Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Diaries of Panorama Painter Friedrich Wilhelm Heine

One of the MKI’s current projects is a collaboration with the Milwaukee County Historical Society and the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend to transcribe into modern German script and eventually translate into English the diaries of German-Milwaukeean panorama painter Friedrich Wilhelm Heine. From 1879 until his death in 1921, Heine kept a most meticulous daily diary in which he recorded every aspect of his life. The diary is written in miniscule old German script that is unintelligible even to most native German speakers today. Therefore we are delighted to have received a major grant from the Milwaukee Bradley Foundation that recognizes the tremendous importance of Heine’s writings and supports the hiring of a team of transcription experts for the first phase of the project.

Heine was already a well-known artist in Dresden, Germany when he came to Milwaukee in the summer of 1885. He had been recruited by Chicago businessman William Wehner to help establish the “American Panorama Company.” In the second half of the nineteenth century, ‘panoramas’ or ‘cycloramas’ were the newest wave of art and entertainment. Huge circular buildings dominated the skyline of most major European and American cities. They exhibited 360-degree paintings that frequently covered close to 15,000 square feet of canvas, depicting mostly battle scenes, other historic or religious events, and landscapes. Sometimes called the “IMAXes of the nineteenth century,” these giant installations fell out of favor with the advent of the motion picture. Canvasses were dismantled and destroyed and the art form was largely forgotten. Scholars around the world now eagerly await Heine’s words in an accessible format to learn more about the world of panorama, the German-American art scene, the life of a German immigrant, and so much more. Members of the Friends of MKI will also find more information on the project and a detailed report on the International Panorama Symposium - that we held on November 1 at the Museum in West Bend - in the summer and winter 2008 issues of the MKI Friends newsletter.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Richard Zeitlin, 1945-2008

Richard Zeitlin, longtime Director of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, passed away last week. For many people interested in the history of German immigration to Wisconsin, Richard Zeitlin’s book “Germans in Wisconsin” provided a first and concise introduction. At the MKI, we worked and consulted with Richard Zeitlin on a number of projects over the years. We were always grateful that he so freely shared his incredible knowledge of military history, Civil War history, and more specifically the history of German-Americans in the military. Many of us fondly remember the fascinating presentation he gave on "German-Americans in the Civil War" at our 2003 annual meeting.

Monday, December 1, 2008

“Swiss Center of North America” opens in New Glarus, Wisconsin

On December 6, the Swiss Center of North America in New Glarus, Wisconsin will celebrate its grand opening. You are invited to join the festivities on 507 Durst Road between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. The idea of a Swiss cultural center grew out of the realization that descendants of Swiss immigrants have artifacts, books, papers, collections and other items they would like to see preserved and used to help tell the story of the Swiss in North America. However, unlike other ethnic groups, no national depository archive, library museum or center existed to portray the Swiss migration to North America. In 1999, New Glarus was chosen to become home of the Swiss Center of North America amidst enthusiastic local support as well as strong support from the State of Wisconsin, corporations like Nestle and Novartis, and the government of Switzerland.

MKI Director Cora Lee Kluge receives "Bundesverdienstkreuz"

We are delighted to announce that MKI Director Cora Lee Kluge was awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz (Federal Order of Merit) by the Federal Republic of Germany ― the highest such honor bestowed to a foreigner by the German government ― for her work in furthering German-American understanding and friendship and her contributions to the fields of German-American Studies and German language and literature education. The award was presented by German Consul General Wolfgang Drautz in a special ceremony on November 24 at the Memorial Union in Madison.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Spring 2009 Course on the German Immigration Experience

Prof. Cora Lee Kluge at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will once again teach a course that surveys the immigration experience of Europeans from German-speaking lands. The guiding questions of the course will include: Who were these immigrants and why did they come to America? Why did Wisconsin become a particularly strong area of German settlement? What kind of life and what problems and disappointments did German immigrants encounter? Historical, sociological, linguistic, and cultural aspects will be considered, in order both to gain insight into the greatest movement of peoples in modern times and to view the development of the United States from a unique perspective. The course requires no knowledge of German.

