Buffalo and its German Community: Pages 73 - 77

Part II, Chapter 6

The German Societies

As we begin to speak about the German clubs in Buffalo, of which there are an incredibly large number, let us mention those which no longer exist but played a meaningful and fortunate role in the German history of our city. By these we mean a club originating out of the German Young Men's Society of the City of Buffalo, which had itself arisen from the Buffalo Apprentices Society. It was established on May 10, 1841 by F.A. Georger and John Hauerstein. On September 11, 1841 it became known as the German-English Literary Society. The society's purpose was to foster an appreciation for the various branches of German and English literature, science and art. Later English literature slipped into the background. A contract library was established for the collection of literary, scientific and general cultural materials, theatrical presentations, and social gatherings at which literature, art and science were discussed. Among the orators who appeared at the club were
August Thieme, the courageous and noble German hero of freedom who was owner of the Wächter am Erie (The Watcher on Erie - A German daily newspaper) in his second home of Cleveland;
Friedrich Hecker who spoke in 1873 about the mystery of Atlantis;
Dr. Gerhard Rohls, the famous African researcher who discussed his work;
Robert Schlaginweit, who gave an interesting talk on the lives of the people of India; etc. etc.
We do not want to leave out the German Young Men's Association, which took in the political exiles of Germany and celebrated their existence:
Dr. George Fried. Seidensticker, imprisoned for 15 years, was their guest in 1846;
Dr. Gabor Napheggi of Hungary gave a lecture on the Hungarian uprising against Austria;
Gottfried Kinkel the blazing German patriot of freedom appeared amid their ranks and enflamed them with his oratory;
August Thieme, whom we have already mentioned, was in tight with the union;
the great Hungarian revolutionary hero Ludwig Kossuth, who in the aftermath of the revolution became governor of a portion of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and was celebrated here in America, gave an inspiring speech for the establishment of the American Revolutionary Union for Europe.
The library holdings of the Association are, as we have already mentioned, now in the possession of the Buffalo Public Library.

Let us not forget another society, which no longer exists but which played an important role in the German-American musical scene here in Buffalo.
On May 9, 1848 the Liedertafel (The German Glee Club) was established as the first German singing society in our city. Song, favorite child of the Muses, used and preserved the beauty of the German language and made it accessible to Americans. The Liedertafel participated in many song festivals in America and became the foremost competitor to beat amid her rivals.

Among the other active singing societies we name the Buffalo Sängerbund (The Buffalo Singing Society), established on April 20, 1853 as the Liederkränzchen (The Small Gathering of Songs) and later dubbed the Liederkranz. In 1855 it took the name Buffalo Sängerbund. Today it is still one of the best of German singing societies in our city. Dr. Karl G. Winning is the musical director of the Sängerbund.
When it comes of size of membership and artistic interpretation of songs, certainly the Orpheus Singing Society must be considered to be in first place among the glee clubs here and throughout North America. It's under the loving care and able direction of Conductor Julius Lang. Orpheus came into being through a split from the Liedertafel. There was a difference of opinion between the older and younger members about the Saengerfest [Song Festival] of the North American Saengerbund [United Singing Societies]. In 1868 nineteen members of the Liedertafel resigned. On October 7, 1869 Orpheus was formed. Since then Orpheus has lived as a clarion of German song and German existence.
Another group, the Harugari Frohsinn , must be reckoned a significant contributor to the perpetuation of German Song. It was established in 1885 and today stands under the genial directorship of Otto Wick. Through conscious effort the Harugari has sublimated their love of the song and approached the Ideal.
Besides these we wish to mention the Teutonia Liederkranz (The Teutonic Glee Club); the Herwegh Männerchor (The Herwegh Men's Choir), established in 1890 and made up mostly of progressive-thinking, song-loving workers; and the Vorwärts Männerchor (The Progressive Men's Choir), established in 1898. Both of these groups belong to the Working Men's Singing Society of North America. We also wish to mention the Schwäbische Sängerbund (The Swabian Singing Society), the Männerchor Bavaria (The Men's Choir of Bavaria), the Buffalo Männerchor (The Buffalo Men's Choir) and others.

