As an American, living in (and loving) Germany, I share information about German culture and exploring Europe via Germany, but I have never given much thought about it being the other way around ….until yesterday!
I’ve never really thought much about all the Germans (or those who simply love Germany), living stateside. Yesterday (while doing some research on another topic), stumbled upon a website/blog developed by a German who is living in the US. It appears her site is more about all the Germans and German Americans living in the US, celebrating the German culture in America. Her site is “More Than Beer and Schnitzel”
German-Americans make up the largest self-reported ancestry group within the United States accounting for roughly 49 million people and approximately 17% of the population of the US.
The states of California and Texas both have considerable German-American populations. However, many other states also have a distinctive German-American ethnic group.
The first Germans to arrive in the States settled in Virginia in 1608. However, it was fully seventy years later before significant numbers came over and settled in areas such as New York and Pennsylvania. This immigration increased over time and in the nineteenth century over eight million immigrants arrived in the US from Germany. There were many reasons for emigration to the USA from Germany. Some Germans moved to the new land in search of religious or political freedoms that were denied them in their nation of origin, others simply desired a fresh start. In addition, thousands of German-Americans signed up to fight for the Union in the American Civil War of 1861-1865. Many were anti-slavery campaigners. After several generations, German-Americans began to adopt American customs and switch their main language to English. German-Americans also began to have a substantial influence upon mainstream US culture. In 1860-1917 German was widely spoken in communities throughout the States. Whilst in 1853, German settlers brought the Christmas tree custom to the United States. From 1931-1940, approximately 115,000 Germans moved to the United States of America. Many were Jewish or anti-Nazi protesters who had to flee government oppression. The most famous was the Nobel Prize winner Albert Einstein. During the war effort, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed German-Americans to prominent positions including, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Those German-Americans with fluent language capability were important in aiding wartime intelligence. The war brought about strong feelings of patriotism for German-Americans who by know had only distant contact with the Fatherland. After the war ended, many ethnic Germans fled to the USA as refugees from countries in Eastern Europe from which they had been expelled. Many of the German-Americans who immigrate to the USA today are similar to other Western European immigrants, in that they come for professional or academic reasons. The US census of 1990 showed that roughly 58 million Americans claim to be of German descent. Also, according to the 2005 American Community Survey, around 50 million Americans have German ancestry. About 1.5 million Americans speak German today. The USA has a number of German-American celebrations, such as Oktoberfest, German-American Day and Von Steuben Day. The German-American Steuben Parade in New York held every September and is a major event. There are also annual events in Chicago's Lincoln Square, a traditional a hub of the city's German population, whilst the city of Cincinnati holds the largest Oktoberfest in the world outside of Germany. Since the first settlement of Germans in the USA, German-Americans have gone on to have an influence in every sphere of activity, from education, science and politics, to industry, architecture and commerce and even culture, sport and entertainment. There have been two American presidents whose fathers were of German descent, Dwight Eisenhower (original family name Eisenhauer) and Herbert Hoover (original family name Huber).
History I’ll bet you didn’t know!
Ever since the first ethnically German families settled in the United States in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1608, the German language, dialects, and different traditions of the regions of Germany have played a role in the social identity of many German-Americans.
By 1910, an accounted 554 newspaper issues were being printed in the standard German language throughout the United States as well as a number of schools which taught in German with class-time set aside for English learning.
As a result of anti-German sentiment during WWI, the use of German declined. The daily use would recede in public view to primarily Amish, Old Order Mennonite and Hutterite communities.
This doesn’t make us much different from the countries who ban the use of English!!
When the U.S. joined in World War I, an anti-German hysteria quickly spread in American society. German-Americans, especially immigrants, were blamed for military acts of the German Empire, and even speaking German was seen as unpatriotic. Many German-American families anglicized their names (e.g. from Schmidt to Smith, Schneider to Taylor, Müller to Miller), and German nearly disappeared in public in many cities. In the countryside, the presence became quieter but perservered particularly in regions of many Germans. Many states otherwise forbade the use of German in public and the teaching of German in schools.
During the early 20th century, as influential White Anglo-Saxon Protestants in the United States sought to regain the upper hand of power and social influence which had been heavily threatened due to the waves of immigration, used politics and through the funded formation of the Ku Klux Klan, would help to give rise to anti-immigrant and distrust aimed at German-Americans among other groups of people. Through advertising and Government funded marketing, German-Americans also known as the "Dutchman" and the German language quickly went from being viewed as distinguished and the language of the educated to being distrusted, and as such, anyone fluent in the language regardless of age associated with or who practiced traditions viewed as foreign of any type was subject to a number of public harassments, distrust, and on a few occasions, death.
Other acts of discrimination based on ethnic background included the banning of performing of music from German composers at symphony concerts including the attempt to rename certain foods. Sauerkraut for example would become Liberty Cabbage. "Hamburger" would be for a short while "Liberty Steaks."
Language use had also been the primary focus of legislation at state and local levels. Some of these regulations included the publication of charters banning speaking German within city limits. A total ban on the teaching of German in both public and private education could be found in at minimum 14 states, including some states that would extend this to ban the teaching of all languages except for English, although the majority who would ban non-English languages typically only banned German. A total ban on teaching German in both public and private schools was imposed for a time in at least 14 states
The largest settlements of Germans were in New York City, Baltimore, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Milwaukee. Although many states now have an area they consider mostly German, this map from 2020 is a good indication of states with the greatest German population.
As an American whose ancestors were German and my husband’s last name is about as German as it gets, I’m happy to see that someone is dedicated to keeping the German culture alive for so many in America who want to celebrate their German heritage. Check out her blog! She discusses traditional German recipes, Karneval (or Fasching) events stateside, holidays, and a lot about the German language.