We know of a similar course offered by Johannes Strohschänk and William Thiel at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. We'd like to hear if other such courses are being offered in other locations!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Good old immigrants of 'yesteryear' who didn't learn English

A newly published study done by Miranda Wilkerson (a recent UW-Madison Ph.D. in German who does second language acquisition) and former MKI Director and Professor of German, Joe Salmons, has gained national and international attention for questioning the myth that all early immigrants immediately learned English. Their article "Good old immigrants of yesteryear' who didn't learn English" appears in vol. 83, pp. 259-283, of American Speech. The following is an excerpt from an article in the Madison Capitol Times (10/18/2008):

Joseph Salmons has always been struck by a frequent argument in letters to the editor, national debates and in just plain old conversations: "My great, great grandparents came to America and quickly learned English to survive. Why can't today's immigrants do the same?" With "English-only" movements cropping up and debate growing about how quickly new Spanish-speaking immigrants should learn English, the University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of German decided the issue was important enough to look more deeply into the past.
Focusing on German immigrants was a logical choice, Salmons said, since they represented the biggest immigration wave to Wisconsin in the mid-1800s, "and they really fit this classic view of the 'good old immigrants' of the 19th century." In many of the original German settlements in the mid-1800s from southeastern Wisconsin to Lake Winnebago and the Fox Valley, the researchers found that German remained the primary language of commerce, education and religion well into the early 20th century. Some second- and even third-generation German immigrants who were born in Wisconsin still spoke only German as adults. "These folks were committed Americans," said Salmons. "They participated in politics, in the economy, and were leaders in their churches and their schools. They just happened not to conduct much of their life in English."
"This finding provides striking counterevidence to the claim that early immigrants learned English quickly." [The authors] also found, surprisingly, that people in contact with the Germans learned to speak German as well. In Ozaukee County, for instance, there was evidence that Irish families who lived scattered among Germans could speak German.
According to Salmons, the study suggests that conventional wisdom may actually have it backwards -- while early immigrants didn't necessarily need English to succeed and responded slowly, modern immigrants recognize it as a ticket to success and are learning English in faster than was done in the olden days.

The Lusitania Effect

Join us on Thursday, October 23rd, at the Memorial Union (Tripp Commons) in Madison for the first in a series of events celebrating the MKI's 25th anniversary. A guest lecture will be held by Professor Emeritus of German, Frank Trommler, University of Pennsylvania, followed by a reception. The title of Professor Trommlers talk is:

The Lusitania Effect: German Propaganda and German Identity in World War I

Next to the Titanic no other sinking of a ship has preoccupied so many journalists and historians than that of the British ocean liner Lusitania which was torpedoed by a German submarine in 1915. The assault – which took the lives of 128 Americans – caused a rapid deterioration of American-German relations long before Wilson's declaration of war against the German Reich in 1917. It curtailed German propaganda for American neutrality and generated a new attitude of suspicion against German Americans which ballooned into an anti-German hysteria. Trommler discusses this development first in the context of other violent incidents that led to American military engagement in the 20 th century and then explores the deeper roots of the fast spreading confrontation with the German Americans, the largest ethnic group in the U.S. He analyzes the role of culture in the identity struggle of a nation of diverse interests, ethnicities and belief systems and defines the intensity of the fight against German culture – which surprised even critics of Germany – as part of the mobilization for war. Examining the anti-German campaign in light of the struggle for national unity, Trommler points to a larger contest in which American elites, most prominently John Dewey and Randolphe Bourne, used this confrontation for defining the specifics of an American mission, American culture, and the uses of the war.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

In Memorium: Kurt Schaldach

Kurt Schaldach passed away on April 14, 2008 in Napa, California, at the age of 95. In 1978 Kurt, a German painter living in Milwaukee, was commissioned by the Memorial Union of the University of Wisconsin in Madison both to design and paint the murals in the Stiftskeller and to perform the first ever restoration of the Rathskeller murals, which were painted in the 1920s. Living in one of the guest rooms, he spent most of two months painting and restoring the German murals. For more information on the Union's murals, see: "When Wine and Beer Fight" (the topic of one of Kurt's paintings).

