Northern Californians have an accent

A long night about German immigrants in San FranciscoDeparture into a new life

It has always been possible here what was unthinkable in other parts of the country. From the gold rush in the middle of the 19th century to the start-ups in Silicon Valley at the end of the 20th century: German adventurers and those wishing to leave the country were drawn to the Golden Gate again and again to get rich and find a new home Become part of the San Francisco ethnic melting pot.

Many came, like the author himself, to only stay a few years and then to realize that it had turned into a new life in a completely different place. This Long Night searches for traces of the German immigrants in and around San Francisco. What brought them to the Pacific coast, what they found here, what they built here, how they became part of this unique cosmopolitan city.

Read the complete manuscript for the broadcast in its unabridged pre-broadcast version here: Manuscript as PDF / Manuscript as TXT.



When the gold rush lured Germans to the USA

While the March Revolution of 1848 was raging in Germany, the news of the gold discovery spread like wildfire 9,000 kilometers away in Northern California. When the Gold Rush erupted, San Francisco Bay was overcrowded with abandoned ships from all over the world, which eventually had to be blown up to make room at all. The daily newspaper "California Star" reported on June 10, 1848:

"Every port as far south as San Diego, and every city, and every shelter at the foot of the mountains where gold was found, up to the mission south in San Luis, is suddenly without people. Americans, Californians, Indians and islanders, Men, women and children alike. Spades, shovels, hoes, wooden pots, Indian baskets for washing are sold and often at unbelievable prices. An area is explored where 50,000 men work in adventurous ways. "

Just four days after this article was published, the California Star was discontinued. All employees had decided to go to the gold digging sites. The news of the Gold Rush north of San Francisco went around the world and, in the turbulent weeks and months of 1848/1849, met with open ears in Germany as well. Professor and author William Issel, who teaches history at San Francisco State University, has done a lot of research on the immigrants who came to the Bay Area:

"San Francisco had a reputation after 1848 as a place to get rich. And in San Francisco there was no discrimination and advantage against Catholics and Jews as there is in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and everywhere east of the Mississippi gave. In addition, the West embodied this romantic image for many Europeans and people from German-speaking countries. "

Also attracted by the gold rush, but above all because of their own persecution, there was a large wave of immigration. What they found in the US wild west wasn't always what they expected and hoped for, but for many it was a fresh start in an unknown promised land. Of course, this also applied to religiously persecuted people:

"The starting point was the" big tidal wave ", this great migratory movement, the mass emigration at the end of the 19th century, which started early - which had its first peak in the 1950s and then again millions, especially in the 1880s Germans drove to America, including hundreds of thousands from Schleswig Holstein. And then it was a matter of collecting and getting these German-speaking Lutherans, which was what the denomination was about, and these pastors who have come to America Evangelists who did evangelism, not mission according to the German understanding. "

About Helmut Edelmann:
Helmut Edelmann has written several books about the Evangelical Lutheran American Seminar in Breklum in Schleswig-Holstein. He studied theology and philosophy in Munich, later switched to the North Elbian Evangelical Lutheran Church. From 2008 he conducted research at the Christian Albrechts University in Kiel, in particular transatlantic relations with North America.

In 1870, the proportion of German immigrants in the population of San Francisco was 18.5 percent. At the turn of the century, the proportion rose to almost a quarter of the total population. The Germans were an integral part of the Golden Gate and helped to build the "City by the Bay" and make it what it is today. And the hunt for gold was perhaps an impetus for this, but often not the foundation for a new life. An example:

"Jacob Gundlach came from the Württemberg (!) Area and his family, that's something very interesting, it never became quite clear why he wanted to go to America. But it turned out that he and another German were them very politically committed and had to leave Germany because they were afraid they would be imprisoned in 1848/49, but they soon realized that the gold was no longer in the mines, but with shops in San Francisco also how to make wine and then just started until he made enough money to buy a good. "

About Monica Clyde:
Monica Clyde, came to California in the 1950s, was a German professor at Mills College in Oakland and is probably the first and only one to date to have done extensive research on the history of Germans in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Wealthy German immigrants such as Adolph Sutro, Jacob Gundlach and Levi Strauss, who immigrated from Buttenheim in Franconia, never forgot their German roots in their foreign homeland. Sutro and Gundlach became early members of the General German Support Society, a cultural and social association for all German speakers in San Francisco. The company was founded in early 1854 to offer protection to new immigrants from German-speaking countries and at the same time to promote immigration. Members were asked to put political and religious beliefs aside in order to jointly found a charitable and well-respected society.