Two gymnastics clubs originated here in Buffalo, the Buffalo Turnverein (The Buffalo Gymnastics Club) and the Columbia Turnverein (Columbia Gymnastics Club). Columbia also had a women's division. Everybody benefited from the existence of these fine, healthy, German gymnastic sports. We owe them thanks for introducing exercise into America and into the public schools of our city. Exercise has become a vital part of the curriculum.

German Literary Societies - The German Literary Society has assigned itself the task of introducing the German Language and German Literature into the refined circles of society. They wish to make others aware of the intellectual interests of the German community. Professor Carl F. Siekmann was the first to envision an assembly of educated German-American Buffalonians. He is the director of German instruction at Lafayette High School. The German Literary Society was established in his house on December 6, 1908. At the second meeting on December 8th the following officers were chosen: Chairman, Professor Carl F. Siekmann; Secretary, Max Mayer; Treasurer, Louis Malsch.

The young club vigorously performed its work. Through lectures on German poetry and discourse, pertinent to the lives of the membership, the club developed a strong, educationally sound framework. Its further task was to widen the circle of German-Americans and broaden their knowledge of the treasury of intellectual gifts the German culture had to offer. German poets and illuminati were brought to Buffalo. Evenings of discourse were arranged whenever possible with the support of other clubs and societies which had similar interests. Lectures of this variety included:
Baron von Wolzogen - Thirty Years of German Literature
Baroness Elsa Laura von Wolzogen - The German Folksong with Examples sung to the Accompaniment of a Lute.

Carriers of information about Germany and Germans, who happened to be in the vicinity of Buffalo, found guest accommodations amid the circle of the club, included Mr. Theodor Sutro, President of the German-American Association in the State of New York; Dr. Rudolf Tombo,Jr., a professor from Columbia University; Dr. Walther, Director of the Musterschule (Model School) in Frankfurt am Mainz.

The German Literary Society has in its few years of existence had a significant impact and has risen to the pinnacle of German intellectual life. Its membership today (November 1911) is 24. The following officers have been elected for the year 1912: Chairman, Otto Retter; Substitute Chairman, Sam. Rautenberg; Secretary, Joseph Wick; Treasurer, Heinrich Kumpf.

The Schiller Memorial Society - The celebration of Schiller's 156th birthday (November 10, 1909), hosted by the German-American Association under the leadership of Prof. Carl F. Siekmann, once again made its wish known to build a monument to Schiller. The president of the German-American Association of Buffalo, Dr. Gustave A. Hitzel, took steps to build such a monument. A committee was appointed with Carl F. Siekmann as chairman. On Sunday evening, the 15th of January 1910, the organization met in the Hall of the Buffalo Orpheus. A proposal was drawn up and contributions in excess of $532 were designated. Prof. Carl F. Siekmann was elected chairman. Voluntary contributions, proceeds from concerts, etc., two allotments of $500 each from the profits collected during the German Days Celebrations have increased the association's total budget to almost $4,400. The association intends to collect $25,000.

The German Christian Association for Young Men - At the beginning of 1888 the question was raised by the pastors and church elders of the German Evangelical Society "What can we do for our German young men?" In much the same manner this question was being asked by our English-speaking city brethren about their young men. The society recognized a way towards the best solution. After a series of meetings in the schoolroom of St. Peter's Evangelical Church, led by Pastor E. Jung, they came to the conclusion that the establishment of a Christian association for young men was a necessity. The decision was reached to send to New York for the secretary of the German Evangelical Society in New York, Mr. Claus Olandt, Jr. Mr. Olandt proved himself a warm, true friend and an untiring worker to the cause. On August 22, 1888 a meeting of the representatives of the German Protestant congregations was to be organized (by Pastor Carl Schild). This day may be considered the birthday of the German Christian Association for Young Men.

