Departure to the New World 

(Source Stern Nr. 19 , published 4 May 2005 / many thanks to Lynn and Don for their help)

Those few dozens of houses. The forest. The gentle hills. It is spring, flowers and trees blossom, and the village Reinsdorf, Hessian Duchy of Schaumburg, shows up in full splendor, making the parting still more painful - as if to show Christoph Winkelhake once again, who already fears the long journey, that his homeland is here.

Homeland, yes -- but future?

Winkelhake is a linen weaver, a respectable trade, his father and grandfather having already sat behind the loom. However, it is an occupation which does not support the family any longer, since the Englishmen with their machines produce more at lower prices.

At the other end of the world everything will be better. America! Everyone talks about it. Land is said to be plentiful. Work! And at age 29, Winkelhake is surely young enough to have a new start with his wife and two children, to dare with 17 other families the adventure of a lifetime: emigration!

Linen weavers from Hessen, farmers from Pomerania, carpenters from Swabia:

In the 19th Century more than five million Germans were attracted by the promises of America, of those 1.2 million in one of the largest waves, between 1840 and 1855. In addition, Englishmen, Irish, Polish, Italian were leaving. No country of Europe did not have masses leave for the new world. Altogether 19 million persons emigrated in the 19th Century to the USA, one of the largest migrations in history. Each sixth American traces himself today to German roots (see map page 34).

For centuries German farmers, craftsmen and day laborers worked to live, and for little money. They lived in the countryside, crammed into damp, drafty houses, or close together in the mass accommodations of the cities. But now, in the 19th century, steam engines began to replace the workers: Europe industrialized itself. Particularly England was ahead of the other states, producing faster and more cheaply. That fact hurt above all the German weavers and spinners, who became the first victims of this early globalization.

The poor became poorer. Several families divided a room, with only chalk marks partitioning the space. "I saw districts", reports the political economist Friedrich List, "where a herring fastened on the ceiling hung over a table of potato-eaters was passed from hand to hand down the middle, so that everyone could get a taste, by rubbing their potato against it. Harvest failures - for instance, 1846 - caused tens of thousands to go hungry and die.

So much property, one heard from those in America! Those who dared take the step, emboldened by letters, like the one to the emigrant from Hohensolms: "So that you may decide to come to this land of liberty! I know you will love it here!"

Such letters were passed from hand to hand, or one read an emigrant newspaper, which were sold in German cities, containing long, positive reports. Also, the sailing ship companies sent their solicitors all over the country. The first Germans to go to America went in 1693 --- they were 13 Mennonite families from Krefeld. Now, however, in the middle of the 19th Century, the wanderlust seized the villages and cities like a fever; on the roads one sang: "In America, it's fine, through the windows flow wine. We drink a bottle, and let Germany be Germany!" The towns in Germany were quite content with this exodus: fewer poor people to support!

Families weighed all the arguments for and against, discussed everything with neighbors, gathered their courage, packed clothing, underwear and shoes (the "German Society in New York" recommended to carry only the most necessary items). They sold their property and faced the biggest challenge of their life -- which began right at their own front door.

Only a few of those departing their homeland lived in the ports at the North and Baltic Sea. For Winkelhakes, the Menschings and the Flentges of the Duchy of Schaumburg, emigrating was comparatively easy. Their homeland lay in the catchment area of the Weser River. The families needed only one day in the spring of 1845 to reach Petershagen, where they could board one of the transport vessels traveling down the Weser. A few days on the river, and the emigrants were in Bremen. Then again two or three days on the Weser to Bremerhaven.

The port, built only in 1827, was crowded with emigrants, the noise of the streets and pubs sounding like the hubbub of Babylon. And the German dialects! When did a Pomeranian ever hear a Bavarian's swearing!? In addition, there was Polish, Russian and much Yiddish - particularly Jewish emigrants who would later fashion the cultural life in New York.

Nearly half of all Germans attracted by America in the middle 19th Century, started from Bremerhaven. It was only at the end of the century that the city at the Weser delta was replaced by Hamburg as most prominent emigrant port.

Inn keepers and traders made good business; it was only gradually that the Hanseatic cities issued laws against usury. In order to restrain the crush, in 1849 the emigrant house in Bremerhaven was opened, with a sleeping occupancy load of 2000 persons, and space to fee up to 4000. In about 1900 Hamburg also provided emigration housing on Veddel, an island in the Elbe River.

The temporary storage facilities in the ports were narrow and miserable, but still provided comfort, when compared to what was expected of those departing on the mid-decks of the sailing ships, with 1.8 meter high double-story wood plank beds with straw mats, no toilets, no fresh air. Scarcely a square meter was available to each emigrant -- and that was usually soiled by urine, excrement or vomit.

