German Americans of Cleveland

Cleveland Press Articles

City Was Proud of German Singing Festivals

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

The first German event of national importance held in Cleveland was the Saengerfest of the North American Saenger Bund in 1855.

Eighteen German singing societies, 300 singers, descended upon Cleveland on May 27, 1855, for the three-day song festival which was to start the following day.

The singers came from Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Canton, Cincinnati, Tiffin and Columbus.

Monday, the first day of the festival, was taken with the formalities of the opening ceremonies. In the evening there was a torch parade on the Public Square.

Tuesday, May 29, 1855, was the big day. Not only the Germans, but all of Cleveland's 44,000 population was celebrating and even the stores were closed for the day. A huge parade started at 8 a. m., consisting of the singers, local German groups, with their leaders riding horseback and with flying flags.

Colorful Parade

The colorful parade wound its way to the "festhalle," where the concerts were to be held, in the University Bldg., University Heights. Tired but happy, the paraders ended their walk about noon.

At 4 p. m. the singers began their concert. First some of the individual groups sang under their own leaders but later a 100 man chorus, composed of several singing societies, sang under the direction of Hans Balatka, a famous conductor from Milwaukee.

Then came the gala banquet in Ballous' Hall. The contemporary German historian dutifully recorded that 800 admission tickets were sold for the concert and banquet, 50 cents being the price for a concert ticket and $1 for the banquet.

Flags decorated the streets leading to the concert and banquet halls. The balcony of the concert hall was covered with black-red-gold; the colors of Germany. A huge picture of Teutonia, shadowed by an American eagle, occupied the back of the stage. The "Cleveland Orchestra," directed by Hans Balatka, accompanied the singers.

Singers Earn Praise

This was the first Saengerfast in Cleveland. The local "American" press was full of praise for the musical achievement of the German singers and it was apparent that Cleveland was soon to have another national Saengerfest in 1859.

The holding of the first Saengerfest in 1855 followed closely the formation in 1854 of the Cleveland Gesangverein.

Previously the only German singing group here was the "Frohsinn" which, however, ceased functioning in 1850. When the Frohsinn's erstwhile director, Heher, returned from the California gold lands, he immediately began to re-establish German singing here.

With some of the Frohsinn's former members and with a group of the fast-arriving 48'ers Heber organized an informal group which constituted the singers' section of the Freimaenner Bund.

Proud of Heritage

The Freimaenner Bund consisted of people proud of their German heritage and who were eventually responsible for the first German school in Cleveland in the Freimaenner Hall on St. Clair Ave. near Ontario.

When the North American Sanger Bund held its Saengerfest in Canton in 1854, part of the singers section of the Cleveland Freimaenner Bund thought it would be nice to bring the next Saengerfest to Cleveland.

Disputes arose over this issue. A faction led by Fritz George and Carl Adam left the Freimaenner Bund and in October, 1854, formed the Cleveland Gesangverein, with Fritz Abel as musical director.

Charter members included Fritz Abel, C. Frank, E. Jordan, C. Koebler, C. Mudler, John Kehn, E. Nussini, A. Thieme, F. Wehrmeister, H. Coardua, George Doelz, Karl Kamnitz, F. E. Lambert, Jacob Mueller, Wilhelm Richter.

Fritz Schaefer, C. F. Thiele, B. Waldkirch, Hans Droz, Peter Heine, A. Kolbe, C. Lembeck, Fritz Mueller, Jacob Risser, C. Sutter, C. W. Schmidt, Jacob Finger, Hans Hensch, C. Kutzkopf, A. LangsdorF, L. Quedenfeld, L. Ritter, C. Severin and G. F. Votteler. Quedenfeld was named president, C. F. Thiele, secretary, and Mudler, treasurer.

Previously in Ohio City, today's West Side, the "Liederkranz" and the "Liedertafel" existed. The first was directed by Karl Raeder, a teacher; and the second by Charles Saeltzer, a bookkeeper. The two societies merged in 1858 into the West Side Maennerchor which changed into the "Orpheus" in the 1870's.