members who has belonged to the group the longest; since 1956, he estimates.
Today, the group comprises about 30 people, about 15 men (Mannerchor) and 15 women (Damenchor). They practice each Thursday night at the site. On a recent Thursday, the group rehearsed in the upstairs room of the barn. Their director, Tom Ramenschneider, stood at a worn piano, plinking out notes as he directed singers from each group. Harmonious notes bounced and reverberated across the old, wooden barn roof, while choir members laughed as he admonished some of their attempts at the German standards.
To help promote the group and its cause, they sponsor several local events each year; there’s the OctoberFest; the Christmas Mart; the Weihnachtskonzert; GermanFest in downtown Fort Wayne; A Taste of Germany; SchlachtFest; and the group’s monthly Fish Fry, which always happens at Park Edelweiss on the second Friday of each month.
But, just keeping the group going has been a challenge, according to Chad Troutman, President of the group, who has belonged since 2005.
“It’s really a challenge,” Troutman explained. “Not only because German folk music is kind of a narrow niche, but because society has moved away from fellowship in general, and more towards spending time behind your computer or on your phone.”
The group does its best to stay solvent with regular fundraisers, though.
Recently, Bar Edelweiss held a rummage sale, with hundreds of items donated by the group’s members for sale. On a recent night, the painted concrete ground floor of the barn was filled with tables, packed with a variety of items for sale, all to raise money for the choir and the group in general, and for their travels throughout the Midwest.
And, this year, the group will be hosting SangerFest right here in Waynedale. SangerFest is a concert that brings German choirs from all over the Midwest – Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky – to sing. This year, these groups will sing together in concert on April 29 at the Auer Center at IPFW, after a collective dinner at Park Edelweiss on April 28.
“It will be a lot of singing,” Zumbraegel said of SangerFest, “and a lot of drinking beer!”
Troutman agreed with Zumbragel’s assessment.
“We’re really a drinking club with a singing problem,” he joked.