The mob at the Brooklyn Brewery booth
Over the three days, Urban Oyster Co-Founder Dave Naczycz will be posting reports from the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado. Here's the second of his dispatches: Intro | Day 2 | Day 3
Wow! Never before have so many brewers been gathered in one place, and the effect was a little overwhelming. Thousands were gathered outside the doors of the Denver Convention Center anticipating the opening of the festival at 5:30pm. When the doors did open there was a cheer so loud you thought you were at a Broncos game, not a beer festival. Since the festival sold 49,000 tickets in just a few days, one could infer that it has become just as popular as the NFL.
I grabbed my tasting glass and headed into the melee. The festival is arranged geographically with brewers from different regions like the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and Rocky Mountains grouped together. I quickly breezed by the Mid-Atlantic section, which included New York City, to see who had come to the Festival. The only NYC brewery in attendance was Brooklyn Brewery
, and they were slammed. Brewmaster Garrett Oliver along with other Brooklyn Brewery folks, including our friends Erin and Carla, were pouring Brooklyn Local 1, Local 2, Black Ops, and Sorachi Ace. Garrett was also signing copies of his new book, The Oxford Companion to Beer
. It was great to see that they were clearly one of the most popular breweries at the festival along with Dogfish Head, New Belgium, Sierra Nevada, and others.
My tasting glass. Note the 1oz pour line
However, I can always get Brooklyn Brewery beer, so I headed over to the Mountain West section to drink local. I tried beers from Red Rock Brewing
from Salt Lake City. I had their Black Lager, Helles, and Zwickel Lager. They specialize in the lager style and in lighter beers in terms of body and alcohol. One of the reasons they have those beers is due to the liquor laws in Utah, which state that a draft beer can’t be higher than 4% alcohol by volume. That is fairly low for the craft beer world, but it does create the opportunity to fill a niche that I think is neglected by many craft brewers, which is lighter, lower alcohol beers that many would find more drinkable than the imperial stouts and IPAs that dominate the industry.
I slid over to Renegade Brewing Company
of Denver, which opened a mere three months ago. They were featuring a Rye IPA called Ryeteous! Local New Yorkers will no doubt recognize the resemblance to our own Sixpoint Craft Ales
Righteous Rye. While the Renegade Brewing version was very good, it wasn’t nearly as well done as the Sixpoint version. Sixpoint had a more balanced hop profile and a richer malt character that appealed to me more. However I wish the guys at Renegade good luck in growing their new brewery. They also made a Poblano Amber, which was an amber ale spiced with peppers. The spice was very prominent, and I felt like it was a beer that captured the local flavor of the food out here (I had Mexican for lunch).
Free State Brewing Co.
Finally I stopped by the Great Divide Brewing Co
. booth. Great Divide beers are available in NYC, and many of you may have tried them before. I had their Titan IPA and their Rumble IPA. The Titan was interesting in that it utilized Simcoe, Amarillo, and Centennial hops. Not a Cascade to be found. The flavor made it distinctive from both East and West Coast IPAs and made a strong case for the increasing local character of craft brewing. This was clearly and Mountain IPA. In my next post I’ll talk more about the “localness” of beer and how that is playing out in the beer industry. Oh, and before I leave Great Divide, they had an excellent Saison called Collette that was just the right amount of tartness. All of these beers are distributed in NYC, but you might have trouble finding Collette as we are past the end of Saison season.
The last brewery I’ll mention is the Free State Brewing Company
from Lawrence, Kansas. I visited them as a personal pilgrimage. This was the first craft beer I drank in my life. It happened in 1994 on a visit to a friend at the University of Kansas, and he took us to Free State which did, and still does, operate a brew pub in town. That experience changed my beer drinking life and set me on the path which has led to the beer tours and beer tastings that I now lead for Urban Oyster. I think that everyone probably has that “beer life changing” moment, and I always like to think that some have had it on an Urban Oyster tour. At Free State I tried their Ad Astra Ale, which was in all likelihood the beer I had 17 years ago, and it was a delicious, easy-drinking pale ale. Their C4 Imperial IPA was also very good. It was very hoppy, and the hops still dominated the beer, which was refreshing at that moment and somewhat unusual in the Imperial IPAs, where the maltiness is usually significant enough to balance with the hops.