Friday, May 30, 2008

Germans take notice of German in the U.S. Part II - Die Welt op Platt

Speakers of German immigrated to places all over the world. The same holds true for those who came from the Northern German regions and spoke “Plattdeutsch” or Low German. For three years now, the Northern German TV broadcaster NDR has been running a successful series called “Die Welt op Platt” (The World in Low German). Two reporters, Julia Westlake and Yared Dibaba, travel the world to record speakers of the many variants of Low German, some of them heritage speakers generations removed from the original immigrant. They traveled from Siberia to Namibia, from Brazil to China, and to many other places. In the United States they visited New York, Nebraska, Kansas, Seattle, and Iowa. Rumor has it that they soon will record Pommersch speakers in Marathon County, Wisconsin. It is interesting to note that Yared Dibaba himself is an immigrant from Ethiopia, who grew up learning “Platt” in a German village. Thus the series shows language and immigration in full circle.
Image: "Die Welt op Platt" in New York (from

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

MKI's 25th Anniversary Year!

It's a big year for us at the Max Kade Institute for German-American Studies--October will be our 25th anniversary. We will kick off our celebration with a lecture and reception in October and will conclude our festivities with a major international symposium on German-American Studies in April 2009. Please have a look at the PDF of our Spring 2008 MKI Friends Newsletter and read about MKI’s founding in the cover story by Cora Lee Kluge, MKI Director!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Germans take notice of German in the U.S. Part I - Texas German

Over the last couple of years, interest in things German-American has grown in Germany. People are curious about of what became of those German emigrants and their descendants. They are intrigued that German customs can still be found all over America and are fascinated by the fact that German dialects are still spoken in some parts of the U.S. Yesterday, for example, the German magazine Der Spiegel ran a two-part article on Texas German in its online edition: “Kuriose Sprachinsel – Man spricht Texas-Deutsch.” (A curious linguistic enclave – Texas German spoken here). The article describes the work of the Texas German Dialect Project (TGDP), an umbrella organization for carrying out research in representative Texas German speech communities in central Texas. Housed at the University of Texas-Austin, and currently led by Associate Professor of Germanic Linguistics Hans Boas, the project strives to preserve the Texas German dialect, to gather basic research information about the language variety, and to use the material collected in research projects for the improvement of educational programs about language and culture. Since Texas German—like so many other heritage languages—has not been passed on to younger generations for the last decades, the number of native Texas German speakers is shrinking drastically, and it is estimated that the dialect will become extinct by 2040.
Here are some Texas German examples as presented by Der Spiegel to its German audience, showing the strong English influence on the dialect.
Montag habe ich abgenommen - Monday I took off
mitaus - without
Wir sind nach den war nach Comfort gemoved - We moved to Comfort after the war
Die Eichkatz sitzt auf meine tools - The squirrel sits on my tools
Ich war kalt auf der porch - I was cold on the porch
The bread is all - The bread is all gone

In late February already, Germans were entertained with “Polka in Texas,” a one-hour show on WDR Weltweit, a broadcast by the Westdeutscher Rundfunk TV.

Image1: Prof. Boas speaking with Texas Germans (from; Image2: Texas-German polka player (from

Monday, April 7, 2008

Forty-Eighter Monument Dedicated in Davenport

On March 30, 2008 a 24,000-pound monument honoring a group of German immigrants known as the "Forty-Eighters" was erected near the banks of the Mississippi. The story behind this massive monument begins almost 160 years ago in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany.

In 1848, the Northern-German duchy of Schleswig was a fiefdom of Denmark, while its neighbor, the duchy of Holstein was part of the German Confederation. When in March 1848, the king of Denmark tried to bind the two duchies closer to his Kingdom, German patriots from both provinces started an uprising against the Danish crown. Unsuccessful in their struggle, many of those Schleswig-Holsteiners immigrated to the United States, a great many of them settling in Scott County, Iowa.

In 1872, these former freedom fighters organized a veterans' society known as Der Davenporter Verein der Kampfgenossen der Schleswig-Holsteinischen Freiheitskriege von 1848, 1849 und 1850 (The Davenport Society of Veterans of the Schleswig-Holstein Wars of Independence of 1848, 1849 and 1850). Their members were the pillars of the Davenport community, and in March 1898, a stone monument commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the Forty-Eighters' fight for freedom in their homeland was dedicated in Davenport’s Washington Square Park. Twelve hundred people attended the dedication ceremony. In his speech, Emil Geisler commemorated the struggle of the Forty-Eighters in their native homeland and their accomplishments in their adopted home of Iowa. He closed with the words:

"May Germania and Columbia like a pair of sisters, distinguished among the civilized nations of the world, always be united in their efforts for the welfare of their children and the distribution of the blessings of the civilization among all nations. And may the United States of America, now our blessed home, ever enjoy the blessings of peace and prosperity; and may it forever be the land of the free and the home of the brave, and its glorious banner forever wave!"

