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Maifest Celebrates Spring, Lincoln Square's German Roots

 Maifest preview 2013
Maifest Preview 2013
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LINCOLN SQUARE — In Germany, Maifest is the traditional celebration of the arrival of spring. In Chicago, Maifest is as good an excuse as any to drink beer and eat bratwurst.

Lincoln Square flies its German colors all weekend — Friday through Sunday — with enough oom-pah-pah music, polka dancing and sausage to satisfy the most stalwart of Deustchlanders and the Deustch-at-heart alike.

Highlights include the ceremonial keg tapping and crowning of the May Queen at 8 p.m. Friday. On Sunday afternoon, youth and teen members of various German-American cultural organizations will entertain the crowds, with a special guest appearance from the Jesse White Tumblers at 3 p.m.

Among Maifest's long-standing traditions is a senior luncheon, held Friday and hosted by Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th). All 4,000 residents of the ward age 65 and over were invited to attend, with approximately 400 obtaining tickets to the event, according to Charna Epstein, Pawar's chief of staff.

Lake View High School's choir serenaded the seniors, with students from nearby Amundsen High School serving up plate after plate of bratwurst, potato salad and apple pie.

"They get to learn how to be professional," said Shamoon Ebrahimi, Amundsen counselor/service learning coach, of the volunteer effort. "And they're doing something nice for people."

Rosalia Werstein was one of the hundreds of seniors enjoying the complimentary lunch.

Werstein has lived in Lincoln Square since 1971, having immigrated at the age of 28 from a small German town within Romania.

"I love this neighborhood," she said. "It has everything you want."

For her, finding a community of German-Americans was instrumental in adjusting to the big city.

"At first you don't know the language, so you join a club," said Werstein, a member of the Donauschwaben cultural society.

Today, Lincoln Square's once large German population is beginning to dwindle, as older members die off and younger members move to the suburbs.

"There aren't too many any more. Much less than 10 years ago," said Elisabeth Linke, a Yugoslavian-German.

Linke came to Chicago in 1956 at the age of 18 and worked at Lutz Bakery making chocolates. Her husband, Manfred Linke, who moved to the U.S. in 1957 from East Germany at the age of 24, used to run a barber shop.

The pair met during German Day at the now-defunct Riverview Amusement Park.

"That's when all my troubles started," joked Manfred.

Maifest runs 5-11 p.m. Friday; noon - 11 p.m. Saturday and noon - 10 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. The festival is located at the intersection of Western and Lincoln avenues, immediately adjacent to the Western Brown Line station.