CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Tennesseans and Germans celebrated their growing ties Saturday with a May Fest, or Maifest, at Spring Creek Development.
After 33 years in Tennessee, Michael Gangwisch, who heads the Tennessee chapter of the German-American Chamber of Commerce, considers himself a "Tennessean with German roots."
The festival was organized to raise money to benefit the Montessori Educational and Cultural Foundation, the Ocoee Region Multicultural Services and victims of the April 27 storms.
"We are learning a little more about the culture of our friends from Germany who are daily moving into our community, bringing jobs and a lot of friendship," Mayor Tom Rowland told the crowd.
Gangwisch said the German-American Chamber provides a link between Germany and Tennessee for students as well as businesses. And it helps Tennessee students interested in international business studies to find internships in Germany.
The Chamber is especially helpful to midsized and small businesses with an interest in Tennessee, or in Germany, he said.
The Chamber was a contact point for Wacker Chemical and Volkswagen when their interests turned to Tennessee, Gangwisch said, "but the big boys didn't really need us. They do a fantastic job themselves."
Christian Hoeferle, a native of Germany whose family has lived here for about seven years, said the deadly April tornadoes almost stopped the festival. But after considering, the organizers saw the festival as a way to help, he said.
And Maifest is more in keeping with the traditional festival in Bavaria, the part of Germany where Wacker was founded, Hoeferle said. Oktoberfest is better known here, he said, but that is a traditional Munich festival.
Children from the Montessori Kinder school celebrated the end of the school year by showing off how much German they have learned.
Montessori Kinder plans to have a school at Spring Creek Development in the future.