Klaus Fromme has been the president and director of German Fest since 1981. A native of Germany, Fromme has called Milwaukee his home since 1961 and found immediate comfort in Brew City because of its German roots.
This year, German Fest, which runs from July 25 to 27, features a new concert series called Jams On Tap, which takes place on the BMO Harris Pavilion stage. The concerts are not of German music, but the intention is to attract more people to German Fest who might not otherwise attend.
On Friday, July 25, Three Dog Night with the 5-Card Studs play at 6 p.m. On Saturday, the Ultimate Legends play at 2 p.m. and Bret Michaels (from the metal band Poison) with I’m Not a Pilot will take the stage at 8 p.m.
Finally, on Sunday, The Wisconsin Philharmonic play at 1:30 p.m. and the Plain White T’s and Vic and Gab perform at 7 p.m.
All of the shows are $15 except for Brett Michaels, which costs $20. All tickets include admission to German Fest.
"A lot of people think that German Fest is just polka and beer, but it’s a lot more than that," says Fromme. "We hope this new series will attract people who have never attended German Fest. They will come for the music and then stay to enjoy German food, enteratinment and culture."
OnMilwaukee.com recently checked in with Fromme and chatted about his role at German Fest, brat sales, dachshunds, marriage and more.
OnMilwaukee.com: Where were you born and when did you come to the United States?
Klaus Fromme: I was born in Braunlage, Germany. I moved to Milwaukee in 1961 after my uncle gave me the opportunity to come. When I first got here, I learned English and then worked as a product designer. I was also in the United States military for 15 years. I retired from the Bradley Corporation in 2010.
OMC: Does Milwaukee remind you of Germany and, if so, how?
KF: Oh, yes. More than 50 percent of the population is German (or has some German ancestry). So many of the companies here were founded by Germans. In fact, this year at German Fest we have a cultural exhibit that features the German influence on the state of Wisconsin – tool and die shops, stores of all kinds, restaurants, the breweries.
OMC: Your position at German Fest is a volunteer position, right?
KF: Yes, German Fest is run entirely by volunteers – about 2,200 volunteers. There are also 25 people on the board of directors.
OMC: How much of a time commitment is your role as the president and director of German Fest?
KF: I volunteer about 400 hours a year for German Fest and 120 of those hours are volunteered during the fest.
OMC: What is your favorite German beer?
KF: When I have the chance, I like to drink Einbecker, which is from my hometown in Germany. It’s available in most liquor stores here, but not at German Fest. We have beers brewed specifically for German Fest by Sprecher and Leinenkugel, which are very good, too.
OMC: What’s the best German food item at the fest?
KF: Of course, I would say everything that’s served at German Fest. It is all prepared on the grounds. There are four styles of bratwurst, sauerbraten, goulash, wienerschnitzel, pork shanks. So much delicious food.
OMC: Any idea how many brats you sell a year at German Fest?
KF: We sell about 20,000 brats over the three days of German Fest. We also sell about 5,000 chickens.
OMC: So you are on the grounds from open to close during German Fest?
KF: Yes. Even more. My day starts around 5 a.m. and I am usually there until midnight or 1 a.m. Actually, a lot of us are there, on the grounds, starting the Monday before the fest.
OMC: What are some activities at German Fest you are most looking forward to this year?
KF: There is a Mardi Gras Show on Saturday at 7 p.m. on the Briggs and Stratton stage. In Germany, Mardi Gras is called Karneval, Fastnacht or Fasching. I’m also looking forward to the Dachshund Derby and wiener dog costume contest on Sunday. At 1:05 p.m. there’s a blessing of the dachshunds and the costume contest is at 2:30 p.m. That’s always a lot of fun.
OMC: Do you have a dachshund?
KF: No, we travel a lot. There is no way we could have an animal, but we like them very much.
OMC: Are you married?
KF: Yes, I married my wife when I was stationed in Germany 49 years ago. We have a grown daughter and son, and a granddaughter. My son has worked at German Fest for 25 years and my daughter works there on and off.
OMC: Wow, so next year is a huge year for you! You will be married for 50 years and it will also be the 35th anniversary of German Fest?
KF: Yes, it’s going to be a very big year.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.