After Free State I ran into Josh Shaffner who organizes New York Craft Beer Week
, and he led me on a trek to numerous breweries where we were trying beer so fast I didn’t have time to take notes. This resulted in some end of the night fuzziness in the head, as I’m sure everyone can appreciate.
Josh Schaffner of NY Craft Beer Week and his friend Ian. The picture is a little blurry, much like myself at the time.
I’ll be back to you tomorrow with more news and brews from GABF 2011. If you are here at the festival, send us a tweet @urbanoyster
and we can meet up to try some beer.
Read Dave's other blog posts from GABF: Intro | Day 2 | Day 3For questions or comments about this blog post, please contact Andrew Gustafson or leave a comment. If you would like to follow this blog, subscribe to our RSS feed or sign up for the Urban Oyster email newsletter. All photos courtesy Dave Naczycz.
Over the next four days, Urban Oyster Co-Founder Dave Naczycz will be posting reports from the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado. Here's the first of his dispatches: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3
Today I’m flying out to Denver, Colorado for the 30th annual Great American Beer Festival
, the largest gathering of craft brewers in the US. We at Urban Oyster have really enjoyed becoming a part of the local craft beer community in New York City and introducing so many people to craft beer through our Brewed in Brooklyn Tour
, Fermented NY Craft Beer Crawls
, and our Craft Beer Cruises
with Manhattan by Sail
. We feel that we’ve been a part of this revolution in beer that seems to be gaining more and more momentum with each passing year. So we are headed out to Denver to learn even more about the industry, meet with brewers, talk shop, and probably toss back a few in the process. In order to bring that experience back to you our readers I’ll be writing a post each day about my experiences at the festival, the people I’ve met, and the beer I’ve tried so that you too will be inspired to join the craft beer revolution (or if you already have, to at least go out and enjoy some local craft beer that day).
For those of you who have not been to a Great American Beer Fest (or have not even heard of it), it all started back in 1982 with just 800 attendees crammed into 5,000 square foot space. 30 years later, the festival has sold out at 49,000 attendees, and is held at Denver's 300,000 square foot convention center. Back then, only a committed few were interested in craft beer, and the number of brewers operating across the country was near its historic low point, with fewer than 50 breweries nationwide. The Beer Fest is hosted by the Brewers Association
, which represents and promotes craft beer in the US. By their count, there are now 1,790 breweries in the country – a number not seen since well before Prohibition – all but 50 of whom are defined as craft brewers. We live in blessed times. Other key stats about the festival include:
GABF, then and now.
• 2,475 beers served in the festival hall, the largest selection of American beers ever served
• 466 breweries serving the beer (another record)
• 3,900+ beers will be judged in 83 different categories by 169 judges (yep, all records)
The festival will also feature a number of interest areas – I’ll be headed over to the Farm to Table Pavilion, where I’ll join chefs and small and independent brewers as they discuss and pair craft beer with dishes created with locally grown ingredients (anyone that has been to our beer tasting events knows that I have a passion for this topic). Look for my post about that experience this Saturday.
We hope you enjoy this series and we look forward to your comments, stories and insights.
Read Dave's other blog posts from GABF: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3For questions or comments about this blog post, please contact Andrew Gustafson or leave a comment. If you would like to follow this blog, subscribe to our RSS feed or sign up for the Urban Oyster email newsletter.
Formerly German Savings Bank
This is the second installment of a two-part series exploring the impacts of the First World War on New York City's German community. Part 1
New York City is an interesting case by which to examine the experience of German-Americans during World War I, because it was both a center of pro-German activity and home to a large population of loyal, hard-working German-Americans. The city’s status as America’s media, industrial, and commercial capital meant that it attracted plenty of propagandists, saboteurs and spies. The unapologetically pro-German stance of many cultural elites, combined with the genuine threats to the city posed by German agents, made life difficult for average New Yorkers of German descent, who were for the most part well assimilated and deeply patriotic.
