MERIDEN — For Leo Manville, of the Meriden Turner Society, coordinating events like Sunday’s Bier Garten at Turner Halle is a year-round endeavor.
What began as the organization’s summer picnic three years ago has grown into a beer garden event featuring live entertainment, German cuisine, and Bavarian beers. The Turner Society summer picnic had been a free event, but Manville added an Oktoberfest band from Pennsylvania to boost attendance.
On Sunday, a crowd gathered under the pavilion behind Turner Halle on Old Colony Road to socialize, listen to German waltzes, marches and popular tunes and sample ethnic fare.
The Bier Garten is one of 13 annual events organized by Manville, the Society´s president and events coordinator. The 79-year-old has been handling Turner Society events, which include a food booth at the Daffodil Festival, holiday dances, a German Bierfest in August, a German-American Day Celebration at the Aqua Turf in Southington and an Oktoberfest at Turner Halle.
“I’ve been doing it for years,” Manville said as the first attendees entered the pavilion area. “I’ve been making reservations, band bookings...You go to bed worrying about it, and wake up worrying about it.”
The midsummer event was in full swing by mid-afternoon, with spirited music and traditional dancing provided by the HSV Bavaria dancers performing Schuhplattlerfest routines.
“They are wonderful, we love to watch them,” 89 -year-old Elfriede Kunce of Meriden said of the dancers. A member of the Turner Society for 56 years, Kunce said she used to enjoy dancing, “but the next birthday, I´m going to be 90. Now I just watch.”
Kunce was accompanied by her daughter Petre Podgorski, son-in-law William Podgorski and friend Al Larese.
Turner Society membership has dropped in recent years, but still is upwards of 100, according to Manville. Events like Sunday’s are intended to attract a younger crowd.
Manville said he was “keeping his fingers crossed” that the Bier Garten would be a successful event.
Turner Halle, a 53-year-old building, was in need of a new furnace and recently installed a new one, funded with the help of donations from its members.
Manville said the Turner Society´s biggest fundraiser of the year is the food booth at the Daffodil Festival in April, which is the case for most of the city’s fraternal organizations and non-profit groups.
But there´s no shortage of events throughout the year to experience German heritage whether at Turner Halle on Old Colony Road, in Hubbard Park, in Southington, or in North Granby, where the Turner Society holds its June Saengerfest at High Meadows.
The next scheduled event at Turner Halle is the annual German Bierfest, Saturday, August 22, featuring music by Diamond Chips. Gates open at 5 p.m. for the 6-10 p.m event. Admission is $7 per person.