Less than two decades later, however, when anti-German sentiments during World War I were running high, the commemorative stone disappeared from Washington Square. Another ninety years later there is a renewed awareness of the accomplishments of the German Forty-Eighters and their contributions to American society, leading to the placement on March 30, 2008 of a new commemorative stone in Davenport on almost the very spot where the old one sat. More information, including historical photos and pictures from the ceremony, can be found on the Web Site of Dr. Joachim Reppmann.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Deciphering the Past

Anyone researching their German-speaking ancestors has likely come across the “Old German Script” in church records, handwritten letters, or diaries. As if learning the German language wasn’t enough of a barrier, now there’s another code to break! The sharp, angled lines of the alte deutsche Schriften (“old German scripts”) can be confusing (the curvier Sütterlin version is only slightly easier to decipher), but once you get the hang of it, it can be an interesting puzzle. There are several good sites on the Internet with information on the history of these scripts (for example, see HERE and HERE) and some, such as THIS one, supply guides for decoding the letters.

The script was, of course, being taught in German-language schools in the United States. The Max Kade Institute has several primers in its collection, published in America during the 19th century, that include lessons for learning this handwriting method. We also have several collections of letters and a few diaries written in the old script.

Here’s an image of a cross-written letter from the archives of the Max Kade Institute—observe how the page was turned sideways and the writing continued, likely in an effort to save on postage as well as paper. Click on the image for a larger version and test your skills—see if you can make out “Mein liebes Mathildchen” as the greeting!
By 1941 (and by Hitler’s decree) the script was no longer being taught in German schools. Not many people who were taught the script in their youth are still around today—however, members of the Sütterlin-Schreibstube in the Förderverein Altenzentrum [Center for the Aged Support Association] in Ansgar (Hamburg, Germany) offer transliteration services from the old German script into Latin (Roman) script. More information on this service can be found here:
The service provides intellectual stimulation for the members and helps make the diaries, letters, and other documents of our ancestors accessible.

We here at the Max Kade Institute are constantly wondering: How much American history is hidden in documents written by German-speaking immigrants? More researchers with skills in transcribing these scripts are needed!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

"Osterfeuer" – A German Tradition in Texas

Easter is around the corner. In Germany--as in the United States--this means colorful eggs, Easter bunnies and spring decorations. But all across Germany people celebrate the end of winter with another ancient tradition with clear pre-Christian roots: the lighting of “Osterfeuer” (big community bonfires) on the Saturday before Easter. There is one community in the United States, Fredericksburg in Texas, that still maintains this old tradition brought by German immigrants. It is interesting, though, that the popular belief among the Texas Germans today is that this practice dates back to contacts between German settlers and their Indian neighbors. According to this story, the custom originated in the early years of German settlement in Fredericksburg, when Comanche Indian scouts lit signal fires in the night to communicate with their chiefs, who were negotiating a treaty with German leader John Meusebach. The scouts presumably were informing their chiefs about the movements of the town's inhabitants. The following is the translation of an excerpt from the Max Kade Institute’s recent German-dialect CD publication “German Words – American Voices.” It features a Texas-German speaker recorded in 1964 by linguist Glenn Gilbert.