"To this day I haven't learned any English because everyone is German and there are plenty of French and German shops, so I have no reason to study English eagerly."

Levi's Jeans: Strauss was a German immigrant. (Norbert Schmidt / imago)

This is what Eva Gundlach, the newlywed wife of Jacob Gundlach, wrote after she had lived in San Francisco for almost a year. The boxes of Hermann’s sons were a driving force in the German community. The first lodge was founded in New York on June 21, 1840, and from there the lodges spread throughout the country. The principle of this association of German emigrants overseas was first and foremost: friendship, love, loyalty. They were associations of men and women who supported each other and celebrated festivals. And the membership fees helped members in the event of illness and death, a kind of health insurance.

Association and cultural work of the Germans

Shortly after the first German immigrants came to San Francisco, they also founded singing and gymnastics clubs. Every German association and society had its own choir. A mid-1930s review of San Francisco choral history states:

"The first German choral society in San Francisco was called" The Singers at the Still Sea ", founded in October 1851. This is the seed that has today developed into a strong singing empire that promises the richest hopes for the future. This small group expanded in 1852 to the "Singers' Association", which soon grew to 55 members and finally merged with the SF Harmonie. "

At the big German festivals there was always a lot of singing. From classical music to old folk songs. And there was also a German theater in San Francisco, where mostly amateur actors performed plays and even operas. A lot was written in German in America:

"There are very, very many languages ​​that American literature was written in. Just like in Europe, European literature was not written in one language."

About Cora Lee Kluge:
Cora Lee Kluge is a German professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and she is the director of the Max Kade Institute, which deals with issues relating to immigration from German-speaking countries to the USA. Kluge wrote the book "Other Witnesses - An Anthology of literature of the German Americans 1850-1914".

Cora Lee Kluge concentrated on Wisconsin in her anthology. Texts that you could find in "the most German of all American states", as Wisconsin calls it. But in all parts of the country where Germans and German-speaking immigrants settled, there were always those who worked and wrote with the word. And with the professionalization of the theaters there was also an active exchange between the stages in the various centers of the German communities.

Around ten years ago, Kluge went to Milwaukee to look for the text for Fernande Richter's play "The Bridge". Richter was born in Hanover and came to the USA with her family in 1881. She has published a number of short stories and plays under the pseudonym Edna Fern.

"I went to Milwaukee and said this play was being performed in Milwaukee, why can't you find the text? And a librarian came up to me and wanted to know what I was looking for. And he said," Maybe you have it in the "Trostal Collection "wanted?" He led me down to the cellar and now that we have sorted it there are 172 archive boxes full of texts. We have made a bibliography, 3,000 texts, some unknown in Germany and unknown in America. We do not know which have been performed by them, but these are treasures that belonged to this theater. "

Political engagement of the Germans

The Germans interfered. They mainly organized behind the scenes. And from the beginning. Many saw life at the Golden Gate as a new start, as an opportunity to revive and fight for political goals that were not feasible in their old homeland. Professor William Issel from San Francisco State University:

"There were socialists, there were communists, San Francisco was represented by a number of Germans at the first communist international. And also in the various utopian plans that developed between the 1860s with the international and the second and third."

The Kaweah Colony was a utopian socialist commune in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, which existed from 1886 to 1892 and was dissolved with the appointment of Yosemite National Park. There were also numerous German immigrants among the members.

Silhouette of san francisco (inaglory)

1911 - Tuesday, November 14th: "Comrade Schlender invited to a founding event of the General Workers' Education Association in the Tiv Halle."

This is the first entry in the log books of the San Francisco Workers' Education Association, the only one in the United States. It was founded by social democrats and trade unionists who left Germany for political reasons but had not forgotten their political convictions.

