A gathering at the park run by Washington’s popular Schützen-Verein, whose banquet hall Cluss designed in 1873, ca. 1890.
Dietz’s Rathskeller, an example of the beer halls at the center of local German social life and targeted by Washington’s temperance reformers.
Washington: A Unique Community
The German-speaking community that Adolf Cluss found when he arrived in the US capital was small but articulate. Like the city itself, Washington's German community was unique in the United States. The city was a product of the imagination, the new seat of government for a republic. The immigrants, thinking back to similar small-town capitals in the German states, called it a "Residenzstadt". But, alas, the "prince" of this seat of government was a part-time Congress that didn't seem too interested in a vibrant cultural life-at least at the time of Cluss's arrival in 1849. Happily, this changed considerably over the next half century.
Washington had little or no manufacturing, so the Germans who came here were attracted by government jobs, politics, journalism, and those trades associated with the federal administration-or were merchants seeking to serve the entire community. In this, they were like any other group arriving in the new capital. In contrast to the situation in a port city like nearby Baltimore, this meant there was less dependence on strong ethnic bonds as a means of survival.
Despite their relatively small numbers, the city's German-speaking population had a large influence in the capital city because they brought competence and skills with them-as scientists, architects, builders, journalists, and intellectuals. Washington had a German Karneval, singing societies like the Sängerbund and a number of German-speaking churches and synagogues. But it did not support the large festive culture typical of American cities with large German-speaking communities. Nonetheless, Washington's Germans were interested in their cultural identity, as shown by their newspapers, community organizations, churches, and synagogues. Many of these still exist today.
Because they lived in the nation's capital, this community could have a marked influence on the nation. But, like other European ethnic groups, the German-speaking community had to balance local, regional, and national interests with their heritage. They campaigned for their own special interests (for example, for religious freedom, for cultural events, for German in the schools), but joined with others to support improvements in the city such as sewers, paved streets and public schools. As they did elsewhere in the US, the Germans in Washington were known as fun-loving and festive and had to do battle with temperance advocates who looked down on the Germans' interest in wine, beer gardens, and Karneval.