Arts center to celebrate Charles City’s German and Norwegian heritage this weekend

By James Grob,

Uff da.

It’s a Norwegian expression that is actually more popular among the descendants of Scandinavian immigrants in North America than it’s ever been in Norway. Literally translated to mean “ouch” or “ouch, then,” the two words are used to express surprise, astonishment, exhaustion, relief and sometimes dismay. “Uff da” can also be used as an alternative for many common obscenities — or pretty much to fill dead air whenever the speaker wants to use it.

This weekend, it’ll be used in celebration.

The “Uff Da Fruehling Festival,” a Norwegian-German celebration, will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Charles City Arts Center. This is the second year of the festival, and if it goes well, CCAC Director Jacqueline Davidson said she thinks it will become an annual Charles City tradition.

“We had such a good time last year, we know this can be an annual event,” she said.

The event will feature German food, Norwegian desserts, local and imported beer, and live polka music, courtesy of the band Polka Proste.

Polka Proste is a six- or seven-piece polka band made up of local musicians, and the group has been around since 1981, according to Susan Jacob, an original member.

“It’s just fun to play. That kind of music is really entertaining,” Jacob said. “There’s always an uplifting beat.”

Davidson agreed.

“You cannot be sad with polka music,” she said.

The band mainly tours the “nursing home circuit” these days, performing polkas, waltzes and a few two-steps, and Jacob recalls once playing at a nursing home when one member of the audience knew all the words to the songs — in Czech.

Polka Proste used to tour more extensively, and had gigs at dances and in bars and ballrooms in Osage, Janesville and Lawler, among other places. Saturday, the gig will be the “Uff Da Fruehling Festival” in Charles City.

The name “Uff Da Fruehling” comes from the combining of the Norwegian “Uff da” with the German word for spring — “fruehling.”

Davidson explained that a good amount of the population in Charles City comes from either a German or Norwegian background. When she moved to Charles City 11 years ago, there was a small amount of culture shock, as her background is mostly Celtic.

“It was an interesting experience to me, moving here and being among Americans — but there was a little bit of a cultural difference there,” she said. “I thought we should have some kind of festival, like an Oktoberfest. These wonderful German and Norwegian people here take time to celebrate the diversity of everyone else here, but they don’t celebrate themselves.”

She talked with some German and Norwegian friends about it, and ‘Uff Da Fruehling” was born.

Davidson said that since you don’t know around here from one day to the next if it’s going to be warm or cold, the name “Uff Da Fruehling” essentially means “maybe it’s spring, maybe not.”

“That sounds like Iowa, doesn’t it?” she smiled.

The event will be both inside and outside the arts center, depending upon the weather. It is a fundraiser for the arts center, which is asking for a $10 donation.