What we know today as downtown Gretna was first a German village called Mechanickham. The German-American Cultural Center located at 519 Huey P. Long Avenue showcases and educates about said German influence and traditions in Southeast Louisiana since the 1700s.
“Maifest,” or Mayfest in English is the traditional German celebration of the arrival of spring. “Mai” is the German spelling of May. Maifest, similar to Oktoberfest, has now become a popular celebration throughout the world and is popular locally. Gretna holds a Maifest annually that highlights its proud German heritage. Maifest 2022 will be celebrated on Saturday, May 14 beginning at 8:30 in the morning.
Jo Ann and Joe Toomy, Gretna natives who recently moved back to the city have had the pleasure of traveling to Germany several times in the past.
“Although we have not enjoyed being in Germany for a Maifest, I can tell you that it is a very big celebration there. Permanent fixtures of Maypoles and placards with various village organizations are up year round in many villages in Germany,” Jo Ann Toomy said.
“We have enjoyed being a part of the Gretna Maifest in the past and look forward to this year’s celebration which will be bigger and better than ever.”
The word Maifest, automatically brings the Maypole to mind. The Maypole is a long standing German tradition of performing the fold dance of wrapping around the maypole. Traditionally, a symbol of new birth, it is celebrated annually in spring.
During the 1930s, Gretna celebrated the annual spring fiesta with a parade and all of the schools had maypoles that the children would dance around.
Mayor Belinda Constant has revived the tradition of the Maypole in recent years. On Friday, May 13, students from Ruppel Academie Francaise will walk over to the Huey P. Long neutral ground for a lesson in Maypole dancing from the mayor, once a ballet instructor.
“We started sending kindergartners to enjoy this tradition with Mayor Constant. We appreciate being included in community events,” Principal Emily Miller said.
“The dancers will circle the two maypoles that Gretna has installed between 6th and 7th Streets, grasp ribbons and dance around the poles, wrapping ribbons as they go. Accompanying them with music on the accordion will be Eric Hahn,” GACC Director Carol Schlueter said.
“And, to celebrate the occasion, we will provide warm baked pretzels and water to the youngsters. It’s a tradition that the German Center wants to impart to Gretna children!
The public is invited on Saturday to Stroll the Avenue, Huey P. Long Avenue, of course. Folks might want to start with a stop at the Gretna Farmers Market that is open every Saturday from 8:30 until 12:30 p.m.
There will be 25+ vendors at the market selling fresh produce, baked goods, sweets, smoked meats, soaps, honey, plants and much more. A familiar surname in Gretna, Jacques Leruth with LeRuth’s Gourmet Foods will have on hand their Artichoke Soup Base.
The Gretna Art Walk will also take place this Saturday at the Farmers Market where local artists display their works of art.
For more shopping and browsing, just stroll down to the Maifest Art, Crafts and Plant Sale that will be on the neutral ground between 6th and 8th Streets, open from 8:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.
Then on to the “jewel” of Gretna’s Maifest, The German-American Cultural Center’s “Biergarten” or Beer Garden. Held on the German Center’s grounds in the 500 block of the Avenue, the Biergarten offers free admission to sit and enjoy the traditional sounds of the Bayou Bavarians Band. The Beer Garden is open from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. where there will be pretzels, brats, sauerkraut and a nice selection of German beers for purchase.
The GACC Museum will be open offering displays of early German life in south Louisiana as well as its German stein and doll collections. The center has an extensive genealogy research library for serious students, as well as those just wanting a few facts about their ancestry. Tour the museum, visit with members dressed in German-style costumes as you feast, frolic and lift a stein!
Thanks to Carol Schlueter for the photos from the 2021 Maifest celebration that were used in this article. For more information about Maifest, call Summer Cook at 504.363.1580 or go to www.GretnaLa.com.