German-American Kulturabend at Baldwin Wallace Strosacker
On Friday night we went to Baldwin-Wallace University for a "German-American Kulturabend" or a German-American Evening of Culture in Strosacker Hall. When we arrived we immediately noticed posters of people of German descent who made a notable contribution to our society including Mr. Henry J. Heinz, Prof. Albert Einstein, Mr. Milton Hershey, Mr. Theodor Seuss Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss), and Oskar Hammerstein. Dr. Stephen J. Hollender, Professor of German, welcomed us all and reminded us that Baldwin-Wallace University used to be two separate entities both founded in the 1800's which were the English-speaking Baldwin Institute and the German-speaking German Wallace that merged in 1914 because of the unpopularity of Germany at the time due to World War I. Dr. Hollender introduced Mr. Kyle Kuehn who read a poem in German titled "Night Thoughts" by Heinrich Von Heine while the English translation was projected onto a screen. When Mr. Kuehn was done, Dr. Hollender asked us all, "who says that the German language is not beautiful?"
The speaker for the evening was Ms. Claire Gebben, an author initially from Cleveland now living in Washington, who had written a book titled "The Last of the Blacksmiths" which tells the story of her ancestor, Mr. Michael Harm who immigrated to the United States from Germany when he was 16 years old in 1857 and settled in Cleveland where he became a blacksmith.
We were very impressed with the attention to detail that Ms. Gebben displayed as she talked about, not just her ancestor, but the experiences of German immigrants in general during this time period. She talked about how Germany was a very divided country that underwent a rebellion in 1848 resulting in the persecution of many people who fled to the United States. Ms. Gebben told us how surprised she was to learn that several ships of immigrants arrived in New York each day. After they arrived, most of them settled in New York in the German area known as "Kleindeutschland" which contained about 330,000 people by 1880.
Her ancestor, Mr. Harm was raised on a farm in Freinsheim, Germany but he didn't want to be a farmer so he decided to join his relatives in the United States. Through careful research, Ms. Gebben found out that Mr. Harm arrived in New York on June 30, 1857 and he celebrated his 16th birthday on the ship! We learned that many of the German immigrants who came to the United States at that time were skilled craftsmen who created such things as barrels, cabinets and musical instruments. They had a very joyous lifestyle which was evidenced by church fairs each Sunday after worship and the introduction of the still-popular German music festivals. They adamantly opposed slavery also and were big supporters of President Abraham Lincoln.
Another important part of the presentation was Ms. Gebben's discussion of her own background. Her father was a soldier stationed in Europe during World War II where he re-connected with the family that Mr. Harm left behind when he came to the United States. Through her German relatives, Ms. Gebben was given access to correspondence concerning Mr. Harm that inspired her to write her book. She even took a 4 days course in blacksmithing so that she could better relate to her subject matter.
After the program, we stayed for a few minutes and talked to several people including Dr. Joe Wendel whose German-American Radio Show on Saturdays and Sundays is a staple in the community, and Mr. Zenon A. Domanski, who is Editor and Publisher of "Kolors" which is a independent European-American publication.
We introduced ourselves to Ms. Gebben who told us that she believed that certain aspects of the experience of immigrating to a foreign land have remained unchanged throughout the years and we are inclined to agree.