Club responds to declining membership

Centuries ago, and for hundreds of years in the Ore Mountains of Germany, men mined deep underground for silver and tin. In the dark winter months, the miners turned their skills to decorative crafts for their homes in the small snowbound town of Seiffen. They used woodturning to craft candle chandeliers, plates and candle holders. They made Christmas pyramiden (pyramids) and Räuchermanner (smoking men) and hand-carved toys. The people in the Ore Mountains valued light and incorporated it into much of what they crafted. In 1849, ore depleted, the mines closed. The Seiffen craftsmen turned their crafts into a toy industry.

Every November, Annett Filler and her father Hans Sandker sell these traditional toys at the German Canadian Club of London’s Christkindl market. The club’s choir has organized the annual event for over 30 years to raise funds for their travel expenses.

Filler and Sandker import the folkart pieces from Seiffen, the birthplace of the nutcracker. The nutcracker lampoons authority figures like soldiers, policemen and kings. The genial smoking men portray townspeople like miners, bakers and chimney sweeps. The top halves of the smoking men lift off. Their hollow bellies hold incense cones. When lit, the smoke from the incense puffs out the smokers’ mouths.

Christmas pyramids were the precursors to Christmas trees. The pyramids have multi-level platforms. On each platform stand tiny candles and small carved wooden figures, which depict scenes. A propeller tops the pyramid. When lit, the heat from the candles turns the propeller and the platforms rotate.

“The toys are available only once a year at the Christkindle market,” says Filler.

Volunteers from the choir also run a coffee shop at the market. One of the volunteers says that with the club’s decline in membership, fundraising is important to keep the club afloat.

“I have five kids and they only come to the club when I say, how about schnitzel?” says the volunteer.

In the 1960s, membership hovered between 300 and 400 people, says Jürgen Belle, the club’s president. Now, there are 120 members.

“Eight or nine years ago, things were pretty dire,” says Belle. While soccer has never lost its appeal, things like skat, a traditional card game, held little interest for first and second generation German Canadians.

But, like the people of the Ore Mountains, Belle and his fellow board members persevered. They introduced monthly dances, a children’s carnevale, and regular schnitzel dinners. Their biggest draw has always been soccer’s World Cup every four years. But their most popular annual event is Oktoberfest. “It’s grown every year since we introduced it, which is impressive since we have to compete now with the Western Fair’s event,” says Belle. What makes the club’s Oktoberfest different is its emphasis on authenticity, he says.

The thing Belle is most excited about is the Canada 150 grant the club received to repair the club’s roof and replace the windows. “That was a big a win for us,” he says, “but there’s still more to do.”