My father’s grandparents arrived from Dresden, Germany through Galveston, TX in 1906-7. Some of the family was quarantined with the measles for a while but eventually joined my great-grandfather in San Francisco, and my northern California childhood was secured. They were not the only German immigrants to reach America through Texas, rather than New York; Germans were the largest immigrant group to Texas, and even in 1990 Texans of German ancestry made up 17% of the state’s population.
I first took German language classes through some weekend program for kids when I was 10 or so, all through high school, some as an undergrad, then in graduate school, while I worked on my Masters in European History (with a concentration on Germany, of course), I took almost as many classes in the German language department. I spent a few months in Germany studying as well. But I’ve never had the opportunity to explore any German Texas heritage.
Until San Antonio. Well, I didn’t study MY German Texas heritage, but I was pleased to discover that San Antonio has a historic German neighborhood, complete with a beer garden. The King William Historic District was not far from the hotels, and conveniently close to Southtown, where we spent most of our vacation time, so I walked or biked through it almost every day.
Full of beautiful big historic homes, it is also home to The Guenther House, home of the German family that founded Pioneer Flour Mills. The old home is now a restaurant, gift shop, and event space, squeezed between the San Antonio River and some of the old factory. The Mechanic, from a German Texas area and of Swiss ancestry himself, was familiar with Pioneer Flour, but not me, so we had to go to the restaurant for breakfast!
We also went to the biergarten, Beethoven Maennerchor, although we missed out and went on a Thursday night – it was fairly empty. The next night was First Friday, and the outdoor seating area was already packed at a fairly early hour! Originally founded as a singing society, the inside is full of the city’s German heritage, with schwartz-rot-gold tableclothes (that’s black-red-gold to you non-German speakers, the colors of the German flag), photos of the choirs from decades ago, and the Pledge of Allegiance auf deutsch (in German).
We also passed the building of the Hermann Sons Fraternal Insurance, formed by German immigrants in New York in the 1840s, before spreading across the country and to San Antonio in later decades. Having never heard of the fraternal order, and liking the building’s design, naturally I looked it up – and I was correct in assuming the name had to do with the historical character Hermann, often considered the founder of the German peoples.
It was just enough German to inspire me to pull out some of my German books and remind me that every day that I don’t use the language, I lose more and more of my vocabulary. It’s hard to fit every hobby into a 24 hour window! If only I didn’t need sleep. I haven’t been back to Germany since I studied there in 2006, and I’m always anxious to return. I know Germany is one of the top bicycle countries around the world (number 5 on this list) so it only makes sense that I visit soon! I’ve had so many other bicycle-focused vacations lately, why stop now?!