One measure of assimilation is the decline in membership in traditionally German-speaking churches. Most Holy Trinity
in Williamsburg, Brooklyn’s oldest German Catholic church, saw its number of German-speaking parishioners fall by three-quarters between 1891 and 1908.
Today, this church stands as one of the most beautiful in Brooklyn, but then, as now, it was German in name only. Unlike in other parts of the country, there is little or no evidence of German religious institutions in New York being singled out for discrimination. The so-called “club” Germans had a tougher time, however; raids were frequent, and these groups were generally more outspoken and politically active. Some were even forcibly disbanded, like the German-American Alliance of Brooklyn, which was ordered dissolved by the state legislature in April 1918, “for the good of the country.”
Most people coped with the situation by voluntarily downplaying their German identity and outwardly displaying their patriotism; this affected both religious and secular institutions. The Amityville Dominican Sisters, an order based at Most Holy Trinity, changed their official language from German to English,
and many singing societies began performing exclusively in English. One New York shooting society even offered its range in New Jersey for use by the US military when America entered the war.
New York City did not enact any language restrictions, but the board of education did ban all textbooks with favorable mentions of Kaiser Wilhelm. Due to their vociferous support of Germany during the neutrality period (and some even after), German-language newspapers were harangued by rivals and abandoned by readers. The press that had thrived in recent decades withered away, and across the country, the number of German papers fell by half between 1914 and 1919, and readership fell by two-thirds.
A handful of streets and landmarks had their German names scrubbed (Brooklyn’s Wilson Avenue was once Hamburg Avenue, for example), but most name changes were done voluntarily. The Deutsches Polyclinic
on Second Avenue in the East Village, built in 1883, changed its name to the Stuyvesant Polyclinic during the war. Other health facilities, like the Germany Dispensary
, founded in Manhattan in 1857, suddenly became the Lenox Hill Hospital in June 1918, and the German Hospital in Bushwick
became Wyckoff Heights Hospital. Lincoln Savings Bank, which can still be seen on buildings around Brooklyn, was called German Savings Bank until 1918. One forcible effacement was on the US Customs House in Lower Manhattan, who’s facade features a pantheon of figures representing the great trading nations of the history. If you stand back far enough, you can see the figure of Germania holding a shield puzzlingly emblazoned with “Belgium”; "Germany" was chiseled over during the war as a snub to Belgium's occupiers.
The lives of working people of German descent were deeply affected by the war. Employment in many places became contingent upon learning English, and employees that were “suspect” – either for their heritage or political views – were forced out in some cases. New York was of great strategic importance as an industrial center and port, and German U-boats left American coastal shipping extremely vulnerable, even in the protected confines of New York Harbor. As a result, nearly all people of German ancestry were removed from service on harbor craft, and 400 German nationals in New York when the US declared war, including 200 sailors, were interned at Ellis Island. They were soon transferred, as officials feared that their vantage point from the island provided useful information about American shipping that could be transmitted to the enemy.
View of New York Harbor from internment facilities on Ellis Island
Feds leave there mark, but find no spies
This suspicion even extended to all German citizens who lived or worked within sight of the water. In September 1917, the New York Times
wrote, “It is estimated that there are about 1,000 German male subjects, above the age of 14, living along the Staten Island shore, while the number inhabiting the Brooklyn shore is estimated at three times as many.” That same month, the federal government issued a rule banning “enemy aliens” from residing within a half-mile of a fort, camp, aircraft station, arsenal or navy yard without a permit, nor could they own a firearm or operate a wireless device. Due to New York’s large German population and high population density, 70,000 such permits were issued in the city alone.