At the end of the 19th century the situation worsened for members of the social democratic and socialist movement in Germany. Chancellor Bismarck used two assassinations on Kaiser Wilhelm in 1878 for the so-called socialist law. He wanted to "wage a war of annihilation through bills that would affect social democratic associations, assemblies, the press, freedom of movement (through the possibility of expulsion and internment)", says the author Volker Ullrich in his book about the Reich Chancellor.

Karl Hartmann came to San Francisco in 1953. As a social democrat, he immediately joined the workers' education association and got involved. For many years he was also president of the association:

"The old people said to me: Don't be too pissed off. You know what we were when we came here. We were deserters who didn't want to become a soldier with the Kaiser. We were persecuted socialists who would have been locked up. And at the beginning, he says, we still talked to each other with comrade. But in the first founding association they were outspoken socialists and many of our old members were also the pioneers for the union here in San Francisco, for the unions. "

After the First World War

With the outbreak of the First World War, the everyday life of German immigrants changed. When the war started, 25 percent of students in American high schools were learning German. At the end of the war, in 1918, it was only one percent. When the USA entered the war, the millions of Germans in America were tested for their loyalty and patriotism. German-language books were taken from the shelves in the libraries, the German-language press was censored and restricted. Numerous German associations disbanded and institutions were renamed. The German hospital became the "Franklin Hospital". Parents forbade their children to speak German, many declared they were "Dutch" and not "German". The Germans in the USA were assumed to be the fifth column of the German Empire.

After the end of the First World War, the German community in and around San Francisco was in a state of shock. The anti-German attitude in the whole country had led to the fact that German associations had lost many of their members, some dissolved completely, several German immigrants no longer wanted to have anything to do with the German association system at the Golden Gate. It took years before they came together again, reorganized themselves, or at least came close to the old strength of the pre-war days.

In the 1920s, the San Francisco workers' education club reached its peak with over 1,000 members. They continued to help each other and newcomers with further training opportunities. Politically, the workers' education association was open to socialists, social democrats and communists. When Lenin died in 1924, it was recorded in the record book that there was a vote on whether a portrait of the Soviet leader should be hung in the Tiv Hall.

Nazi era and the US Germans

The German associations had hardly regained their strength, had found each other again, and were once again present in public life in San Francisco with festivals, parades and events when Hitler came to power in 1933 heralded a clear turning point. Political associations in particular were affected. In the club's own Tiv Halle there were always heated, controversial discussions. A few members applauded the strong leader and emphasized that Germany needed just such a man in these difficult times. But the majority of the association's members stood by their red roots and referred in the discussions to what was happening in Germany with social democrats, socialists, communists and organized workers' representatives.

An ideological break went through their own ranks. It was also fired by organized Germans abroad who received their orders directly from Berlin. Knute Berger is a journalist in Seattle for the news magazine "Crosscut". He did extensive research on the activities of the National Socialists on the West Coast in the 1930s:

"I was told that there was a generation cut. Those Germans who came before World War I weren't necessarily for Hitler. Some of the younger ones believed in this idea of ​​the new Germany in the economic advances that were being made. There was certainly a break. "

Rally of the German-American Volksbund, an NSDAP foreign organization, with Fritz Kuhn (dpa / akg)

In any case, the National Socialists became active very quickly in the USA: As early as May 1933, Rudolf Hess gave Heinz Spanknöbel the order to set up a corresponding organization in the USA. He founded the "Friends of New Germany", which then merged into the "Amerikadeutschen BUND" in March 1936. Their federal leader was Fritz Julius Kuhn. Kuhn tried to get the German clubs in the USA on course for Hitler's Germany. He wanted to inspire the Germans with parades and mass events. And not only in New York did the BUND march in the spirit of the National Socialists. The association was also active in San Francisco.

For a long time the Americans simply watched the open goings-on of the National Socialists. Too much people believed in the greater danger of the infiltration of the communists. The Germans in the San Francisco Bay Area tried to take countermeasures, to show that although they have German roots and maintain their customs and traditions, they are still American.

