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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Milwaukee’s Schwabenhof Keeps German Heritage

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In a country as expansive and diverse as America, where it’s easy to slip into a place of anonymity, many of us look to our ancestral roots to satisfy our much-needed sense of community. Even though we may never set foot on the native soil of our relatives, we still identify with our family origins. Here in Wisconsin, ethnic social clubs play an important role in promoting the cuisine, language and customs of our heritage. And every club needs a clubhouse where members can gather together, like the Schwabenhof, which has been home to the United Donauschwaben of Milwaukee since 1968.

Located on Silver Spring Road in Menomonee Falls, Schwabenhof is more of a complex than a clubhouse. It has to be, considering its role as the meeting place for the largest German ethnic group in the state, the Donauschwaben—“ethnic Germans that lived outside of Germany in the Slavic regions of Eastern Europe predominately along the Danube River,” as the group describes itself. Schwabenhof began as a clubhouse for Donauschwaben Vergngungsverein and three other Donauschwaben clubs—the Apatiner Verein, the Mucsi Familienverein and the Milwaukee Sport Club—and eventually grew into a full-fledged tavern and restaurant with an outdoor beer garden surrounded by a 300-car gravel parking lot and nine regulation-size soccer fields.

Friday night finds the 400-person banquet hall filled to the gills with devotees of the beloved Schwabenhof fish fry. The waiting list—an hour long at peak dining times—can be sidestepped with a reservation, though spending an hour in the bar and two adjoining rooms can be fun. Order a tall Weiss beer garnished with a slice of lemon and sit back for some people-watching: The rooms are filled with families, many featuring three generations, and the walls are lined with framed photographs of members, some wearing traditional folk costumes, of a bygone era. The trophy collection tells the story of the soccer teams that have played there, and the beer steins on the shelves are a reminder of the Old World.

The Schwabenhof serves a classic Wisconsin fish fry, a time-honored tradition popularized by German Catholics observing meatless diets on Fridays. $10.95 gets you all the cod you can eat, and includes a choice of potato: baked, German salad, pancakes, or french fries. A small portion of crisp, light coleslaw, creamy homemade tartar sauce and a slice of rye bread accompany the meal. If you’ve consumed enough fish this Lenten season, the Schwabenhof dinner menu also includes entrees that have garnered their own faithful following, such as the Old World fried chicken and barbecue ribs. The well-trained wait staff weaves quickly in and out of the packed room, delivering second and third servings of fish to the masses and ensuring not a single glass is left empty.

The Friday night fish fry is just one of the many social gatherings the Schwabenhof hosts in a given week. The smoke-free banquet hall, as well as the outdoor pavilion and picnic area (which together seat about 1,200 people from June through October) have been the location for many a party, from birthdays and reunions to proms and weddings. To feed their guests, event planners choose from the facility’s catering menu: Buffet-style, sit-down, and even late-night sandwiches and picnic food are offered. True to its roots, the Schwabenhof also accommodates traditional German activities, such as Schlachtfest, a celebration of the fall pig slaughter and, of course, Oktoberfest.

The Schwabenhof is located at N56 W14750 Silver Spring Road, Menomonee Falls.

The Schwabenhof serves food Wednesday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. The bar is open Tuesday-Thursday 3 p.m. to 1 a.m., and Friday 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. For more information, call (262) 510-9042.n

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