German plots – real and imagined – were uncovered in the papers almost daily. Whether they were sabotaging Brooklyn sugar production
or poisoning America’s wheat crop,
spies were feared to be everywhere. Even the abandoned Atlantic Avenue Tunnel
in downtown Brooklyn was rumored to be a hideout for German saboteurs. In 1918, a group of federal agents dug into the sealed tunnel – and found no spies. After they left, they apparently told no one where they had been, because the tunnel remained undisturbed – official records said the tunnel was demolished in 1861 – until 1980, when it was rediscovered by a young explorer (tours were offered of the tunnel until recently, when they were shut down by the city for safety concerns).
Some of the changes to German-American society were temporary and superficial, but a lynchpin of German (and American) cultural life was also under attack: alcohol. Prohibition gained tremendous momentum during the war, and prohibitionists seized the political opportunities in vilifying all things German, especially their drinking culture in general and the beer barons who bankrolled many German-American civic and political institutions specifically. Though it did not come into force until 1920, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution – Prohibition – was submitted before Congress in December 1917, at the height of anti-German sentiment.
While previously the so-called “dry” movement had been able to tap into anti-immigrant feelings to paint saloons as un-American dens of vice, the outbreak of the war gave them the opportunity to draw a direct line between drinking and the barbarism of the German Empire. Not only did German culture produce the war raging in Europe, they argued, but alcohol sapped American strength, wasted American food, and kept Americans divided into disloyal ethnic enclaves. Saloons were even implicated in German espionage. As the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
opined in December 1917, “The German spies and agents in this country have shown both their ingenuity and their daring in ‘this sort of warfare‘ waged upon us on our own borders. A saloon in the neighborhood of a factory gives excellent opportunities to approach workmen, to secure information from them or to bribe those who may prove bribable.”
Add to this the fact that the success of German brewers over the previous 50 years had put them in command of America’s alcohol market, but suddenly, the war made them vulnerable, and the drys had the chance to knock out alcohol for good (learn more about the history of the prohibitionist movement at the Westerville, OH Public Library's Anti-Saloon Archive
Brooklyn's Nassau Brewery rebrands beer as a "temperance drink" (1907 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, courtesy Brooklyn Public Library)
Courtesy Westerville Public Library
Many Germans saw groups that wished to impose a puritanical, Anglo-Saxon vision of American society as antithetical to American values of freedom, and the prohibitionists (as well as the suffragettes) were the chief culprits. Brewers had been leading the fight against Prohibition for years, with limited success. They tried to market beer as a “temperance drink,” weaker and more nutritious than liquor. They financed newspapers and political organizations, such as the German-American Alliance, but as suspicion fell on these groups for their ties with the enemy, so too did it fall on the brewers. At the outbreak of the war, brewers tried to anglicize their products and image, but to little effect.
George Ehret, owner of New York’s Hell Gate Brewery and a naturalized American citizen, happened to be in Germany at the outbreak of the war, and found himself unable to return home. After America entered the war, his brewery, as well as his home and all his property, were seized by the federal government, under the newly-passed Trading with the Enemy Act. Ehret, along with other prominent brewers like Jacob Ruppert and Gustav Pabst, found themselves the targets of a Senate investigation for using the Alliance and the press to "fund enemy propaganda." They were completely vilified in the media, and ultimately the Alliance was disbanded.
If anything, German drinking culture was less destructive than that of most native-born Americans. Beer gardens were open, sociable places where entire families could gather and enjoy beer alongside other wholesome amusements. Contrast this with the common saloon, which excluded women and children and offered few amenities beyond the usual vices. But even saloons were not what the drys made them out to be. As Michael Lerner points out in Dry Manhattan
, “these saloons were not refuges where working-class ethnics avoided assimilation into American culture. Rather, they served as bridges between the old world and the new, places where the newly arrived immigrants could learn from their predecessors and begin the often painful process of adapting to a new homeland.”
But the wheels were already in motion. During the war, the government enacted regulations severely restricting the production of alcohol, and by war’s end, more than half the states had enacted prohibition laws. Within a year, America would be dry from coast to coast, and all 24 of Brooklyn's breweries would be shuttered.