Caption under picture reads the building of the German Christian Association for Young Men

The decision was made to authorize the opening of a new branch of the German Christian Association. An invitation for nominations to a Board of Directors was made. It didn't take long for replies. The first appointed Board of Directors included the following men, several of whom serve to this day: Theophil Speyser, President; W.J. Zirbes, Vice President; Jacob Jung, Secretary; Philip Hauck, Treasurer; Edward J. Eisele, George Degen, Ernst W. Peseler, John G. Seeger, Jakob F. Berner, Charles Boller, Philip Bommer, Bernhard Klingelhoefer, William H. Loew. Many women took a warm interest in the matter. At the same time as the establishment of the association, a women's auxillary committee was organized which became the association's greatest supporter. It is no less so today and their names head the list in the group's history. By their cooperation, their sacrifice of time and money, their Christian love and determination, they became the guardian angels to the association.

For many more years the association was located in the so-called "Scheu Block" at the corner of Genesee and Spring Streets in a group of rooms on the third floor. Almost from the beginning it was clear that the association needed a home of its own. In April 1890 decisive steps were taken and a committee was assembled to tackle of building problem. An acceptable piece of property was found and purchased on the corner of Genesee and Davis Streets (50' x 150'). On July 16,1893 the cornerstone to the new building was laid by the mayor of the city, Charles F. Bishop, who was a German. After many battles and difficulties, and amid festivities lasting from September 29 to October 4, 1895, the association moved into its new building. The building represented a worth of $55,000. Once the loan was repaid, the nominal fees charged to provide financial support to services for patrons and friends could be used to benefit the association.

The number of members reached over one thousand. There is scarcely a German family not involved with the association in some way. Serving the sons of German parents is the most significant monument to human love on the east side of Buffalo. The gymnastics clubs, the bowling alleys and the spas provide amusement and social intercourse in many ways. There are libraries, lectures and excellent night schools; health organizations, religious assemblies and Bible study groups. We find earlier members in excellent positions on the pulpit, as professors, doctors, engineers and business people. They call attest to the good and progressive influence exerted by the association.

The association undoubtedly has a gentling influence on the German congregations of our city. It fills a central place amid the various denominations, giving each a better understanding of its opportunities and setting the tone for Christian unity.

The following men have served as President of the Association: T. Speyser, Edward J. Eisele, Louis Kempff, Dr. F.C. Gram, Dr. D.B. Stumpf. The Secretaries has been Carl E. Wittwer, F.W. Godtfring, H.H. Lohans, Otto Retter, John Schroeder, H.E.W. Simon. Dr. F.W. Burkhardt has been the gymnastics teacher for years in service to the association.

All those mentioned have brought their varied and abundant offerings to the association. Even in these later times when the numbers prove that more and more members are speakers of English (we can't change that and it was to be expected), the spirit of our fathers and our founders still prevail.

Anyone who has taken part in the association's building and expansion will have the satifaction that they served their time to the best, the fullest and the most positive way possible.

The German lodges are strongly represented in Buffalo. Among the most significant are the German Order of the Harugari, who use the German language exclusively. Belonging at the top of the list is the Columbia Lodge No. 11, started in 1848. There are 15 lodges within the order. Next to perpetuating the use of the German language, they are there to supply advocacy to their members. The Order of Freedom has seven lodges, the German Odd Fellows have ten, the German Order of Foresters in America has one lodge. Besides the ones already mentioned there are Free Mason and other lodges.

The German Advocacy Union has many individual associations. These independently originating advocacy associations, like the ones mentioned, provide support to their members in cases of disabling illness and act as a kind of life insurance agency by securing death benefits for families of accident victims.

The German Military Associations - Many old German soldiers came here to America and brought their military spirit with them. Consequently they have also transported their military associations. Of these we wish to name the German Soldier's Union, the German Veterans and Soldier's Union, the German Veteran's Association of Buffalo and Erie County, and the East Buffalo German Association of Warriors.

The above mentioned list is by no means exhaustive. Besides the associations listed here, there are a great many others but we haven't enough room to name them all.

Caption under picture reads Building of the Buffalo General Electric Company.

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Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks
Revised June 26, 2005