|German song, or Lieder, was greatly influenced by poets such as Schiller, and during the pre-Civil
War period, lieder also crept into America, in part due to concerts by the likes of Jenny Lind. It
spread even more rapidly because of Stephen Foster's influence. Foster was taught music by a
German and spoke the language fluently. After the Civil War, interest and admiration for German
culture even more steadily increased and Liederkranz societies formed in nearly every city. Many
American composers went to Germany for study. They came home with a genuine appreciation and
fresh approach to American popular music. German American singing groups sprang up all over
America, preserving German musical tradition and keeping the culture alive by holding Sangerfests
By 1860, 200 German-language magazines and newspapers were published in the USA, and this
grew to many thousands by the end of the nineteenth century. There were major German language
book publishers in nearly every major city, each producing thousands of German books every
year.The bulk of "Germans" who came to America arrived at a time when there was not yet a nation
of "Germany" since Germany was not yet unified in the early years of major German emigration.
Instead, they came as Saxons, Bavarians, Prussians, Swabians, Hessians, etc. and thought of
themselves as such. They wore distinctive dress, spoke in dialects other Germans did not always
understand and even tended to marry within their respective groups.
Their one common bond was the written German language. Since they were not an entirely exclusive
group, they did not have an "us versus them" mentality and tended to assimilate more rapidly than
other ethnic groups. While they enjoyed German language newspapers, ate German food and held
on to some customs near and dear to them such as a festive Christmas, singing groups and
beergartens, they still wanted to mingle and mix into their new world, primarily to make money and
prosper. It was easier for Germans to assimilate than other distinct ethnic groups, in part because
they were not physically "different" than the other European settlers already in place except for their
language and most learned English rather quickly.
Most Germans who came in the mid-19th century were fleeing from the failed revolutions. They
were not especially happy with the land of their birth. Many came to America to escape tyranny,
oppression and control by petty little dukes and pompous princes. They came because archaic laws
in the old homeland would have prevented them from marrying the one they loved, owning their
own farm or business, hunting and fishing where and when they wanted and even giving their
children the names of their choice. Many came to escape political turmoil and left their homeland
reluctantly. They would have stayed if only there had been more money, more jobs, more liberty or
more opportunity. Even though most of these immigrants still had living relatives back in the old
country and their ties were not entirely severed, they loved their new land and were willing to fight
for American ideals, which were also their ideals.
A full quarter of the fighting force in the American Civil War were German American. Idealistic and
eager to show loyalty to their new homeland, some had barely disembarked from their immigrant
ships when they answered the call to duty. Sixty seven of them received the Medal of Honor.
On September 14, 1869 thousands of people gathered across the United States in parades, speeches
and ceremonies to mark the centennial of Alexander Humboldt's birth and the New York Times
devoted its entire front page coverage to the momentous events while the city's public buildings were
all hung with portraits and flags and the ships in New York harbor were wrapped in bunting. In
Central Park, 25,000 people gathered to hear speeches while bands played and a bronze bust of
Humboldt was dedicated, ten years after a bust of Schiller was erected as the oldest portrait
sculpture in Central Park and 15 years before one of Beethoven shot up. In Jersey City, across the
Hudson, the celebration was equally as fantastic with houses along the parade route decorated for a
march composed of prominent citizens with a platoon of police and wagons covered with flags and
filled with young women in white dresses. A bust of Humboldt was also unveiled there as well as a
colossal portrait of Humboldt.
In 1871, there was a huge parade on New York's Broadway celebrating Bismarck's victory, led by
none other than Civil War hero Franz Sigel. The formation of the German Empire was jubilantly
welcomed in the United States and soon internationally. It was efficient, prosperous and well-
respected. For decades, scholars, scientists and artists flocked to Germany for education, romance
and adventure. They came home praising and spreading German virtues, education and culture.
There were German American clubs, sports associations, churches, parades, beer gardens and
newspapers all over America where Germans had substantial communities. There were towns named
Berlin, streets called Goethe and schools named Schiller just about everywhere.
Sizable, respectable German colonies existed in not only in Buffalo, but in Milwaukee, St. Louis,
Indianapolis, and in other cities as well: "Kleindeutschland" in New York, Chicago's North Side,
Cincinnati's "Over the Rhine", "Little Saxony" in New Orleans and others. There were many entirely
German farm hamlets, villages and small towns in almost every area of the United States. It was not
uncommon in schools in some of those communities to sport a portrait of Bismarck on their walls
next to one of George Washington. Between 1820 and 1920, over 5,500,000 people had emigrated
However diverse, Germans were none the less proud of their mutual heritage and culture, and
especially elated with Bismarck's success in the unification of Germany in 1871, something which
many recent immigrants or their parents had dreamed of and fought for before coming to America.
Germany's respected new status in the world reflected on each and every American of German
descent. They shared the excitement and enthusiasm for a new democratic Germany with as much
joy as their kinfolk "back home" did. For the first time, Bavarians, Saxons, Swabians and Prussians
in German lands as well as America were all proudly calling themselves Germans.
