German Americans of Cleveland

Cleveland Press Articles

400 Came here for '59 Singfest

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

The 1859 national Saengerfest brought to Cleveland 24 German singing societies with 400 singers, from Allegheny, Buffalo, Dunkirk, Canton, Youngstown, Akron, Columbus, Wheeling and Detroit.

This was quite an improvement over the first Saengerfest held here in 1855, when 18 German gesangvereins with 300 singers participated. Another feather in the cap of the Cleveland Germans was the fact that the second song festival came back here so soon after the first.

The second Saengerfest began on June 14, 1850, with a special performance of the opera "Alessandro Stradella." It ended on June 17 with a great parade from the Public Square at Willson Park.

"The German spirit and gemutlichkeit greatly impressed the Americans," commented a German chronicler.

Musical director of this songfest was John Van Oelkers. August Thieme, editor of the then seven year-old Wiechter am Erie, delivered a solemn address.

This second Saengfest followed closely the first German theater seen in Cleveland. On June 13, 1855, members of the Cleveland Gesangverein and of the Cleveland Turnverein presented Schiller's "Rauber" in the local English theater but it remained for a group of traveling German actors to establish the first professional German theater "season" in the winter of 1856.

Heading this group was H.F. Bonnet and the stage director was named Xavier Strasser. A Miss Koerner was the leading lady and the principal male parts were played by Karl Schlehuber.

Hunger for Drama

The hunger for drama was apparently so great among the Germans of Cleveland that they were able to applaud enthusiastically at the end of the first offering even though it was a five-act drama named "The Crowned Murderess." The show was held in the German National Theater, Potter's Block, Ontario St.

Admission was 25 cents for any seat in the house. There was a large sign with the legend "Disturbers of the peace will be thrown out." Free tickets were given "only to the press."

To celebrate this great cultural event properly Herr Bonnet held a dance, at the end of the performance. That it was truly an important event in local German circles can be seen from the attire of most of the public: the men wore long black coats and the women were in "Krinolin," or hoop skirts.

Ran All Winter

For the rest of the winter Herr Bonnet presented the following plays, all in the blood-and-thunder class: "The Murder of the Kaiser of Bainberg," "The Robbers of Maria Culm, or, the Power of Thinking," "The Count of Burgundy, or, Life in the Wilderness."

Bonnet's German troupe was followed by one directed by a Mrs. Keller who presented such gems as "Azarel, or, the Lost Son," "The King of the Alps, or the Misanthrope."

After Mrs. Keller several German theater troupes came and were none staying more than a season. Only in 1872 there was a German theater with local residents formed by Guehlen and Emir Von Der Osten.

"Passing Events"

The Saengerfest and the theater were but passing events in the life of the more religiously minded Cleveland Germans of the 1850 decade. Besides the establishment of the first three German Catholic churches, three more Protestant churches were founded. When 1860 came around. Cleveland Germans had seven Protestant and three Catholic churches.

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran congregation was organized in 1853 by a few West Side German families belonging to Zion Lutheran Church. Its first pastor was the Rev. J. C. W. Lindemann, and the first frame building was erected in 1857 on Jersey St. In 1859 this congregation helped to establish the Lutheran congregation in North Dover, Ohio.

Starts Church in '53

West Side United Evangelical Protestant Church was organized July 20, 1853 by the Rev. Philip Stempel. The Rev. Stempel came from the Rheinfalz in 1849 and was first a teacher in Brighton (now South Brooklyn). He held the pastorate of the West Side United Evangelical Church for 22 years.

St. Paul's German Evangelical Protestant Church was established Apr. 18, 1858, by a group led by Jacob Borger, Nicholas Dorn, Lorenz Gleim, and W. Hanne.

First pastor was the Rev. M. Steinert, who held the pastorate until 1865. A small frame building was erected at Scovill and Greenwood Aves., which was replaced with a brick building in 1870.