Copied from The State Journal – Lansing, Michigan – Sunday, November 5, 1978
Lansing’s German folks prefer independent lives
by Carol Haskin, Staff Writer
“There really is no German community, but there used to be,” the Rev. Karl Krauss said, “about 60 or 70 years ago when we came to town.”
In 1909, when Rev. Krauss’s father became pastor of Emanuel Lutheran Church – the same church where Krauss, 80, is pastor today – May Street was known as Lansing’s Little Germany.
THE FIRST German families had come around 1850. Most came from Washtenaw County – farmers looking for new land.
In 1855 they found Emanuel Lutheran Church at the corner of Seymour and Kilborn. The church has remained in that block. Charter members had names that are familiar in Lansing today – Lorenz, Stabler, Stadel, Guenther among them.
More Germans arrived, some settling at South Cedar and Beech Street. Another group, primarily from eastern Germany and Prussia, came to work in the brickyard on East Michigan, an enterprise owned by a German family – the Clipperts.
THE COMMUNITY was active. In 1869 it formed the Liederkranz Club, patterned after the singing societies that had existed in Germany for more than 200 years.
Later, an insurance society, the Arbeiter, was founded, and the Turnverein was organized for tumbling and gymnastics.
The Liederkranz was affiliated with state and national organizations and held songfests (“saengerfests”) with other chapters from across the state. The singers had weekly rehearsals, gave concerts and produced plays.
ON SUNDAY afternoons and summer evenings, members met in the large graveled garden at the Arbeiter and the Liederkranz along the Grand River and listened to the Lansing City Band.
The cultured calm disappeared with the coming of the First World War when a hatred inspired by misdirected patriotism was leveled at Lansing’s Germans.
“‘The Huns’ they called them,” Rev. Krauss recalled. “My father was hauled before the Vigilance Committee two or three times.”
THE COMMITTEE, a self-appointed group that hunted out “subversives,” made a practice of harassing residents with German surnames.
Hans Wilde, a music teacher who found Wilde Conservatory on Grand River Avenue, was heckled each morning when he entered a store for his cigar and morning paper.
“He had a cool way of handling it,” Rev. Krauss smiled. “He said, ‘I just shut my mouth and whistle.’”
A GERMAN butcher named Saier was kidnapped one night and taken to some woods near Eaton Rapids where he was tarred and feathered.
“I think the First World War had something to do with Germans losing their clannishness faster than any other ethnic group here,” Rev. Krauss said. “The treatment they got – I think that made a difference because those halls on Grand Avenue all closed down about that time.
The war changed Emanuel Lutheran, too.
THE CHURCH’S original constitution stated that “the services and the religious instruction in this congregation shall forever be conducted in the German language.”
“Forever” lasted until 1921, when the second Rev. Krauss added an English service.
“We had to change the constitution in order to have an English service which was long overdue,” he said. “We lost a lot of people who married outside the German community.”
IRONICALLY, LANSING was guided through World War I by a German mayor – J. Gottleib Reutter.
Reutter had come to Lansing in 1884 at the age of 15. He apprenticed as a butcher and eventually opened his own shop. Reutter later established the Lansing Ice and Fuel Co., still owned by his family.
As mayor, Reutter opened the city market and was behind the securing of Moores and Potter parks.
THE POST-World War I turmoil in Germany and prosperity here resulted in a new wave of immigrants.
“I was born in West Prussia,” Rudolph Kwast said. “During World War I they decided to give that area to Poland. My dad didn’t want to live under Polish rule. We children in school would have to learn Polish. We went to Germany. But we couldn’t see how we could succeed to a better way of life there, so we applied to be immigrants to the United States.”
The Kwasts waited two years to obtain visas, then came to America in 1923. After apprenticing in a meat market, Kwast switched to the bakery business. At one time there were eight branches of Kwast Bakery in the Lansing area. Today there are five.
AT 69. Kwast still goes to work each day at 3 a.m. His work day ends at 7 a.m. The bakery business has been good to him.
“Germans seem to like sweets more than any people I know,” he said. “It’s mostly the way you were brought up.”
Four years after the Kwasts’ arrival, Hugo Vedder came to Lansing to work in a factory. His wife, Meta, joined him a year later.
“IT WASN’T too good there in Germany at that time – all that inflation,” Mrs. Vedder said. “We thought we could go back if we were unhappy, but we stuck here.”
Assimilation wasn’t easy. Few immigrants spoke English, the food was different, and Prohibition beer was no match for German brew. The Liederkranz Club was revived and helped the new arrivals adjust to their new home, a home that was to become permanent with the arrival of World War II.
By that time, Vedder had become manager of research and development at Motor Wheel. He still has close relatives in Germany, and he faced a difficult decision when his Lansing employers asked him to develop anti-aircraft shells.
“WE HAD a big meeting,” Vedder recalled. “I told them that whatever was going to happen in Germany, the quicker it was over the better.”
The anti-German sentiment that was so pronounced during World War I was almost non-existent in World War II.
“It started a little bit at the beginning of World War II, but it didn’t last long,” Rev. Krauss said. “I don’t know why the difference, but it was such a marked and striking difference.”
REV. KRAUSS was involved in one uncomfortable incident. He was investigated by federal agents after they received a report that he was holding Nazi meetings in the basement of his church.
Years later the minister learned he had been reported by a Jewish neighbor who had noticed lights on in the church basement several nights in a row. In fact, lights were on because church members were painting the basement.
Following World War II and through the mid-1950s new German immigrants came to Lansing. They boosted attendance at Emanuel Lutheran’s German service and at the Liederkranz Club.
“THE ECONOMY in Europe at that time was not well,” said Fritz Steinbach, who came to Lansing in 1954. “Decent housing was hard to get.”
Like many Germans who came to Lansing at that time, Steinbach had friends here who immediately got him a job. Despite these friendly faces, the move wasn’t easy.
“It’s always a hard decision to make when you leave friends and family and you don’t speak the language,” said Steinbach, now president of Capitol Tool and Die. “I studied English in night school but I think television helps you the most. After they show you a commercial five or six times, you know what’s going on.
IN 1955, Oskar Hornbach, then 18 left Germany for the United States, joined the U.S. Army and was sent back to Germany for almost three years.
“Some people looked at me strangely, walking down the street in an American uniform, but there were no problems,” Hornbach, now an attorney, said. “But you have to understand that after the war there was a great love affair between Germany and the United States – a great admiration.”
Some of the new immigrants, like Steinbach and Hornbach, joined the Liederkranz, but many did not.
“THE YOUNGER ones who came over after the last war, they didn’t think they had to get together with the German people,” Mrs. Vedder said. “They went their own way. When we came over we felt we had to hold together because not many of us spoke English.”
“When a German comes over here I don’t think he says, ‘I’m going to look for a German club for culture and for help,’” Hornbach agreed. “The German is independent.”