An 1883 Saengerfest Parade in Buffalo, New York, below, drew thousands of participants from all
over the country, and Schiller was still beloved on May 8, 1905 when 25 brass bands and 6,000
marchers joined by dignitaries and politicians paraded down New York's Fifth Avenue celebrating
the 100th anniversary of his death. Vendors served pretzels, sauerkraut and beer to celebrants
dressed in ethnic German clothing. Turner gymnasts cart wheeled down the avenue while thousands
of people sang hearty old marches and songs, including the Star Spangled Banner..in German. As
America's largest ethnic group, German pastimes had become America's pastimes, their food
America's food, their beer America's beer and their Christmas traditions America's traditions.
|If one were to ask a group of American school children today what image springs to mind when they
hear the word "German", you would most likely hear the following adjectives: fat, mean, violent,
arrogant, ugly, loud, aggressive..or all of the above. It would be obvious that there is an aversion and
negative response to the very word. If one were to ask who Schiller or Goethe were, you would
probably either be met with a blank stare or be told that they were "Nazi generals".
The German people in our modern media have been alternately portrayed as silly, clumsy, beer-
bellied fools or mad scientists and evil warlords. They vie with Arabs for first place as the Saturday
cartoon version of the arch enemy of mankind.. their "guttural" accent alone enough to trigger fear
and loathing. This conditioning started long before the National Socialists, however. It began almost a
century ago and only took a few months to engineer. It is difficult to believe that there was actually a
time when the German popular image was not only otherwise, but completely the opposite. It was
very good and very old, going back, as we have seen, to the American Revolution.
In the United States, Germans were the majority of immigrants for decades and they formed a huge
part of the population. A German presence went back to the earliest days of the nation when most
early German immigrants lived in the rural countryside. Back in 1745, there were an estimated
45,000 Germans living in Pennsylvania alone, and most were farmers. Only about two fifths lived in
cities larger than 25,000 people, and even as late as 1870, German-born farmers made up one third
of the agricultural industry in rural America. The German-American element was strong enough that
German Language was allowed as an official alternative in the schools of many states, some requiring
it upon parental demand as early as 1839. Some public and parochial schools taught exclusively in
German throughout many decades, and many larger cities, such as Baltimore, St. Louis, Cincinnati
and Cleveland operated bilingual schools.
John Quincy Adams was also one of the most famous translators of Friedrich Schiller. Adams' book,
'44 Letters About Germany' created great interest in German classic literature. Schiller's plays were
soon published in America, in fact, "The Robbers" was the first drama printed in Philadelphia and it
was performed as a play in 1796 in New York. Friedrich Schiller's work inspired Frederick Douglass,
and in his paper North Star, Douglass called Schiller "The Poet of Freedom''.
In 1859, the celebrations in America for Schiller's 100th birthday had been even bigger than the
celebrations in Germany, running for days across the whole nation and causing the Chicago Tribune
on November 9, 1859 to claim: "In another age, Schiller will stand forth in the foremost rank of the
master spirits of this century, and be admitted to a place among the chosen of all centuries.''
Many American literary icons either studied or lived in Germany. Washington Irving travelled widely
in Germany studying German language and literature, and he used German folktales as a basis for
many of his own stories, best-known of which is 'Rip Van Winkle', based on a German folktale.
Whitman, Emerson and many other thinkers of the American Renaissance appreciated German
literature and were greatly influenced by it. Louisa May Alcott, although of New England parentage,
was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania and educated by a father that was well-versed in German
literature. She loved all things German, even to the point of making some of her romantic heroes
Edgar Allen Poe was a Germanophile as was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who visited Germany
and became enchanted by the German Romanticist movement, a literary fusion of philosophy,
poetry, and politics aimed at exploring human emotion. He settled down for a time in the university
town of Göttingen, Germany for a relatively disciplined study in preparation for his Bowdoin
professorship. Beautiful Berlin was a popular destination for American tourists.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, spoke fluent German and translated
many German literary works into English for the American public. James Russell Lowell and Bret
Harte stayed for a time in Germany as did Thomas Wolfe, also regarded as a fierce Germanophile.
James Fenimore Cooper's adventures through the German countryside prompted the novels 'The
Bravo', 'The Heidenmauer' and 'The Headsman'. He was wildly popular in Germany. Susan
Fenimore Cooper, the author’s daughter (and a nature writer), wrote of how her father decided to
write "The Deerslayer" in her introduction of the book:
|Pre-Hysteria: Before They Sprouted Horns and Fangs
|End of section one
|“In the year 1709 a large party of Protestant Germans from the Palatinate, fleeing
from the effects of religious persecution, and the poverty brought upon Rhenish
Germany by the wars of Louis XIV., emigrated to America under the patronage of
Queen Anne. Some three thousand crossed the Atlantic at this period. Many of
these settled in Pennsylvania, others on the Hudson, others at the German Flats on
the Mohawk. A colony of several hundred of these worthy industrious people
settled on the banks of the Schoharie [New York] in 1711. … Natty, hero of "The
Leather-Stocking Tales", and Hurry Harry are supposed to have approached Lake
Otsego from the little colony on the Schoharie, founded thirty years earlier by the
‘Palatines,’ as they were called.
“There was a village of the Mohegans on the Schoharie, at the foot of a hill called by
them ‘Mohegonter,’ or ‘the falling away of the Mohegan Hill.’ These Mohegans
came, it is said, originally from the eastward, beyond the Hudson. The clan is
reported to have numbered some three hundred warriors when the Germans arrived
among them. A tortoise and a serpent were the tokens of this clan. documents,
chiefly sales of land to the Germans, still exist bearing their signatures in this shape.”