Preserving their heritage

The Good Life

Pommersche Tanzdeel Freistadt at Milwaukee’s German Fest.

What started as a way to make their German friends and relatives feel welcome during the American Bicentennial celebration in 1976 has become a way of life for more than 40 years for siblings George Radtke and Liesl Thomas.

George Radtke, far right, and Liesl Thomas, second from right, play with Pommersche Tanzdeel Freistadt at Milwaukee’s German Fest.
George Radtke, far right, and Liesl Thomas, second from right, play with Pommersche Tanzdeel Freistadt at Milwaukee’s German Fest.

Radtke and Thomas, co-owners of W. & E. Radtke Inc., a wholesale perennial nursery in Germantown, attended Trinity Lutheran School in the Freistadt neighborhood of Mequon, where Germans from the country’s Pomerania region settled in the mid-1800s.

George Radtke, middle, and Liesl Thomas, right, with Carol Bandow.
George Radtke, middle, and Liesl Thomas, right, with Carol Bandow.

Freistadt hosted a Pomeranian dance group from Erlangen, Germany in 1976. A year later, Pommersche Tanzdeel Freistadt Inc., a performing music and dance troupe, was organized to preserve the community’s culture.

Thomas, who was 14 at the time, learned to play the accordion. Radtke, who was 16, began singing with the group.

Today, there are about 60 members, some as young as 5, who perform 20 to 25 times per year at ethnic festivals and folk fairs locally and across the Midwest.

“This has been a great release,” Radtke said. “It is a time to clear your mind, relax and not be worried about what is going on around you.”

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