Exil in New York: Deutsche und Österreicher in "Little Germany"

Exile in New York: Germans and Austrians in “Little Germany”


German immigrants were present in New Amsterdam during the first years of its settlement. Peter Minuit, who founded the colony in 1626, himself came from the German town of Wesel on the Rhine. He was followed by, among others, Johann Ernst Gutwasser, the settlement's first Lutheran minister (1656-59), and the merchant Jacob Leisler, who arrived in 1660. In 1710, around 150 of the almost 2,150 Palatine Germans fled to America during the War of the Spanish Succession and settled in the city; One of those who remained was the young John Peter Zenger, who later became known as a printer and publisher. At the time of the 1790 census, Germans numbered about 2,500, and there were two German Lutheran churches, as well as a German Reformed Church, a Moravian Church, and a German Society. The first German neighborhood and commercial center in New York City emerged in the 1820s southeast of City Hall in the area from Pearl Street to Pine Street.


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By 1840, more than 24,000 Germans lived in the city, and over the next twenty years, mass transatlantic migration brought hundreds of thousands more Germans fleeing land shortages, unemployment, hunger, and political and religious oppression (more than a million other Germans passed through the city) ). To accommodate this growth, a new and much larger German neighborhood developed in the 1940s east of the Bowery and north of Division Street in the Tenth and Seventeenth Wards. It extended within sight of the East River along Avenue D in the Eleventh Ward and reached the river in the Thirteenth. The neighborhood, also known as Kleindeutschland, Dutchtown, Little Germany, and Deutschlandle, was the most important German-American center in the United States for the rest of the century. More than a third of the city's German-American residents lived there. Other German-American neighborhoods formed directly across the East River in Williamsburg (connected to Little Germany by ferries at Houston Street and Grand Street) and across the Hudson in Hoboken, New Jersey. By 1860, Germans in New York City numbered more than two hundred thousand, accounting for a quarter of the city's total population, and formed the first major immigrant community in American history to speak a foreign language. Natural increase and the arrival of seventy thousand immigrants, thrown politically and economically out of balance by the coalescing German Empire, increased the city's German population to more than 370,000 by 1880 (about a third of the city's total population). New German settlements were established in Yorkville around 3rd Avenue and 86th Street and across the East River in Queens, where Steinway and Sons established a piano factory and company town in the 1870s. The southern part of Little Germany, which had older buildings and was more crowded, was given over to newer Jewish immigrants from Central Europe in the 1880s and became known as the Lower East Side.


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German religious diversity

German Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Paul, 315 West 22nd Street New York

Germans were more religiously diverse than most immigrant groups. The early German settlers, who were predominantly Calvinists, were later joined by Lutherans and, in the 19th century, Catholics from southwest Germany. Catholics and Jews formed their own sub-communities in the German neighborhoods. Supporters of free thought, an outgrowth of the German Enlightenment, ranged from crusading atheists to members of small congregations with beliefs similar to those of the Unitarians. Freethinkers had their own churches, Sunday schools, "anti-revivals," and holidays, and were known for the social events they organized for nonreligious Germans in New York City. Germans also became involved in the New York Society for Ethical Culture, founded by Felix Adler in 1876, which continued the German tradition of free thought until the 1990s. In the 1840s and 1850s, religious intolerance was strong among the city's German Protestants, as some of them joined American nativist movements that rebelled against immigrants and Catholics. Some German-American Catholics denounced Luther and the Protestant "heresy" on the four hundredth anniversary of his birth (1883). However, the struggle between the German Reformation and the Counter-Reformation was less intense in New York than in Germany because the city's artisans, intellectuals, and merchants had become secularized. Many of the religiously inclined Germans either fled the city for the churches of Brooklyn or moved to more congenial settlements in the Midwest. This secularism also tended to suppress anti-Semitism among Germans: although some Germans attacked a Jewish funeral procession in Brooklyn in 1849, other documented cases of anti-Semitism in New York City were rare until the 1930s. German Jews were indeed integrated into German society at all social levels, from the criminal gangs to the leadership of German society and from the labor movement to the financial elite.

