Guten Tag, Texas
By Eleanor Hendricks McDaniel
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).
|Vereins Kirche Museum
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.
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.
|Wagon at the Pioneer Museum Complex
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
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.