Courtesy New York City Parks Department
On 18th Avenue in College Point, Queens, there is small memorial
to the men who died for their country during the First World War (pictured right); most of the listed bear German surnames. During this war, a diverse group of people with differing beliefs and lifestyles was lumped together and labeled as the enemy. In New York City and across the country, markers of their culture were destroyed, institutions were dismantled, and people were forced to deny their identity or else face social isolation and political persecution. Despite this prejudice, German-Americans remained overwhelmingly loyal to the United States, and many fought and died for their adopted country against their former homeland. Of course, the German community was not completely innocent; if there’s one thing German-American elites – from brewers to newspaper men to political clubs – had in common with the German government, it was their tone-deafness. Germany continued to outrage the American public through espionage and submarine attacks, and the pro-German stance of some prominent German-Americans became increasingly untenable. By claiming to speak for the German-American community, they, too contributed in some measure to the bigotry heaped upon their countrymen.
Like much of the history of this war, at least in this country, the story of German-American experiences is largely forgotten. As a result, both the public’s knowledge and the academic scholarship has suffered. Scholars seem to be divided between those who view all Germans as innocent victims and those who believe in every alleged German plot against America; neither view presents a complete picture. But in the history of our own city, and in the landscape around us, we can find pieces of this story that give us a better understanding of the trials that these Americans, immigrant and native-born, experienced during this trying time of war, suspicion, and fear.Read Part 1.Special thanks to Father Timothy Dore of Most Holy Trinity-St. Mary Church, and Joseph Coen, archivist at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, for helping me with the research for this article. Also, thanks to Save Ellis Island, an organization working to restore the portion of the island currently closed to the public. We visited the area on their tour with Open House New York, which is when I snapped the photo from the former internment quarters.To learn more about Brooklyn's German heritage, join us for our Brewed in Brooklyn Tour, which explores the emergence of Williamsburg's German community, the ascent of lager beer, and the impacts this has had on the brewing industry today. For tickets and information, click here. For questions or comments about this blog post, please contact Andrew Gustafson or leave a comment below. If you would like to follow this blog, subscribe to our RSS feed or sign up for the Urban Oyster email newsletter. All photos by Andrew Gustafson unless noted.
Footnotes: Most Holy Trinity Centenary, courtesy of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn Archives. "German Americans Finish," New York Times, 20 April 1918. http://www.amityvilleop.org/history.html Luebke, Frederick C. (1974). Bonds of Loyalty: German Americans and World War I. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press. Luebke (1974). Durante, Dianne L. (2007). Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan: A Historical Guide. New York: NYU Press. "Interned Germans Are Freely Visited," New York Times, 27 August 1917.
 "Take 200 Germans in Round-Up Here," New York Times, 27 September 1917. "Explosion Wrecks Big Sugar Plant," New York Times, 14 June 1917. "Fear Ship Brings German Fungus to Kill Our Wheat," New York Times, 8 February 1918. "Old Tunnel Eludes Police Explorers," New York Times, 29 July 1936. "Dry Zones for Factories," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 8 December 1917. Okrent, Daniel (2010). Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. New York: Scribner.  Ogle, Maureen (2007). Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer. New York: Harcourt.
 Lerner, Michael (2007). Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
World War I memorial in Carroll Park, Brooklyn
This is the first installment of a two-part series exploring the impacts of the First World War on New York City's German community. Part 2
German culture can be seen all around New York City at this time of year. Oktoberfest is underway, and the festival has become a fixture at drinking establishments across the city. To mark the occasion, this past weekend was the Steuben Parade
, one of the largest German-American heritage events in the country. But less than a century ago, German-Americans' culture was demonized, and there was a concerted effort to erase the imprint of German language and culture from the city’s, and the country’s, landscape.
