By Adam Rollins
Missourian Staff Writer
Organizers of the Deutsch Country Days German history festival in Marthasville announced last Thursday that the annual event is coming to an end after 36 years.
“It is with profound regret that we must inform our family of loyal supporters of the decision to end Deutsch Country Days effective in 2018. There will not be an event in October,” organizers announced on the festival’s Facebook page.
The festival at Luxenhaus Farm on Highway O has celebrated the history and culture of 19th-century German settlers in Missouri since being founded in 1982. Costumed volunteers educated visitors and taught them skills such as candlemaking and rope weaving that early pioneers relied on to settle in Missouri.
For many visitors, it was a glimpse into the lives of their ancestors.
“We are proud of all we have accomplished in fulfilling the vision and mission of our founders, Bob and Lois Hostkoetter, and we feel our Deutsch Country Days was the best representation of living history in our grand state of Missouri,” organizers said. “We send special thanks to our volunteers, exhibitors, demonstration artisans and historians, and all who helped make the event what it was for 36 years.”
Bob Hostkoetter told The Missourian that Deutsch Country Days is ending because there is less volunteer help and lower attendance than in years past.
Hostkoetter, who is 90, expressed regret that the event he helped start in 1982 is coming to an end.
“I gave it a lot of thought, but I just don’t have the energy to pick up the pieces anymore, and there’s more pieces to pick up than there used to be,” he said. “It’s been my life . . . I just don’t have the energy at 90 years old that I had when I was 70.”
Hostkoetter attributed the decline of Deutsch Country Days to changing attitudes about hard work and respect for history. He estimates attendance had dropped by a third from its high point of 5,000 people over a weekend.
The number of volunteers regularly available to put in days of preparation work, and demonstrators for the event itself, has dropped as well, he said.
For Hostkoetter, the hard work it took to prepare for and run the festival was part of learning about history, about how hard pioneer settlers worked just to live. History is something he said you can’t appreciate if you haven’t experienced it.
“Most people can’t even imagine the kind of work it took” to build a home from nothing in this area, he said. “That spirit has dwindled.”
The site of the Deutsch Country Days festival might still see some use. At least one educational group has expressed interest in using the Luxenhaus Farm for events, Hostkoetter said.
Many community members were sad to learn that the festival would end. Many reflected through online comments that the annual event has been part of their lives for years.
“I grew up going every October with my parents and continued with my own kids. Thanks for all the memories,” said Elizabeth Cromer.
“I’ve come many times over the years and have always enjoyed it,” said Karen Hotfelder. “I only regret that future generations will no longer be able to learn the history and ways of our past in this area.”