The Easter Fires burn every year on the Saturday evening before Easter on the hills around Fredericksburg. If you look up from the middle of town on that evening, you can see eight to twelve fires on top of the hills. Most of the fires have been built by various boy scout troops, but some families have built their own fires for many years. The family fires are mostly built out of wood, but the boy scout fires are mostly built out of lubricating oil and all kinds of rubber tires. In the weeks before the fires are lighted, the scouts look for and fetch old tires and lubricating oil. Each troop wants to have the biggest fire and each one also wants its fire to flare up first. Nowadays the people on top of the hills get a signal when they should light their fires. The signal comes from the fair grounds where a pageant is given. The pageant tells the history of the Easter Fires. It shows how hard the times in 1845 and shortly thereafter were, when the first German settlers arrived in Fredericksburg. They not only had a hard time with the weather, but also with cultivating the land; the wild Indians, mostly Comanche and Apache, often stole livestock, killed people, and dragged children away. For that reason the people were very afraid of the Indians. But that is why John Meusebach, a captain, like John Smith, wanted to make a peace treaty with the Indians. So the men went with Meusebach to the San Saba River, where the Comanche Indians were, in order to speak with them. While the men were away, the women and children were alone at home. The Indians probably also knew that the men had gone away to speak with them, since they built fires everywhere on the hills around Fredericksburg. When it was dark, a few children saw the many fires and they were afraid of them. The mother did not know at first what to do, but then she remembered the Easter Story she had learned as a child (in the old country). She knew that the children would understand the story since they had seen wild rabbits everywhere in Texas. So she told the children that the Easter Bunny and his helpers had built the fires in order to boil and dye the eggs. The little rabbits all fetched wildflowers to make the dye. The children were satisfied with the story and stayed quiet. The mother was glad that the children had fallen asleep and that she could boil the eggs so that she herself would not have to think about the Indians. So it is that every Easter the Easter Fires burn, just as there is a community Christmas tree every Christmas.

Image: Osterfeuer in Benneckenstein (

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

National German-American Heritage Center in Washington, DC

Plans are under way for the first national German-American Heritage Center in the United States to be established in downtown Washington, DC. The Center will be located at Hockemeyer Hall, a spectacular 1888 Victorian townhouse. Originally built by John Hockemeyer, a successful German merchant, Hockemeyer Hall was later expanded to become a businessmen’s club in 1893. The German-American Heritage Foundation, the principal organization behind the project, has already renovated the exterior of the historic building and is looking forward to restoring its interior. Permanent exhibits at the Heritage Center will focus on immigration, migration, Jamestown and Germantown to name a few. They will be supplemented by rotating exhibits from around the country and special programs to present the history and communities of Americans of German-speaking ancestry that helped shape the United States.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

German Words – American Voices

The Max Kade Institute is pleased to announce the production of German Words – American Voices / Deutsche Wörter – Amerikanische Stimmen, a compact disc and bilingual companion booklet featuring German dialects historically spoken in the United States. This project was funded by a grant from the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany in Chicago. GWAV contains twelve sound clips accompanied by commentaries and translations into English and German. There is also a bilingual introductory essay. Quoting from the introduction ...

“Deutsch zu sein, bedeutet für mich, Deutsch zu sprechen ...” (What being German means to me is being able to speak German ...). Such is a typical response to the question “Was ist deutsch?” (What is German?) posed by the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit in a recent online survey. To be sure, the ability to speak German is centrally important if one wants to feel a part of German society. But what does it mean to speak German outside of Europe?

In German Words – American Voices we listen to speakers of German from across the United States, Americans quite distant from their European roots in both time and space. Each is a fluent speaker of some variety of German, but as Americans at least two generations removed from immigration, all are also fluent English-speakers. Indeed, to speak a language other than English that has been passed down from one’s ancestors does not mean that one is somehow frozen in the past. Speakers of heritage languages are no less American than their English-monolingual fellow citizens; rather, they have a somewhat deeper awareness of where they come from.

The sound clips featured in German Words – American Voices hail from the three regions of the United States where varieties of German have survived the longest after immigration: Wisconsin, Texas, and Pennsylvania. Wisconsin has the distinction of being the veritable buckle of the “German Belt” across the American Midwest: over forty-percent of the state’s inhabitants claim German ancestry. Deep in the heart of Texas, German-speakers in communities such as Fredericksburg and New Braunfels have also left an indelible mark on the cultural landscape. And Pennsylvania is where Pennsylvania Dutch developed, which is both the oldest German-derived language in North America and one of the very few American heritage languages overall whose speaker population is growing. ...

Interested? The GWAV CD and booklet may be obtained from the Max Kade Institute for only shipping and handling costs. Ordering information is available here.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

H-GAGCS: A Forum for German-American and German-Canadian Studies

Of the (way too many) e-lists I have subscribed to, one in particular has an interesting posting each and every time: H-GAGCS, the German-American and German-Canadian Studies discussion group on H-Net (Humanities and Social Sciences online). H-Nets numerous e-mail lists function as electronic networks, linking professors, teachers and students in an exchange of ideas and materials.

