Pomerania doesn’t exist as a free standing country anymore, but, thanks to the multi-generational tenacity of its descendants, its culture still thrives.
Amazingly, you’ll find it right here in Wisconsin, perfectly preserved and just a couple of miles up the road from Milwaukee.
Freistadt stands as a testament to a faithful community who has balanced loyalty to their homeland with patriotism for their new one since 1839. Founded by 20 families who fled Pomerania, Germany, to escape religious persecution, the little town looks almost exactly like it did when those immigrants first purchased their 40 acres of land.
Just as they meticulously maintained many of the original buildings, so too have they preserved the food, fashion and music their great-great-great-grandparents brought over from Europe. For 179 years, the town has supported the Pommersche Tanzdeel Freistadt, a troupe of dancers and musicians from ages 5 to adulthood that performs songs and dances from the Pomeranian regions. The lederhosen-wearing Freistadt Alte Kameraden Band plays authentic polka music in town and all around the state.
The town loves its festivals and hosts and/or participates in Pommerntag in June, Germanfest in July, Erntedankfest in October, and Weihnachtsfest in December. You can find more information about all of these events on the Pommerscher Verein Freistadt (Pomeranian Society of Freistadt) official website.
One of the biggest parties in Freistadt (which means “free city” in German), is their Fourth of July celebration. It begins, just like it has every year since the founders decreed, with an outdoor church service, followed by lunch, then a big parade and flag raising. Nineteenth century Freistadt residents understood the sweet opportunity this country offers to celebrate cultural heritage and still honor America.
This quote, from a letter written last year by Lyne, a woman living in the Pomeranian region of Germany, caught my eye. She laments the lack of Pomeranian culture in her homeland, which was stripped during four decades of Communist rule.
“To meet Pomeranians, enjoy Pomeranian folklore, and taste real Pomeranian cuisine, one should maybe to go to Wisconsin and experience Pommerntag in Mequon. There the old traditions have survived the changing times, they have been kept alive by the descendants of those brave and hardy Pomeranians that made the hazardous journey over to America at a time before the name Deutschland even existed.”
I toured Freidstadt on a rainy Sunday morning and I found it enchanting. I’m hoping to return soon, perhaps for Weihnachtsfest. I don’t speak Pomeranian (or German or Polish either, for that matter). But, I do salute the people of Freistadt. Wir sehen uns!