The town of Fredericksburg, TX was founded in the summer of 1846 by emigrants shipped off to Texas by the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants. The settlement—later nicknamed Fritztown—was intended as a way station and a bridgehead to a land grant further north, between the Llano and San Saba rivers, in the wilderness of central Texas.1 Yet eventually it remained at the northern rim of German settlement in what is now called the Texas Hill Country: besides the earlier-founded bridgehead of New Braunfels, later German settlements (e.g. Sisterdale, Boerne, Comfort, Kerrville) were all established south of Fredericksburg.
Ross’s footage of Fredericksburg’s Old and New St. Mary’s Catholic Churches, of 1863 and 1906 respectively, probably reflect the importance of religion to its inhabitants rather than the town’s growth or increased prosperity. It remained a culturally and linguistically rather remote and small agricultural community of barely 5,000 souls until the 1960s. And as far as prosperity is concerned, during Ross’s visit in the late 1930s the town was still in the grip of the Great Depression. The street views have a rather desolate aspect, while the surrounding dirt farms he shows may well have suffered from the many droughts in the 1930s that ravaged this part of the country, too.
While Ross’s footage of Fredericksburg’s Main Street shows a typical American habit of fishbone parking, his shot of the storefront of its German language Wochenblatt must have carried more weight for him. At least that is what is suggested by his written account of a previous visit to the town, in the early 1930s, where he says that it has retained its Deutschtum and its language. Even locals of non-German descent have learned the language, he discovers when talking to a Mexican shopkeeper. He then waxes enthusiastic about the mutual understanding this has created between German Americans and their fellow Americans, even claims that it changed the perception of German Americans as a contribution, instead of a threat, to a united America.2 With that he overstates himself, blowing what is no more than a local and, above all, isolated circumstance out of proportion. In fact, he also tells that Fredericksburg and the abovementioned towns were among the few pockets of what remained of many a German immigration society’s ideal of creating a new German state on foreign soil.3 Moreover, of course, the overwhelming majority of German Americans lived in the Midwest and in the northeastern US, amid fellow Americans who did not speak their language.
In the 1960s, however, there came an end to the town’s isolation. With its famous neighbor from Stonewall, TX, President Lyndon B. Johnson, and its own ‘son’, fleet admiral Chester Nimitz, of World War II fame, media coverage and tourism put the town ‘on the map’ and transformed its Deutschtum into popular versions of German heritage of which Ross was so dismissive.4
Nico de Klerk
Colin Ross. [Excerpt from] Amerika Reise – Texas. Fredericksburg, San Antonio, Austin; Boulder Dam; Los Angeles [archive title]
Germany. Tobis; 1938-1939
35mm | b&w | silent | 214.9m | 16 fps | 12’
Master: 0003-02-0127_Amerika_Reise_Fredericksburg_X_OeFM_2016_PR422HQ_3072x2160_24fps.mov; 00:00:00,01–00:00:30,06
Case: American journeys
1 Jefferson Morgenthaler. The German settlement of the Texas Hill Country. Boerne, TX: Mockingbird Books, 2007; 53-73.
2 Colin Ross. Unser Amerika. Der deutsche Anteil an den Vereinigten Staaten. 1. Aufl. Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus; 1936; 190. See Library
3 Ibid.; 190.
4 Ibid.; 272.