Page 2 - Finding My German Roots in Fredericksburg, Texas

Finding My German Roots in Fredericksburg, Texas - Page 2
Story and photos by Teresa Bergen



Maypole

First case in point: the local Indians, who didn’t think much of the promises of land made by the Adelsverein. As Indian numbers dwindled, due to European diseases, they supplemented their tribes by snatching the settlers’ children. Or, if they didn’t have time to raise a new young ‘un, often they settled for rape, dismemberment, or, when really pressed for time, a quick death. In the cemetery. Treibs pointed out markers that said, in German, “Murdered by Indians.”

Second case, a couple of decades later: their Confederate neighbors. Germans weren’t much for slave owning. Regardless of whether this was due to philosophy or to the fact that they weren't growing cotton and didn’t need that much labor, the German citizens of Fredericksburg voted to stay with the Union. Which their Confederate neighbors never forgot or forgave. Many reaped tragic visitors from the Haengenbande, or “hanging band.”

Then came the world wars, where neighbors hated them for being German. This still outrages Treibs, who points out that the Germans of Fredericksburg were practically the only Texans patriotic enough to stick with the Union rather than joining the Confederacy, only to have all those former Confederates question their loyalty in World Wars One and Two.

“After wars in Germany, we had to learn English,” Weinheimer told us matter-of-factly. “It wasn’t ESL and bilingual. You had to jump in and swim.”

The State of German Culture Today

Fredericksburg has quite a few German restaurants, but fewer people speak German. Those that do have something very precious—a dialect that has changed little since the 1840s. Visitors from Germany can come to Fredericksburg and hear how their language was spoken 160 years ago. They have no words for modern things, so they throw in English words like “airport.”

German singing societies still practice in Saint Joseph’s Hall, although it can be a challenge to get young people interested in participating.  A sport called Schutzenfest, wherein clubs of people get together to shoot targets with long rifles, is still popular.

I felt like I understood something about being German from listening to Weinheimer’s matter-of-factness, and Treibs’ scorn when things were done the wrong way.

For example, by Fredericksburg standards, the ideal grave has a curbing all the way around its rectangular plot. Most have a topping of concrete overlaid with gravel. The richest people have granite slabs as topping. He pointed out one man who skipped topping because he allegedly wanted to be ready for the resurrection. Treibs scoffed that the man was just cheap. “I think if God created heaven and earth, he could get Kurt out of a little cement.”

Texas German grave

We swung by Treibs’ plot and he explained how it would eventually look. “Do everything for your grave before you die because your children and your spouse might leave town with your money,” he warned.

Graveyard

My own father preplanned his cremation and selected a niche in a cemetery for his ashes. I don't think he expected any of us to skip town on him. But he was responsible, considerate and wanted things done the right way. One of the saddest things about losing him was that I never asked him much about his family. Very late in his life, I gingerly brought up the subject of his parents’ divorce and what I’d always assumed was a terribly painful childhood. No, he said, it hadn’t been a big deal or left him wounded. I was shocked. Was he telling me the truth? Had I needlessly refrained my whole life from asking questions about his family? He must think I’d never cared at all.

Treibs told us a story of a father—a paragon of German reserve—who shook his son’s hand when he went off to the war in Vietnam, then shook it again when he returned home.  “I don't know how people even had children,” he mused about the German lack of warmth. Yet here Treibs was, prickly but ready to tell stories about every person buried in the cemetery. It wasn’t so hard to look under his gruff exterior and see how much he cared. Why did it take me so long to see that in my own father?


IF YOU GO:

For more information on the area and its attractions, see the Fredericksburg section of the Travel Texas site.



Teresa Bergen is a Portland, Oregon-based freelancer who writes about fitness, yoga, vegan travel and outdoor adventures. She's the author of Vegetarian Asia Travel Guide and Meditations for Gym Yogis, and she writes the blog Veg Travel and Fitness.


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Related Features:

Exploring my Pilgrim Past at Plymouth by Becky Garrison
The Undercover Nun by Bruce Northam
Did I Have an Alligator Mother? by Judith Fein
On the Old Berlin Wall, a Kiss is not Just a Kiss by James Dorsey



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