With the Japanese attack on the Pearl Harbor military base and the subsequent German declaration of war against the USA four days later, on December 11, 1941, life changed for the Germans throughout the country, but especially in the coastal regions.

With the help of a law that dates back to 1798, if America is threatened with invasion, citizens of hostile nations can be arrested and interned for the duration of the war.In the Federal Register, President Roosevelt announced heightened control of the Japanese, Italians and Germans.

After the Second World War

After the end of the war and with the misery and hardship in Germany, there was a new wave of immigrants to the USA. For example, Chris Strachwitz, who was born and raised in Lower Silesia, immigrated. He moved to live with an aunt in Reno, Nevada, and from there came to the vibrant San Francisco Bay Area:

"I really liked it here. Thank God I discovered what really interested me, that is the music of this country. Because I had never heard anything like this in Europe or in Germany, where it was only Nazi There were marching music and stupid hits. "

He started recording blues musicians. Chris Strachwitz founded his own record label "Arhoolie Records" in 1960, which over the course of 50 years has developed into a cultural treasure that impressively documents developments from blues to zydeco, from hillbilly to Cajun

The time after the Second World War was a realignment for the German associations and the entire "German Community" at the Golden Gate, as Karl Hartmann from the Arbeiterbildungsverein relates:

"It was more of a social club, German was spoken, cards were played and something like that. That was also my first task: When I became president, I said it couldn't go on like this, we can't discuss things here, former Nazis and Socialists and such. So, politics is out once and for all. Religion is not discussed, from here on there is only education. True to our word workers' education association. "

The many newcomers from Germany who came to San Francisco from Germany in the 1950s and 1960s gave the clubs a new boost. In the 1950s, the American radio landscape experienced a revolution that has hardly been noticed to this day. Millions of immigrants found their own home on the radio. This resulted in well over 100 German programs across the country. Programs such as "Voice of the Homeland", "Heimatmelodien" or "German Hit Parade" were enthusiastically received. At the beginning of the 1960s, Manfred Müller came to the area:

"There was already a German radio show here. And somehow I didn't find this show professional enough. And then I thought to myself, I'll do my own show, that was in 1966. And then we were on with two German radio stations here in the Bay Area Weekend on the air. That went on for three years with a smaller broadcaster, KFMR that was in Fremont. "

After a few years of broadcasting, it was over for Manfred Müller. It had broadcast from the studios of a station in Fremont, East Bay, but the station was sold. In the 1970s, however, Manfred Müller made a comeback in the San Francisco Bay Area - on television.

"One morning I switched the phone on here and then saw a German program. My wife then ran in and said what is that. I said, someone is doing a German program. And then I called the good man because It was a Berliner who had such a strong Berlin accent, his grammar wasn't right either, and then I spoke to him and then he offered me that. Two years later he said, Manfred, do the moderator then went from 1974 to 1980. "

Manfred Müller was in top form. The show quickly became popular and many celebrities from Germany were guests in his studio: Anneliese Rothenberger, Ivan Rebroff, Gerd Müller and Franz Beckenbauer. Sport played a very important role in this German TV show.

Many gymnastics and music clubs are now a thing of the past. The Silesians, the Bavarians, the Hamburgers, the Swabians and even the once large and proud workers' education association no longer exist. Of the once 40 boxes belonging to Hermanns Sons, only a few are left. A small museum on the history of the organization has been set up in the event hall of the Petaluma Lodge, and one floor up there is everything that is there about the history of Hermann's sons. Every lodge that closes sends its documents to Petaluma for safekeeping. There is also a party here. May festival, Christmas market and Oktoberfest with flag marching, dance and traditional costumes.

The world is fine for a few hours. But a look into the hall makes it clear where the journey is also going here. There are attempts today in Petaluma and Oakland to preserve what is still there, what has not yet been lost, has been thrown away.

Production of this long night:
Author: Arndt Peltner; Director: Rita Höhne, speaker: Gabriele Blum, Daniel Minetti, Uwe Müller, Ulrich Lippka; Editor: Dr. Monika Künzel, web production: Jörg Stroisch