Columbus Maennerchor still alive -- and singing
When Werner Niehaus arrived in the United States with his wife from Germany in 1989, he was already 48 years old.
"I call myself 'the latest immigrant,' " Niehaus says, when prompted.
Seeking solidarity with his native culture, he quickly joined the Columbus Maennerchor.
"It was great to have a cultural group, a group using the language and have that group to connect with," Niehaus said.
"Friendship and community are at the core," he said.
And, so it has been with the Columbus Maennerchor since a dozen German immigrants formed the Deutscher Maennerchor in Columbus in 1848.
According to some of the Maennerchor's own historical documents, earlier singing societies further east "exerted a profound influence on the development of the German immigrant's American lifestyle ... (they) were a balm for the strangers in strange lands."
But those earlier, eastern entities didn't last.
Columbus Maennerchor members said the group is America's oldest singing society, and in a year when our entire city is positively busting with history fever, it's worth noting the Maennerchor is not only long-established, but still going strong.
More than 100 singers and 150 social members make up its ranks today.
I realized I needed to go calling on our neighbors -- the organization is itself a charter member of the German Village Society -- when a friend asked me why the Maennerchor had been allowed to go dark.
I knew that the Maennerchor still existed. Only its building had gone dark and been sold to the Columbus school district last fall.
But for many, that meant the end of this piece of Columbus history.
I'm here to report it isn't so.
In fact, the Maennerchor continues to meet and socialize and sing, renting temporary space at the Swiss Club house on South Front Street.
They are awaiting a few permits before they can open their remodeled space on South High Street.
The property at 976 South High (some think of it as "the Dutch house") has belonged to the Maennerchor for decades.
By next spring, members will enjoy it as a gathering place, lunch or dinner club, and the place they meet to practice their songs.
The Maennerchor showed off its new facility during Ode To Joy Bicentennial weekend, hosting an open house after its members performed as part of the Schiller statue lighting.
The family of clubs, which include the Maennerchor, Damenchor, Damen Sektion and Kinderchor, are seeking new members -- especially those families from nearby who can best take advantage of the new meeting facility.
The groups will soon be hiring a new music director because Ron Markle will retire at the end of the year.
The clubs sing German and English songs, and members don't need to know the German language, you'll learn to sing by ear.
Social programs include a spaghetti dinner, pancake breakfasts, a schnitzel dinner and more.
And Niehaus promises no "gemuetlichkeit" (rehearsal) is complete without members sharing a beer.
Hear them in public yet this fall. They'll perform a few songs at the German Village Society Annual Meeting Oct. 14.
On Nov. 2, the Maennerchor celebrates its 164 year with an anniversary concert at Capital University.
The singers will be at St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church, 684 S. Third St., Dec. 2 for a holiday concert.
You can learn more by calling Niehaus at 614-554-4203.
German Village Society director Shiloh Todorov submitted the Village Notebook column to the ThisWeek German Village Gazette.