Particularism rather than religion was a source of division. Those who emigrated from the fragmented German states in the mid-nineteenth century often came to the city with little sense of belonging to a German nation. Due to differences in dialect, politics, cuisine and other aspects of regional culture, many were unable to identify with immigrants from other parts of Germany. Little Germany was divided into smaller districts where Swabians, Bavarians, Hessians, Westphalians, Hanoverians and Prussians lived and immigrants generally married. Voluntary associations were often organized around hometown loyalty, sometimes unintentionally but mostly expediently (as country teams). In 1862, the Swabians held a regional festival called the Cannstätter Volksfestverein, which spawned other ethnic institutions such as a weekly newspaper in the Swabian dialect and folk festival associations organized by Bavarians (1874), Palatinate Germans (1875), and even Liechtensteiners. These regionally focused networks promoted ethnic identities that competed with a larger German-American identity until the 1920s.

Regional relationships formed the basis of many associations, but could not explain the multitude of companies, sick and death societies, social clubs, political organizations and other groups that were composed of the Germans. With religious brothers such as the Freemasons, the Druids, the Independent Order of the Odd Companions, the Foresters and the Red Men, German-American orders such as the Hermannssöhne, the Harugari, the United German Brother and B'nai B'rith joined. By the early 1870s, the Harugari alone had 62 lodges with nearly 7,000 members in the metropolitan area. Among the most conspicuous German associations in New York were choral societies that held concerts and sponsored large choral festivals. The German Liederkranz and the Arion Choral Society became elite clubs after the Civil War; other German choir groups continued to identify with German citizens and workers in the city. German musicians dominated the New York Philharmonic and provided it with most of the directors, including Leopold Damrosch, an early director of the Arion Choral Society. Damrosch soon founded the Oratorio Society, became director of the Philharmonic and saved the failing Metropolitan Opera by introducing a full season of German repertoire. Under the direction of his son Walter Damrosch and the management of Heinrich Conried, the Metropolitan was expanded into one of the largest opera companies in the world, with a variety of German operas and a predominantly German audience. Many of the cultural organizations received support from German businessmen, particularly Otto H. Kahn, one of the leading philanthropists of the time.

The German and Austrian population in New York

The large influx of German immigrants into the city led to the establishment of many breweries. George Ehret, a German immigrant who opened the Hell Gate Brewery in 1866, was the largest brewer in the United States in 1879. The eighth largest was Jacob Ruppert, also from New York City. In 1877, Manhattan had seventy-eight breweries and Brooklyn forty-three. Germans in New York often gathered in beer halls, beer gardens, saloons and other places where beer was sold. Some of the halls had stages on which German theater was performed and many had meeting rooms used by singing societies, lodges, clubs, trade unions and political organizations. The large and often elaborately decorated German beer halls were the pride of German neighborhoods. As the city became too hot for indoor entertainment in the summer, many Germans enjoyed picnics and festivals near Hoboken, New Jersey, and at the elaborate beer garden in Jones's Wood. May festivals, as well as music, gymnastics, and sniper festivals, attracted tens of thousands of celebrants in the mid-19th century. The most prominent sponsor was Turngeminde, an organization of radical craftsmen. Strengthened and radicalized by an influx of exiles after the failed revolution of 1848, the group organized the New York Socialist Gymnastics Club to promote fitness, German culture, nationalism and the abolition of slavery.