The outbreak of World War I in 1914 placed America’s German community – both immigrants and native-born citizens – in a precarious position unlike anything they had experienced before. This was a population with deep roots in America, but also one undergoing important transformations. During the nineteenth century, there were two major waves of German-speaking immigrants – the first was the result political unrest in the German states during the 1840‘s and 1850’s, while the second occurred in the 1880’s and 1890’s. By 1910, the census showed 2.5 million people born in German-speaking countries, and another 5.8 million first generation German-Americans, making them the largest ethnic group in the country. In his book Bonds of Loyalty: German Americans in World War I
, Frederick Luebke explains that this second wave of immigrants was poorer, less educated, and generally less critical of the regime in Germany than the previous group, who had largely been political refugees. As a result, a German-American community emerged that was more self-confident, politically organized, and openly proud of their cultural heritage.
Saengerfest prize in Prospect Park
These people shared a common heritage, but we must keep in mind that the German-speaking community in America at this time was not homogeneous. They came from many countries, had different religious backgrounds, held diverse political beliefs, and some spoke mutually-unintelligible languages. Cultural life in major cities tended to be dominated by German “club” society – civic groups and voluntary associations called Vereins
– while rural areas were populated by more religious groups. Despite these stark differences, all German culture and people would fall under suspicion and attack. But German-Americans saw the promotion of German institutions, both religious and secular, as an expression of a new American identity. They thought they were embracing the pluralism and freedom they had been denied in their home countries, which made the attacks on their identity all the more damaging.
At the turn of the twentieth century, New York City had a thriving German community with a vast network of institutions. They established newspapers, hospitals, schools, and clubs all over the city. German brewers had made New York one of the largest beer producing cities in the country, and they operated beer gardens, amusement parks, and hotels to serve their thirsty customers. While Germans built these cultural institutions, they also gradually assimilated into the wider American culture. By the outbreak of the war, the city’s Germans were already becoming upwardly mobile. For two decades they had been leaving tenement districts like Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and Manhattan’s Lower East Side – once known as Kleindeutschland
or “Little Germany” – for more middle-class neighborhoods like Yorkville in Manhattan and Ridgewood and College Point, Queens.
The German bull in the "Neutral China Stores"
At the outbreak of the war in August 1914, German-Americans found themselves in an ambiguous position. America was a neutral power, and some Germans – especially those in the press – openly supported the German government in the war, while most favored American neutrality. General sentiment in the US was in favor of the allies and critical of the German conduct of the war, but there was little harassment of Germans. An incident in Brooklyn typifies this sensitive arrangement. In May 1915, a German singing society held their annual Saengerfest at the Thirteenth Regiment Armory, but they hung too many German flags for some people’s liking. After complaints from neighbors and consultation with the National Saengerfest, they compromised and replaced nearly all the German flags with the Stars and Stripes.
America was technically neutral, but the reality was far more complex. America sold massive amounts of war materiel to the Entente powers (Britain, France, Russia), but the British naval blockade of Germany made trade impossible, turning the US into the de facto supporter of one side. In response, Germany embarked on a campaign of sabotage and submarine warfare against American shipping, which worsened US-German relations and increasingly shed suspicion on German-Americans.
There were German spies in the United States plotting sabotage and planting propaganda, and they infiltrated German-American cultural and political institutions. Even the mistress of Warren G. Harding, then a US senator from Ohio, is now believed to have been a spy.
One of the largest acts of sabotage was perpetrated in New York Harbor on July 30, 1916, when a munitions depot on Black Tom Island in Jersey City exploded. The explosion killed four people, destroyed millions of dollars of war materiel, and damaged the nearby Statue of Liberty. No one was ever charged with the crime, but it was believed to be the work of a German spy ring led by Lothar Witzke that launched a similar attack on a naval base in San Francisco Bay the following March.
(For more on this topic, read this article
"Liberty Over All," American troops drilling on Governors Island. Courtesy New York Public Library
Eventually US-German relations reached a breaking point, and on April 6, 1917, the US declared war on Germany. The following day, the New York Times
noted, “Nowhere in the city was there any manifestation of anti-German spirit,”
but that would soon change. Simmering suspicion of all things German transformed into mass hysteria. Federal agents and local police began sweeps of German clubs, arresting “enemy aliens” and anyone else who was deemed suspicious. Soon the government would enact sedition and anti-espionage laws that made it illegal to speak out against the country, the president, or the war.
