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GermanFest: Annual festival at Old Stone House

GRANITE QUARRY — Better a louse in the cabbage than no meat at all.

In other words, the old German proverb says: better something that’s not perfect than nothing.

It was raining steadily throughout the evening at the Old Stone House, but the annual GermanFest celebration of food, crafts and culture went ahead, with lanterns on the tables and tents to keep the food dry.

The Old Stone House has stood since Michael Braun – pronounced “brown” – built it for his family in 1766, the only house in the vicinity and, today, one of only a few homes of its kind.

And GermanFest stands, organizers said, as one of the few celebrations of traditional German immigrant culture in North Carolina.

“There’s nothing else like it,” said Tricia Creel, education coordinator for Rowan Museum.

She stood by a makeshift trestle table crafted from a split log, on which were samples of bread and apple butter.

Behind her, as the fresh apple butter simmered over a wood fire, a volunteer stirred a pot of Rotkohl — a traditional dish of red cabbage, seasoned with bacon and apples.

Uta Braun, longtime Rowan Museum staff member, said Rotkohl would be a special occasion food.

And Creel said that, since it’s fall, there had to be some food with apples in it.

As guests of the reservation-only event arrived, some went to tour the Old Stone House itself.

Others sat to watch volunteers cut cabbage for sauerkraut, which will be canned and sold next year at GermanFest.

Netra Bollinger, a descendent of Michael Braun, demonstrated Old World crafting as she wove white oak splits into the seat of a small stool.

She patiently explained how each tough strip of oak wood must be soaked in water, then scraped with a knife blade until it is flexible enough to be woven.

Dry, the oak split is durable and tough to bend.

The evening’s buffet supper celebrated traditional German cuisine as farmers would have known it: pulled pork, sauerkraut cooked with sausages, German potato salad and apple strudel for dessert.

Kay Hirst, Rowan Museum’s executive director, said GermanFest is intentionally different from the “Oktoberfest” atmosphere many people expect.

Though there’s plenty of food, as well as German beer and wine, there’s no “oompah band” music, no men in lederhosen.

Hirst said the goal is to portray the sort of holiday festivities early Rowan County residents might have known during colonial and Revolutionary War times.

“We’re the only people who really do that,” Hirst said. “We’re celebrating heritage, trying to create an awareness of early life.”

The fundraising event had a bittersweet touch, as it’s Uta Braun’s final GermanFest as a staff member.

“After 14 years, I’m officially hanging it up!” Braun said.

In addition to her work with Rowan Museum, she tutors and teaches German to local students of all ages.

Even so, Braun said, she’d be back at GermanFest in 2014, this time as a guest.

Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.

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