The H-GAGCS list in particular provides – in its own words – “a moderated multi-disciplinary forum for discussion of topics relevant to German-speaking immigrants in North America from the 17th century to the present. Disciplines involved include history, geography, ethnic and immigration studies, linguistics, literary and cultural studies. Topics may include the invention/ transformation of ethnicity and national identities among German Americans and German Canadians, patterns of settlement, patterns of maintenance and change in language and culture, civic participation, methods of conceptualizing German identity in North America etc. The list addresses an audience of primarily academics and graduate students. We stress the value of comparative and cross-border ethnic studies (a diaspora approach) and the idea of cultural regions, including on German communities in other parts of the world (South America, Australia) for comparative purposes.”

On the Web site you will find reviews of publications in German-American and German-Canadian Studies, announcements of events, and a Discussion Log of everything that has been talked about by subscribers. It is easy to subscribe. Join and write your own posts in English or German.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Carl Schurz in the news

By sheer accident, I happened to catch just a minute of a speech on television yesterday by Mike Huckabee. He was repeating the political chestnut "My country, right or wrong". The quote comes, as he noted clearly, from the German immigrant and one-time Watertown, Wisconsin resident Carl Schurz. Huckabee gave this usual quote (the fuller context can be found here):

Our country right or wrong. When right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be put right.

It's interesting to see this German-American immigrant being quoted so prominently in current political debate. People in Wisconsin celebrate Schurz for his long list of remarkable accomplishments — Civil War general, US Senator, Secretary of the Interior. Less noted today is how truly radical the thrust of Schurz's political activity was — see, for one simple example, his words on "true Americanism" in the first link above.

Image from the Department of the Interior website, here.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Language and immigration in Germany

In Germany, language purists typically react very negatively to English and other loanwords coming into the language. But other currents are running right now; consider these two examples:

First, some positive attention is being given to loanwords by prominent groups in Germany with this initiative (graphic from there):
"Wörter mit Migrationshintergrund"
Wir suchen das beste eingewanderte Wort.
It's being supported by the Goethe Institut, Deutscher Sprachrat, Duden, and others. If you read the materials, it's aimed at celebrating immigration, and lexical borrowing.

Second, the Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache publishes a journal called Der Sprachdienst. (They do Germany's Wort des Jahres and publish articles on various aspects of usage and other language topics.) In the last 2007 issue, they ran a piece by Dennis Scheller-Boltz called:
McDonald's – McAnwalt – McFit – McFlight.
The piece gives a lot of interesting data on how productive the Mc- prefix is in German right now, especially in creating new company names. Surprisingly, at least from my perspective, is that it means not only that a product is cheap and fast, but also that it's of good quality.

[Cross-posted with modifications from Mr. Verb.]

Thursday, January 31, 2008

"Erfrieren zu verhindern"

It is cold in Wisconsin! Yesterday morning, when I stepped out the door the thermometer read -9 F (-23 C), - and that didn’t even account for the wind chill. Today at least it was a balmy 3F (-16 C). How timely then to run across this little bit of helpful insight from an 1877 Milwaukee advice book for German-Americans: Der Praktische Rathgeber – Ein Schatzkästchen für Jedermann

Erfrieren bei großer Kälte zu verhindern. – Es ist schon häufig vorgekommen, daß reisende Personen, besonders Fußgänger, bei strenger Kälte und in tiefem Schnee, halb müde geworden, sich niedergesetzt, Branntwein getrunken, eingeschlafen und erfroren sind. Dies zu verhüten braucht man nur auf dergleichen Reisen ein Stückchen Kampher bei sich zu führen und wenn man sich ermattet fühlt davon zu essen. Derselbe erzeugt eine solche Wärme im Körper, daß die Kräfte wiederkehren und das Leben dadurch erhalten wird.

"Luxies" and Germans

This anecdote comes to us from Kevin Wester, Director of Development, Luxembourg American Cultural Society, Inc. in Port Washington, Wisconsin (an area that's lousy with Luxies!).