There were dangerous spies operating inside the country, but the ham-fisted manner in which law enforcement behaved makes it difficult to this day to untangle the genuine threats from baseless accusations. Statements like that of the US ambassador to Germany, James Gerard, that there were 500,000 German reservists, and 501,000 lamp post from which to hang them, were patently absurd and inflammatory, but hardly uncommon.
One of the bluntest implements employed by the government was the American Protective League, an auxiliary of federal law enforcement agencies empowered to identify and investigate German sympathizers. In reality, it was a vigilante group that harassed, smeared, and attacked anyone with ties to Germany or left-wing political views. With 250,000 members across the country, the group did not uncover a single genuine act of espionage, and was far better at attacking labor unions and anti-war activists than hunting spies.
Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration
Across the country, state and local authorities enacted laws to harass and silence the German community. In Staunton, Illinois, residents were permitted to speak only English in public – those who couldn’t were advised to keep silent. German, both as a language of study and of instruction, was stricken from countless school districts, and German monuments and street names were removed in earnest.
In June 1918, a Congressman from Michigan introduced a bill to strike the words “Germany” and “Berlin” from every town and street name in America, replacing them with patriotic words like “Liberty” and “Victory.”
The law was never enacted, but many cities did change their names; Berlin, Michigan, for example, became Marne, renamed for the 1914 that stopped the German advance on Paris.
But it wasn’t just government authorities who lashed out at Germans. Regular Americans participated in anti-German activities in both mundane and horrifying ways. In the first year of the war, sauerkraut producers complained that demand had fallen by 75%, and they asked the Federal Food Board to rename their product “Liberty Cabbage” or simply “Pickled Vegetable” to remove the German stigma.
But it got worse than just refusing to eat sauerkraut. In Edwardsville, Illinois, a local German-speaking pastor was forced into hiding by a violent mob when he refused to ring the bells of his church according to daylight savings time, which was introduced for the war. The low point of this anti-German hysteria was undoubtedly the lynching of Robert Prager in April 1918 in Collinsville, Illinois. A German national accused of being a spy, Prager was seized from his jail cell by a mob and hung from a tree outside of town. He was certainly not a spy, but his pride and intemperate nature probably goaded on the crowd. His murderers were easily acquitted at trial, and the Washington Post
remarked, “The more one ponders ... [the] estimate of 400,000 spies, the harder it is to grow righteously indignant over the Illinois lynching.”
Prager’s was the only successful lynching, but that was by pure luck – many others were strung up only to be spared at the last minute or to somehow survive the ordeal.
The great irony of this campaign of intimidation and harassment is that those groups of German-Americans who were most critical of the regime and Germany and least likely to take up arms against the United States – religious pacifists groups like the Mennonites – were also subject to the greatest assault because of their outwardly visible language, customs, and separatist lifestyle. Thousands of Mennonites were drafted into military service, despite their conscientious objector status, where they were hazed and imprisoned for refusing to fight.
New York City’s Germans fared rather better than most. They were becoming less geographically concentrated, more prosperous, and more assimilated. In the second part of this post, which will appear later this week, we will explore how anti-German sentiment impacted the landscape and community of New York City.To learn more about Brooklyn's German heritage, join us for our Brewed in Brooklyn Tour, which explores the emergence of Williamsburg's German community, the ascent of lager beer, and the impacts this has had on the brewing industry today. For tickets and information, click here. For questions or comments about this blog post, please contact Andrew Gustafson or leave a comment below. If you would like to follow this blog, subscribe to our RSS feed or sign up for the Urban Oyster email newsletter. All photos by Andrew Gustafson unless noted.Footnotes: Luebke, Frederick C. (1974). Bonds of Loyalty: German Americans and World War I. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press. Sherp, John K. (1954). History of the Diocese of Brooklyn, 1853-1953. New York: Fordham University Press. "German Flags Stir Wrath," New York Times, 29 May 1915. Robenalt, James D. (2009). The Harding Affair: Love and Espionage During the Great War. New York: Palgrave MacMillan. http://www.faqs.org/espionage/Bl-Ch/Black-Tom-Explosion.html "The City's Streets Aglow with Flags," New York Times, 7 April 1917. "The Race for the White House," Harvard Advocate, 29 January 1920. Luebke (1974). "To Strike Germany from Map of U.S.," New York Times, 2 June 1918. "Sauerkraut May Be 'Liberty Cabbage,'" New York Times, 24 April 1918. "1918: Robert Prager lynched during war hysteria," ExecutedToday.com. Luebke (1974).
