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Wisconsin High German


Male speaker interviewed by J??rgen Eichhoff, September 1968, Mequon, Ozaukee Co.
1:39


County: Ozaukee
State: WI

Commentary:
At one time, many Wisconsinites of German descent were trilingual, speaking a German dialect, High (standard) German, and English. German was for generations the most popular foreign language in schools, and was even used as the medium of instruction in both parochial and public elementary, secondary, and post-secondary institutions. In 1863, the German-medium Lutheran seminary referred to in this interview, Northwestern College, was founded in Watertown, WI. In the early twentieth century, partly due to nativist political pressures, but mainly because of language shift among German-Americans, English soon supplanted German in Wisconsin classrooms (including at Northwestern, which merged in 1993 with Dr. Martin Luther College in New Ulm, MN). However, German is still used occasionally as a language of worship, mainly in Lutheran congregations in rural Wisconsin.
Tell us please what you remember of your grandfather and what he did in Germany.

Well, about Germany we know very, very little. And of his relations, I think he was the only son. And he was educated in Germany, at the university, and so on, and then as a missionary he was sent to Africa. Among the blacks and the everyday people he was busy at the mission. And my father was also born there in Africa. When he was seven years old they came back to America and my grandfather was a pastor in several congregations in Wisconsin and he had terrible asthma, such that he gave up every now and then and returned to Germany. He thought that perhaps the ocean voyage might have been good for him. Or that he might have just been able to rest a bit. That helped somewhat, but not much and he ended up dying of asthma later. And my father was educated at the college in Watertown, that's in Wisconsin here, and then he was a teacher in several places, and then he came to Milwaukee, where he was at St. John's for 42 years as a school teacher and principal.


Wisconsin High German


Female speaker interviewed by J??rgen Eichhoff, September 1968, Freistadt, Ozaukee Co
1:53


County: Ozaukee
State: WI

Commentary:
The earliest German-speaking farming community was founded in 1839 by Pomeranians who settled north of Milwaukee in what came to be known as Freistadt ("free town," today part of Mequon in Ozaukee County). While most German-speaking immigrants to North America came in search of economic opportunities, some fled religious or political discrimination in Europe. The founders of Freistadt were Lutherans who had been persecuted for their faith in their Prussian homeland. The Wisconsin High German speaker in this interview is a descendant of one of the founding families of Freistadt.
Tell us please what you know about your ancestors.

My ancestors came from Germany in 1839. They came for freedom of religion. The church and its pastors [in Germany] were paid by the government, and whoever did not agree with the government in religious matters could not be employed. This and much else motivated them to emigrate to America. Captain Heinrich von Rohr was their leader. Pastor Grabel was their pastor. They came on five ships and landed here in the summer of 1839. My great-grandfather's name was Ernst August D. and my husband's great-grandfather was Martin S. From New York they came to Milwaukee, approximately forty families. Now these three men that I mentioned were sent from Milwaukee in search of good farm land. They found it about 16 miles northeast of Milwaukee. Later, this was called Freistadt. Then they went back to Milwaukee and brought their families along.


Wisconsin High German


Female speaker interviewed by J??rgen Eichhoff, September 1968,
2:15


County: Manitowoc
State: WI

Commentary:
The Christmas season has long been significant in German-speaking culture. This speaker, from Kiel, Manitowoc County, north of Milwaukee, shares her memories of how her family celebrated the holiday in her youth. Even though the language has receded in formerly German-speaking communities in Wisconsin such as Kiel, cultural traditions, especially certain foods, endure to the present.
Tell us about Christmas when you were a child.

Our Christmas in my youth was very much after the fashion as it was in Germany. We had a Christmas tree, and a little Christ Child was on the tree. My grandmother baked Pfeffernuss cookies with holes, which were then hung on the tree. Then she took nuts and decorated them with wool or colored paper, and these were hung on the tree. And then she usually hung small apples and when the cranberries came along, she hung them on the tree also. But that was in later years. And under our tree were the presents. And on my side there was always one or two dolls, I always loved dolls. And we celebrated Christmas in the evening, and my grandparents came and stayed with us overnight, and then we celebrated until 12 o'clock. At that point "Merry Christmas" was said, and then we were called into the dining room and in there was hot chocolate for the children, coffee with cream for the parents. And then there was Christmas Stollen (bread), Pfeffernuss cookies, and usually Springele. And that was our Christmas celebration.

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