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If German visitors to the United States shop at a supermarket, they will probably notice beer cans on the shelves bearing familiar-sounding names like Pabst, Schlitz, or Anheuser-Busch. But if they ask Americans unfamiliar with modern-day Germany what it means to be German, the answers might surprise them. For many Americans, “typically German” things include Christmas traditions and baked goods, classical music, or brass bands and marches, and they may know a few terms like Kindergarten or Gemütlichkeit. Often, these traces of Germany are just regionally specific cultural leftovers that have managed to survive — in distorted form — into the present.

No other country has exerted such a powerful, centuries-long fascination over German emigrants than the United States. And the German-speaking countries are second only to Great Britain as a continual source of new inhabitants of America. This emigration began with isolated groups in the 17th century and continued in bursts for more than a hundred years, when a wave of mass emigration began. Until this tipping point, however, the number of relocated Germans was never more than a few hundred thousand. In his novel, Wilhelm Meister’s Journeyman Years, the famous German author Johann Wolfgang Goethe wrote of the “lively impetus toward America in the beginning of the 18th century” that was “encouraged by the desirable possessions which could be obtained.” In the 19th century, immigration patterns reflected the larger transition from an agricultural society to an industrial one. Between 1815 and 1914, about 40 million people came to America from Europe, including approximately seven million Germans. More… “Destination Amerika”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His latest book (in German) is When Winters Were Still Winters: The History of a Season. His book Birdmania: Remarkable Lives with Birds will be published by Greystone Books in 2017. He is a fellow and nonfiction resident of the Carey Institute for Global Good in Rensselaerville, New York. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, Best American Travel Writing, and various German-language newspapers. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.
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