German Americans of Cleveland

Cleveland Press Articles

City Largely German in 1850's

"100 Years of Nationalities in Cleveland"
Ninth of a Series
By Theodore Andrica
Cleveland Press, date unknown

Owing to the enormous dimensions which German immigration took in the years following 1848, a very considerable percentage of Cleveland's population was German, either of the first or second generation.

Many German immigrants are associated in the popular mind with the 48ers although they had no particular connection with, nor interest in, the German revolutionary movement of that year. The arrival of the so-called 48ers coincided with a great wave of German immigration caused strictly by economic pressure during 1846-56.

No Political Interest

In Cleveland, as in other German-populated American cities, the Germans before 1848 had shown little interest in politics. But the true 48er was a "political being" and participated with gusto in the political life of his new country.

The 48ers at times even took upon themselves to criticize the frequently corrupt American administration, the mechanical methods in the American schools and the dullness of the then prevailing American life.

In Cleveland the decade of 1850 is marked by the founding of two great movements which were to leave a lasting imprint on educational and cultural life. They were the Gesangvereine, or the singing societies, and the Turners.

Although the physical training advocated by the Turners was something new in Cleveland, it was partly through the urging of the German groups, introduced into our schools and later modified or replaced by other sports.

Outing "Offensive"

The Sunday outing so cherished by the Turners and so often offensive to their more puritanically minded fellow citizens was not so different from the present American family picnic.

The choral and orchestral music which the Germans cultivated at first in German circles has become a regular institution in all American metropolitan centers

The first Cleveland Turnverein was organized in 1850. The names of Beck, Maier, Brandt and Rettberg are mentioned among the active leaders.

"Exercise with all your might in God's green house," was the slogan of this pioneering Turnverein. This first place of exercise, the "Turnplatz," was in Bellevue Garden, on Central Ave., near Central Viaduct. "From this point there was a 'herrliche' view of the Cuyahoga Valley," wrote a contemporary German.

Exercised, Talked

During winters, the Turners met in Welch & Frank's Store. Besides exercising, the Turners had lively discussions, particularly on the issue of slavery. The Turners were among the first to join the Freimaenner Bund, an organization that was to play an important role among Cleveland Germans.

When the Civil War came, many Turners joined the Union Army and the Cleveland Turnverein became dormant. The story of its reorganization, after the Civil War, will be told in another chapter.

There is no doubt that as far as musical life was concerned, it was the Germans who were first active in this field in Cleveland. In fact, the Germans' influence in the field of music went back to the Indian days.

Trader Brings Violin

A trader named Haas was the first to bring the violin to the little settlement at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River. It was a German whose name is unknown who brought to Cleveland the first harmonium, or portable organ. When the Germans began coming here in appreciable numbers, in the 1820's and 1830's, several brought with them flutes and accordions.

In a previous chapter mention was made of the founding in 1848 of the first German singing society in Cleveland, the "Frohsinn," under the leadership of a man named Heber. Heber went to California in 1849 and the Frohsinn collapsed.

Fortunately for the Cleveland German singers, Heber returned in 1850 and immediately organized a mixed German chorus. It was not a formally organized group and rehearsals were held from time to time in Seifert's Casino.

Photo caption: Heights Maennerchor Hall used to be on Starkweather Ave. Today the group has its headquarters at 4311 W. 35th St. Heights Maennerchor is still very active here.

Photo caption: Newburgh. Germania Maennerchor Hall on Engel Ave. was one of the many centers of German singing in Cleveland. Neither the organization nor the hall exist.