Sailing ships needed 45 days on the average from Bremerhaven to New York. However, passages of 80, even 100 days were not rare. Hardly even one of the passengers did not struggle with seasickness. "The persons lying in the upper beds vomited in such a way that on those below them were covered. Some kept their dirty tableware with them in bed, others kept their washed tableware there," Franz Ennemoser from Rhineland reported. Far worse suffering was the lot of those who were infected with cholera or typhoid fever. In most cases fully 10% of the passengers did not survive the voyage, and, in the case of the ship "England" coming from Liverpool, an epidemic had snatched away the lives of 667 of them. Only with the arrival of the steamship in 1870 was the trip completed faster and with better hygiene, and the death rate lowered. Unfortunately, a steam ship was not always available.

Even after the first glimpse of the new world emerged on the horizon, the ordeal was not over. The families from Hesse, Bavaria, Swabia, and Pomerania did not have housing or land, spoke no English, and understood this new country only from the words of ship owners and newspapers. They didn't even know if they would be allowed to step out onto American soil!

The stream of immigrants between 1840 and 1854 had not slowed; in 1854 more than 200,000 Germans made the Atlantic voyage. The United States was compelled to take strong measures in an effort to control this deluge. New York City had become generally accepted as the main intake port; in 1855 the authorities established at the south point of Manhattan the first immigrant center, known as "Castle Garden."

In the domed structure of a former concert hall, the arriving immigrants spent their first hours in the new homeland. They were asked for their place of origin, family, and destination. Money conversion was permitted so that they could contact their families at home. In 1892 the authorities moved to Ellis Island. Here, in front of Manhattan, beside the Statute of Liberty, unwelcome arriving passengers could be segregated more easily. Among them were the mentally ill, prostitutes, criminals, anarchists, as well as all those for whom the physician had painted the letter "B" (for "back") on their clothes. Of the up to 10,000 persons daily in the waiting area, between one and two per cent were sent back.

To those who survived the four or five hour procedure, the new world was open. But how were they to access it? Immigrants sat on the hard dock under them, the sky above them, according to Charles Dickens. So few understood anything at all about what to do next --- they may as well have arrived from another planet. They were easy victims for all those who took from them their few dollars - particularly for further travel.

Indeed, more Germans simply stayed in New York. In the middle of the 19th century about 100,000 lived there, particularly in "Little Germany" in East Manhattan near Tompkins Square. But the dream of many lay still thousands of miles away: the bountiful soils of "The West."

The route to there was taken with steamers and railways across Albany, Buffalo, Toledo, to Chicago - another odyssey of three weeks, the emigrants squatting in shaking railroad cars or in the mid-decks of steamers. From Chicago the covered wagons rolled across Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Missouri.

In the late summer 1845, three months after leaving the homeland, the trek of linen weaver Christoph Winkelhake to the wide-open west finally reached its goal: Sarah's Grove, in Illinois, a hicktown in the midst of endless prairie, where two groves served as the only way-markers. The families staked their claims at the standard price of $1.25 dollar per acre (0.4 hectares), built houses, and began to plant the fields.

But the torture finally remunerated. Already by 1850 Christoph Winkelhake possessed 64 hectares of land -- in the homeland his property had been 0.12 hectares. Now more than 700 Schaumburgers lived in the town, which carried even the name of the old homeland. In addition to an American Berlin, Hamburg, or New Franken, now in the middle of the prairie a "Schaumburg Township" existed! Today there are more than two dozen places named Berlin, particularly in the main states of German immigration to the USA, the so called "German Belt," which extends from Wisconsin across Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Iowa.

Whereas former citizens of Berlin had only little in common with Franconians in the old world, the immigrants here discovered a common native country. German associations were based here. Baked German bread was here. In 1870-71 they celebrated the victory over France. When during the economic crisis of the 1880's the German emigrant stream swelled strongly once more, the German Homeland Association received a new supply of immigrants. The pride and memories of German roots disappeared, obviously, with the advent of the First World War. Germany was now the enemy, and immigrating persons became Americans.

After this time period large waves of German emigration reached America only twice: After 1933, when artists, intellectuals, and Jews fled from the Nazis, and last at the beginning of the 50's. Several hundred thousand saw in the rubbled landscapes no hope for a future and dared to begin again in the USA. The "Wirtschaftswunder" terminated this last boom. The Hessian linen weavers, the Winkelhakes in their Schaumburg Township, continued working their land, produced offspring, and scattered themselves. In each case first-born sons inherited the country and remained -- until 1987.

Now the forefather’s settlement remunerated for the last time: Motorola Company, Inc., bought Fred Winkelhake’s property, which his great-grandfather had acquired for a few dollars, for several millions, and the last Winkelhake left Schaumburg Township --- for Florida.


Scans: Titel / page 3 / page 28 / page 29 / page 30 / page 31 / page 32 / page 33 / page 34 / page 36 / page 38 /


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