In recent years, New York’s waterfront has undergone a transformation. Piers and warehouses are being transformed into beautiful public spaces and upscale housing, and the working waterfront has receded further and further from view.
But New York remains a bustling and active harbor. The Working Harbor Committee
aims to educate the public about the people and processes that make the harbor run, and without whom our modern existence would be impossible. One of their marquee events is the annual Tugboat Race and Competition
on the Hudson River. Every year, a selection of the harbor's many working tugboats show off their speed, pushing power, skilled crew members.
We watched this year’s race from the finish line at Pier 84 in Manhattan, alongside the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
. The competitors included a wide range of tugs, from 3,000-horsepower behemoths to boats that looked fit for a bathtub. As always, the competition was called by Captain Jerry Roberts, who founded the event and has organized all 18 previous. When I heard Captain Jerry’s voice over the PA system, I thought it belonged in a professional broadcasting booth, and his call made the race sound as exciting as any sporting event I’ve attended. The tugboats’ radio channel was also plugged into the PA, so periodically their banter would cut into Jerry’s commentary. The race call was briefly interrupted when a powerboat filled with shirtless photo-seekers sped onto the course, which had been closed to all traffic for the race. Captain Jerry repeatedly instructed them to leave the course, and they barreled closer and closer to the approaching tugs. Then a Coast Guard Auxiliary boat rocketed onto the scene, and the crowd erupted in cheers as they forced the interlopers off the course with some nifty maneuvering and, one hopes, delivered a hefty fine.
Elwood and Cindy on Pier 84
But the tugs raced on uninterrupted. The Ross Sea
, a K-Sea owned tug, won the race handily, followed by the Maurania III
and the Quantico Creek
. The Catherine C Miller
vied with the Pegasus
for fourth, and though I don’t have the official results yet (they should be posted soon here
), the Millers deserve special consideration for fielding (floating?) three tugs in the race, including the Freddie K
and the Susan
After the boats crossed the finish line, they engaged in a some nose-to-nose pushing contests to see who was more powerful – or who was more willing to risk their engines for a contest. That was followed by a rope-throwing contest, in which crews were timed to see who could pull up alongside the pier and toss a rope over a cleat in the shortest time – a bit of ballet between ship and crew. Unfortunately we had to leave before the official results were announced (or the spinach-eating contest got underway). But we will definitely be back next year for the 20th running for the tugs.
New York Harbor, and tugboats especially, are a very popular subject for amateur and professional photographers, and already we have seen a wonderful selection of photos from this year’s race online (including from Newtown Pentacle
, and all over Flickr
). Our photos certainly don’t stand up well, but here’s a brief slideshow of our day on the waterfront.
One of the most talented and thoughtful photographers of New York’s waterfront was Bernie Ente, who also worked at the Working Harbor Committee. We had the pleasure of going on a couple of the committee’s Hidden Harbor tours
with Bernie (which we wrote about in an earlier post
.) Bernie passed away this spring, and he was certainly missed at this year’s race. If you would like learn more about New York's bustling waterfront, check out the many programs and tours sponsored by the Working Harbor Committee. Urban Oyster also offers regular tours of one of the waterfront's key landmarks, the Brooklyn Navy Yard (click here for details and tickets). You can also follow the working ships in the harbor in real time online on this AIS Marine Traffic map.For questions or comments about this blog post, please contact Andrew Gustafson or leave a comment. If you would like to follow this blog, subscribe to our RSS feed or sign up for the Urban Oyster email newsletter. All photos by Andrew Gustafson unless noted.