Learning from the Germans

German immigration has left a lasting mark on Texas. You can see it in the names of towns on a road map. You can also see it on a menu: our chicken fried steak is a descendant of the Wiener schnitzel. And at one time there were as many Texas newspapers published in German as there were in English.


German Texans were famous for their clubs, be they schützenverein (shooting clubs) or turnverein, which were social organizations organized around gymnastics and bowling.


In the last week of 1869, the editor of the Jefferson Radical got a first hand look at what went on when one of these German clubs threw a party. Here is his report:

On Tuesday night, Dec. 28th, we had the pleasure of witnessing the hearty, genial and rational manner in which our German friends are wont to amuse themselves during the leisure hours.

The ball given by the club was certainly an affair creditable enough for an extraordinary occasion, but we were both delighted and surprised to learn that it was customary for the society to have a ball every two weeks similar in every respect, except that strangers were not commonly invited.

Some philosophical considerations press upon the mind when we contemplate these German associations.

How suggestive are such mottoes as “Harmony” and “Union!” And how admirably does the conduct of these social gatherings correspond! Here no man yells like a Comanche, or waves a revolver above his head.

In fact, nothing occurs that would frighten or shock the most sensitive female. All is courtesy, cordiality and a healthy animation and hilarity.

We Americans are prone to dissipation. we gamble, drink raw spirits, run into great extremes and excesses and live too fast in every way. The Germans substitute recreation for all these ruinous pastimes of ours. In so doing they set an example that our young men especially would do well to follow.

Many object to the exclusiveness of these German clubs. We do not, although we would be pleased to avail ourselves of the benefits of an institution like unto them. We appreciate the motives which impel the Germans here – strangers in a strange land – to form themselves into a brotherhood that they may sometimes in spirit revisit the Fatherland.

They come here and willingly leave behind homes surrounded by the mightiest triumphs of civilization; they are content to exchange the language of Goethe and Schiller – their mother tongue – for ours – the language of Shakespeare and Milton – but they cannot altogether forget the land of their birth, not renounce the customs which have contributed to place them as a people in the van of human progress.

The clubhouse and grounds of the Houston Turnverein, about 1910

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