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Guten Tag, Texas

By Eleanor Hendricks McDaniel

 

           

Museum 
Vereins Kirche Museum
With all the buzz about the popular new film, Django Unchained, many moviegoers have questioned the presence of the German, Dr. King Schultz, in antebellum Texas. (Christoph Waltz won an Academy Award for the role.) Actually, he wasn’t a figment of the screenwriter’s dramatic license, because beginning in the 1830s, thousands of Germans migrated to Texas. Throughout the Lone Star State, traces of German history have been lost, but, of those who settled in the gritty Hill Country, much of Old World Deutschland heritage has been retained in Fredericksburg (which was named for Prince Frederick of Prussia).

 

Go no farther than Main Street, the long, wide thoroughfare that traverses the heart of Fredericksburg, a la the villages on the Rhine. Contrary to Texas’ mantra of “Everything’s bigger,” you can enjoy the essence of this town within a conveniently compact area: shops, restaurants and a definitive historic district. Your first stop should be Marktplatz, where you’ll find the octagonal Vereins Kirche Museum, the town’s iconic landmark. The “society church” was shared by several congregations, and utilized as a school, a community center and a fort. It has been transformed to deliver a quick background of the town’s history and folkways through objects and photos.

           

wagon  Sunday House 
Wagon at the Pioneer Museum Complex
Sunday House
Next tour the Pioneer Museum Complex that carries you to the past with authentic artifacts, exhibits and historic buildings. Look for the “Sunday House.” These humble cottages were built to shelter rural families who journeyed to town each weekend to trade and to attend church. Constructed simply with one room downstairs and a half-story bedroom above, the buildings nevertheless were an important addition to the family’s holdings and sometimes even became its retirement home.

           

Every student of German culture is interested in food and drink, and not necessarily in that order. The award-winning Fredericksburg Brewing Company produces some of the most outstanding beers in America, from dark German biers to lagers to pale ales. Though established in 1994 as a brewery, it’s the oldest brewpub in the state, and is housed in a restored 1890s building. Of course, the town celebrates Oktoberfest big time in early October.

           

Another popular event is Easter Fire, a celebration unique to Fredericksburg in the United States. In Germany and other northwestern European countries, Easter Fire represents a pre-Christian custom of lighting bonfires to signal the end of winter and the beginning of spring. But in Fredericksburg, it commemorates the peace treaty signed between the German settlers and the ferocious Comanche Indians in 1847. It was the only treaty that was kept.

           

For true German cuisine, visit the Rathskeller Restaurant, a subterranean eatery that serves Old Country specialties that include traditional Jaeger and Wiener Schnitzels, wursts, cabbage dishes and German potato salad. Sausages, pickled eggs, spatzle, dumplings, sauerbraten and other simple fare can be found throughout Fredericksburg.           

 

Although some German immigrants did own slaves, those who settled in the Texas Hill Country did not. They, like Django’s Dr. Shultz, found the institution of slavery abhorrent. As the largest ethnic group to arrive directly from Europe, they brought true morality, humanity and compassion with them.