By Juliana Brown
WAPAKONETA -- A sampling of traditional German dancing and music filled the Mike Swaney Free Entertainment Tent Friday afternoon at the Auglaize County Fair.
The small but attentive crowd listened as Mitch Arnold spoke about southwestern Auglaize County's German heritage. Before and after his presentation, the Lima Fest Musikanten and Lima Deutschen Tanz Serein band and dancers entertained those present.
Arnold is a former pastor of the New Knoxville United Methodist Church and current instructor at Wright State University-Lake Campus, Celina. He shared what it was like when German ancestors first ventured over to America, in particular to the areas of Minster, New Bremen and New Knoxville.
The Ohio University graduate brought along tools belonging to the New Knoxville Historical Society. The axes, sickles and hammers made by hand from wood were what the German's used to build their homes in the 1830s. He held up a Bible and explained how reading it and attending church was as important to Germans back then as it is to those in Auglaize County today.
He said German peasants began to come over to America to avoid getting involved with the army. According to Arnold, Denmark and Prussia were vying for power in northern Germany. They did not want to be apart of the fighting and they wanted to have religious freedom. "They came over here to have their own land, (to create) their own opportunity and make their own future," Arnold said.
The communities that exist today in Auglaize County are very similar in many ways to communities in Germany before the German ancestors packed up and crossed the Atlantic. Arnold mentioned that whole communities stayed together and recreated the community that existed in Germany. German ancestors "helped make Auglaize County what it is today."
Germans worked hard, often and as much as they could to get ahead, he said. Arnold explained the male ruled over the family and was in charge of everything. Church attendance was expected and nonattendance was seen as a social mistake. Food such as vegetables, bread, cheese, wine, and of course, sausage and beer were just as common back then as they are today.
Arnold told the audience that today, in Germany, there are about 21 different dialects of the German language; 11 in Europe, each with their own variation, three in Switzerland and seven in Austria. Not one is the same and no person really understands each other unless they are all speaking in High German.
Today, around Auglaize County, Platt is the dialect preserved and spoken.
Arnold admitted to trying but not fully understanding the German language. He received his doctorate in German history and went to Germany to try to learn more. Going to Germany is the best way to learn the language, he said. There, he became a pastor and visited homes and preached. He soon was assigned to New Knoxville as pastor.
Jim Coons, director of the Southwestern Auglaize County Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the presentation, knew of Arnold's "interest in the background of this area" and chose Arnold to speak because he was a pastor and still lives in New Knoxville.
"He has established a rapport and people believe what he said," Coons said.
When asked if the Germans' strong belief in religion and work ethic, as discussed by Arnold, still holds true in the area, Coons replied, "Oh absolutely. I proudly tell people to look for a slumming area in Minster, New Bremen and New Knoxville. You won't find them."
"The clean, neat, well kept areas say a lot about heritage," he said.