JEFFERSON — An immigrant from Germany who relocated to Wisconsin, Christian Mainka said he felt welcome as soon as he saw the sign proclaiming Jefferson as the “Gemuetlichkeit City.”
“And they even spelled it right,” Mainka said with a smile.
Christian recalled that he is tickled pink that his new hometown has embraced the German concept of Gemuetlichkeit, which he describes as a kind of coziness.
With no direct translation in English, Gemuetlichkeit encompasses good friends, good times, good food and drink, and good cheer.
Christian and his wife, Carol, have embraced Jefferson’s Gemuetlichkeit Days festival in turn.
This week, they’ll be holding a pre-Gemuetlichkeit party ahead of the community’s traditional German-heritage fest, which takes place this Friday through Sunday, Sept 13-15.
The couple also has adopted the Gemuetlichkeit theme for their own house: During the past two years, they have remodeled the exterior of the modern home on North Cairo Avenue with German-style “Fachwerk,” and decorated it with a Gemuetlichkeit City welcome banner.
“It all started after our backyard shed fire two years ago,” Carol said, noting that the shed burned to the ground in the blaze and the intense flames also damaged some of the house siding.
This proved the impetus for a project Christian always had wanted to take on. He had liked the house and its tucked-away location at the end of a non-through street, but never had been a fan of the exterior vinyl siding.
An engineer by training with experience on various architectural projects, he decided to replace the siding not with more of the same, but with stucco German “Fachwerk.” The design called for the dark boards to be crossed over the white stucco in patterns known at St. Andreaskreuze (St. Andrew’s crosses).
With some funding provided through their insurance, the family took on the job of installing the new German-style siding.
Christian, Carol and daughters Cathy Jackson and Christina Mainka did most of the work themselves.
“We needed a bunch of materials, carpenter tools and scaffolding,” Carol said. “My husband and I removed most of the lower siding, whereas our two daughters, often standing on tippy-toes on the scaffold, removed the higher siding.”
The installation of the stucco panels and cedar boards required much more planning and effort than removing the vinyl siding, and caulking all of the joints proved tedious, but they were pleased with the ultimate result.
Last summer, they completed roughly half of the project and the rest they finished up this summer, with the final work complete just before July 4.
“That was early enough to hand out a few flags to celebrate both Independence Day and our project,” Carol said.
The north side of the house still features American flags and decorations in honor of Christian’s adopted country, but German flags also are evident in the flower boxes and along the side of the house in honor of his birth country.
Prominent on both the east and west sides of the house are two Gemuetlichkeit banners, reading the “Gemuetlichkeit City Welcomes You.”
Christian is proud of his history, both his origin in Germany and his many years in America.
Born and raised in Beuthen, Germany, he immigrated to the U.S. in 1959, attending college in New York City to study civil engineering. He became a licensed professional engineer four years later, and 10 years after that went into business with a partner in environmental engineering.
A decade later, he and his partner sold their New York business. Having earned enough money to live comfortably in “early retirement,” Christian moved to Florida and focused on playing tennis for several years until he decided he missed working in his field and signed on with a company in Cape Coral, Fla.
It was in Florida that Christian met Carol, a Milwaukee native who had moved to Florida to live with her brother. This is the second marriage for both of them.
The two found much in common, both being enthusiastic tennis players and being interested in music. Carol plays the guitar and Christian, the harmonica, and they have performed together at numerous nursing homes and memory care facilities.
After dating for a couple of years, the couple married in 1993. Through the years, they came up to Wisconsin many times to visit Carol’s relatives in Palmyra, Jefferson, Deerfield and Waukesha, and ultimately, they decided to make their home in Jefferson for half the year, returning to Florida for the other half.
“We came here because of her wonderful family,” Christian said, noting that his own family mostly resides in Germany or Scotland.
Five years ago, the couple bought their current home at 245 N. Cairo Ave.
“The sign for Gemuetlichkeit City made me feel right at home,” Christian said.
One of the first things he did upon arriving in Jefferson was to visit the cemetery. He saw that about half the names were German and Bavarian in origin, giving him an additional sense of kinship.
Immediately, they connected with the Gemuetlichkeit community, attending the German-heritage fest each year.
Christian also makes his own wine as a hobby, the label of which honors Jefferson’s tradition, reading, “Gemuetlichkeit City.”
Now with their new “Fachwerk” exterior, the Mainkas have created a tiny corner of Germany right in Jefferson. They even planted 50 little trees to create a “Black Forest” atmosphere, and red-and-yellow flowers to go with the colors in the German flag.
And inside, the Mainkas already have set out Christian’s German hat and Carol’s flower crown, all ready to go for this weekend’s Germuetlichkeit Days celebration.