As our minivan makes its way north on Pontiac Trail for our annual trip to the German Park Picnic, we spot a man waving a red flag in the distance, and we know we’ve reached our destination. He’s one of more than a hundred German Park Recreation Club members who host an evening of German merriment three Saturdays every summer at this wooded oasis north of Ann Arbor.
The park’s gates haven’t even opened, and there’s already a long line of people waiting near the entrance. We can never seem to beat the crowds. This land that German immigrants bought in the mid-1930s and initially used for family potlucks has become a wildly popular spot for party-loving people.
Once inside, it feels like we’ve joined a massive family reunion–but with a couple thousand friendly strangers. People bring tablecloths from home to cover picnic tables. Some tote their own beer steins. Kids munch soft pretzels and sip sodas. Under the pavilion, tots and their parents dance to a German band.
My husband and I share a plate of homemade German potato salad and spaetzle and a bratwurst–leaving plenty of room for a bucket of Hefeweizen beer. The kids eat hot dogs and hamburgers, and we play a few games of Uno.
As the sun sets and evening light streams into the pavilion, a giant bearded German in weathered lederhosen enters the dance floor. With a wooden walking stick in one hand and a tall beer stein in the other, he commands the audience to “Raise ’em up real high and yell, ‘Prost!'” Then he introduces the German dancers–youths and adults–who practice weekly for these summer performances.
With their thigh-slapping and foot-stomping moves, the men in feather-adorned hats and suspenders woo the ladies, who twirl expertly in their blue dirndls.
“I think I could do that!” my husband says, pointing to the men on the dance floor. He’s as exuberant as the crowd, which demands an encore.
On our way out of the park, we stop to say goodbye to a man who shared our table. He grabs our Nerf football and tells my son to go out for a pass. “Go long!” he shouts. Andy waits, arms outstretched, standing amidst rows of packed picnic tables. Our new friend throws the ball and nails a guy in the side of the head. He runs over to apologize to the fellow picnicker, but the guy just laughs it off and goes back to drinking his beer. At German Park Picnic, it seems no one wants to spoil the fun.
There’s one more chance this year to partake in the fun on Saturday, August 29.