In the 19th century, Germans founded numerous socialist political associations in New York, including the Workers' League, the Communist Club, the First International, and the Socialist Labor Party. Germans were also leaders in the labor movement, and under their leadership the New York Eight Hour League organized a strike of more than 100,000 workers in 1872. The Germans later helped found the American Federation of Labor, which starred Adolph Strasser and Samuel Gompers, and the Knights of Labor. Although thousands of the city's German workers joined radical unions and socialist organizations, they remained firmly with the Democratic Party in electoral politics. German-American politicians such as Anton Dugro, Philipp Merkle and Magnus Gross founded their own organizations within the party, initially allying with Captain Isahia Rynders' faction to support Mayor Fernando Wood. When Wood fell out with Tammany Hall and formed his own organization, the Germans remained loyal to him and were key to his election victory in 1858. The abolitionist cause drew some members of the gymnastics club and other radicals into the Republican Party in the late 1850s, and some remained in the party until the end of the century, but a Republican-sponsored anti-German Metropolitan Police riot in 1857 weakened German relations with the party.

The undisputed leader of the German Democrats in the early 1860s was Oswald Ottendorfer, owner of the popular German Staats-Zeitung. Over the next thirty years, he led a series of coalitions dedicated to reform and opposed to Tammany Hall. His German Democratic Union party helped elect Mayor Charles Godfrey Gunther in 1863. After William M. "Boss" Tweed's organization eclipsed the German Democrats in the late 1860s, Ottendorfer founded an independent German civic organization to unite German Democrats and Republicans in the election campaign against the Tweed Ring in 1871. Although Although he helped William F. Havemeyer win the mayoralty in 1872, Ottendorfer was defeated when he took it himself in 1874 and his German Reform Party collapsed.

The German population in New York City peaked at 748,882 in 1900, due in part to consolidation. There were also 133,689 Austrians in the city, most of whom were of German descent. Although many German institutions remained in Little Germany into the early 20th century, Yorkville surpassed the old neighborhood in importance, and Astoria and New Jersey became increasingly popular as suburban settlements, particularly among Americans and the wealthy. The deaths of German-born immigrants and the migration of their children to the suburbs reduced the population of German-Americans in New York City to 584,838 by 1920, but the number rose again as about 98,500 Germans escaped from the economic and political disorder of their country The country fled at the end of the First World War and in 1930.

Despite their relative decline in importance in New York City at the beginning of the 20th century, Germans shaped the city's ethnic politics for many years. A local chapter of the National German-American Alliance (1901) was particularly influential. The strength of the city's German-American community was undermined during World War I, when George Sylvester Viereck and other Germans in the city who advocated neutrality were classified as enemy agents and subjected to state oppression. German courses were eliminated from public schools and German-language works were eliminated from the Metropolitan Opera.

Hamburgers became “Liberty Sandwiches” and sauerkraut became “Liberty Kohl.” German immigrants attempted to restore their ethnic pride in the interwar years, but these efforts were soon interrupted by the Nazi movement and another round of war hostilities. German-Americans were forced to make their activities less conspicuous; Clubs still met and Steubentag parades were still sponsored, but active assertions of German culture and attempts at collective political action were discouraged. The gymnastics club became a meeting place for American Nazi activists in the 1930s and was affiliated with a front organization of the German American Bund. The Germans' close bond between Jews and Christians was broken by an anti-German boycott organized by Jewish war veterans and a subsequent anti-Jewish boycott.

In the mid-20th century, many World War II refugees settled in the metropolitan area, particularly in Washington Heights. However, they increasingly chose to live outside the city. The end of mass migration and the move to the suburbs of Long Island and New Jersey contributed to the rapid decline of Yorkville as a German-American center in the 1960s and 1970s, leaving Astoria as the only neighborhood in New York City with an identifiable German character Presence in the 1980s. A total of 301,993 New Yorkers claimed German or Austrian ancestry in 1990.

You can experience a journey through the real New York and the one described above on the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn tour.


Sander A. Diamond: The Nazi Movement in the United States, 1924-1941 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1974)

Helmut F. Pfanner: Exile in New York: German and Austrian Writers after 1933 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1983)

Stanley Nadel: Little Germany: Ethnicity, Religion and Class in New York City, 1845-1880 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990)

The sad story of German immigrants on the Lower East Side

The Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn tour is something unusual because from one minute to the next you move between poverty and wealth, between the most different cultures and architecture. German culture also had a great influence on New York, unfortunately with a sad end.

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