It’s no secret that there is a certain ethnic rivalry between Luxembourgers and Germans. So often, we “Luxies” have been generically classified as Germans. And thus we continue to fight the good fight that we are uniquely ourselves and we are proud to hail from the little Grand Duchy. Though Luxembourg is so very small, we will not be pushed around by the “big guy.”

This pride in our heritage is evidenced in a humorous story appearing in
Reminiscences and Anecdotes of Early Taylor County [Wisconsin], by Arthur J. Latton, 1920:

……The story is told of two former Medford [Wisconsin] men of different nationalities who found it easy to indulge in real arguments, in defending the merits of their respective fatherlands. One day the lame German, [Mr.] Lutz, was in the tavern of a Luxemburger, and as usual the argument became heated, and with each drink, a little more so. Finally, the German said he had tried to locate Luxemburg on a map of Europe, but found that a fly must have “lighted” on the map, and had obliterated Luxemburg entirely. This so angered the Luxemburg tavern man that he attempted to obliterate Lutz, and chased the limping man almost to his home on Whalen Avenue, before giving up the chase…….

Friday, January 25, 2008

When Wine and Beer Fight

It's fairly well-known that Wisconsin has a history of being the soil into which many German-speaking immigrants put roots, so it doesn’t seem surprising to find a European-style Rathskeller and Stiftskeller in the Memorial Union at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Complete with soaring arches, vaulted ceilings, dark wood, evocative murals with German slogans, displays of beer steins, and—of course—a bar serving beer, these spaces for the congregation of students are also used and appreciated by townsfolk and visitors alike.

However, the official history claims the German themes were accidental, or perhaps providential. In 1927 Leon Pescheret, the Union’s French-born interior designer, was inspired by the bare space to remark on its similarity to a Rathskeller, or the cellar of a German village hall, where city fathers gathered for relaxation and refreshment after work. Since the space was intended to allow for the fellowship and refreshment of students, Pescheret was given permission to transform it along the lines of a Rathskeller. The murals, with German mottoes, were created by Eugene Hausler, who had trained in Germany and was very familiar with Rathskeller décor.

The adjoining Stiftskeller, or “cellar of the founders,” was created in 1962 when more space was needed for the overly-crowded Rathskeller. While the German theme was continued, a lack of funds delayed the addition of murals until 1978 when Kurt Schaldach, a German painter living in Milwaukee, was commissioned for the job. Schaldach was born in 1913 in Danzig, and studied art there before coming to the United States in 1952. One of the most striking murals in the Stiftskeller is Schaldach’s version of the “Battle between Beer and Wine.” Based upon the mural in the Munich Rathskeller, it depicts an army of beer steins streaming out of a town to assault a contingent of gnomes employing wine and champagne bottles with cork cannonballs to defend their Rhine Valley castle.An interesting note: If one travels about 45 miles southwest from the Memorial Union to visit Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern in Monroe, one can view yet another version of this fantastical battle!

We wonder how many other of these alcohol-infused battle scenes have been inspired from the one in Munich? Let us know if you’ve seen one, and send a photo if you can!

German Essay Contest has German-American Topic

And talking about 400 years of German-Americans… Here is a fun project for students and teachers to explore German-American history and maybe even win a prize: every year the German Information Center USA at the German Embassy in Washington, D.C. holds an essay contest for American students in grades 3 to 12 to familiarize them with traditional and modern German culture, language and society. This year’s contest topics are 1) “2008 – the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Germans in America” and 2) “Germany – Land of Ideas.” Essays must be written in English and submitted electronically by April 15, 2008. Prizes are $50-$100 book store gift certificates for students AND the teachers who advise them! For contest rules and guidelines see

325 or 400 Years?

In 1983, the Max Kade Institute was founded on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the first German settlement in America. Now 325 years ago, thirteen Mennonite families from Krefeld had settled a few miles north of the newly founded town of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Their settlement was soon to be known as “Germantown.” While those Krefeld immigrants were the first German-speakers to successfully establish themselves for generations in America, they were not the first Germans to arrive on the continent. In fact, Germans were among the earliest European arrivals in Jamestown, Virginia. In October 1608, 12 years before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts, a group of five unnamed German glassmakers, three carpenters called Adam, Franz and Samuel and a Swiss-German mineral expert, one William Volday (or Wilhelm Waldi), arrived in Jamestown on the English ship “Mary and Margaret.” In 1620 a group of four saw mill wrights from Hamburg as well as two German miners recruited by the Virginia Company of London followed.
The German craftsmen were to help accomplish the Virginia Company’s mission of manufacturing tradable goods in the new world, and establish a livable space that could accommodate England’s overpopulation. However, like most of the earliest English Jamestown settlers the German colonists perished before they could accomplish their goal or leave any significant personal mark on America. Today only archeological finds give evidence to those early attempts at manufacturing. The remnants of a “glasshouse” with three ovens made of river boulders cemented together with clay was excavated in 1948. It is believed to be the earliest European manufacturing site on American soil. There is a record of “a trial of glass” being brought back to England in December 1608, but the glass trade imagined by the Virginia Company never took off. Today the remnants of the “glasshouse,” the worksite of the first German-Americans, can be visited in Historic Jamestown:

Frohes neues Jahr

2008 is already a few days old, but here on our University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, the new semester has just begun, and at the Max Kade Institute we still feel like saying “Frohes Neues Jahr!” to everyone. A happy new year it should be. At the MKI we will celebrate our 25th anniversary. It will be an occasion not only to reflect on our Institute, but on German-American history and those many influences derived from German-speaking Europe that are visible in American culture today, - one example: American festive culture. We find “Oktoberfests” all across the country, we think that Santa Claus and the Christmas tree originated in Germany, but how do we celebrate the beginning of a new year?
For me, growing up in Germany, Silvester (New Year’s Eve) was a time of fun and partying with friends and family and of course good food and drink. We ate Berliner (those jelly-filled doughnuts, JFK did NOT talk about) and - living in the North – Heringsalat (herring and red beet salad). And, of course, we had a Feuerzangen­bowle, that spectacle of a mulled wine drink with a burning sugar cone on top ( At midnight, champagne corks flew and Fourth-of-July style fireworks broke out in the neighborhoods, colorfully illuminating the skies over every city and little town at the exact same moment across the country. Now living in Wisconsin, there are no fireworks at midnight in our suburb, but we always have a Feuerzangenbowle, - which turns out to be popular among many of our American friends, too. I buy Berliner, and sometimes I even make Heringsalat, - which I mostly have all to myself.
But there is a place in America, where the whole town celebrated New Year 2008 with German traditions AND on German time (!): Harmony, Pennsylvania, founded by Lutheran pacifists from a village near Stuttgart over 200 years ago. There were German foods (the Southern kind – no Heringsalat) and German music. There were traditions of old such as Bleigießen (dissolve a soft metal – lead in the olden days - in a spoon over a candle, pour it into cold water and see clues for your future in the resulting object), and there were traditions of new (the British skit “Dinner for Two” which plays on German TV every New Year’s Eve). And at “midnight” there were fireworks!

More about “Silvester in Harmony” on the following Websites.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Help save our past!

Are you interested in that “other” perspective on America’s development that can be found in documentation handed down to us by our country’s earlier immigrants? This is commendable! Are you one of those whose New Year’s resolution is to clean out your basement or your office, to get rid of what you are not using? This is commendable, too! Did you answer “yes” to both questions? You may be contradicting yourself.

We attempt to preserve important records that illuminate the past. But what is important—and how can we tell the seed (or the wheat) from the chaff? How can we “make new friends, but keep the old,” when there is limited room in our lives and on our shelves? How can we identify these things, when so many records were even written in a variety of foreign languages?

Recent years have seen the publication of two incomplete German-American texts: Essellen’s Babylon and Lotta L. Leser’s short story “Wie Peter Meffert ‘nein’ sagen lernte.” Three of thirty-three installments of the former (which German scholars had long feared totally lost) could not be found, and half of the latter has also vanished (although the story won first prize in 1908 in a literary competition).

Documents of the government, churches, and social organizations of many communities—especially those not written in English—have found their way to the landfill. Even personal records such as letters and diaries, which tell stories inaccessible in other forms, have been relegated to the dump by descendants who can do nothing with them. We shudder to think....

How can we go about doing a better job of rescuing the past? We face a dilemma: before long it will be too late.