by Tiffany Obenchain, German student at Carmel High School
Winner of the 1997 German-American Day Essay Contest

Germans have influenced Hoosier mainstream culture since their arrival. Germans immigrated to Indiana during the Post-Napoleonic period (1815-1848). Many chose to immigrate to Indiana to escape economic hardship, loss of liberty under an authoritarian government, and the forced merger of the Lutherans with the Reformed Church in Prussia. By 1850 12.95 percent of the total population was of German ancestry (Hoyt, 618). They had their own newspaper, Volksblatt (1848). They established "Vereins" or clubs like the Indianapolis Turngemeinde (1851) to emphasize gymnastics and German culture. They set up music and singing societies like the Liederkranz and Maennerchor. They also persuaded Indianapolis public schools to offer classes devoted to the teaching of the German language. Germans ultimately had a greater influence on Indianapolis than any other immigrant group.

The area bounded by New York, Noble (now College), Market, and East streets was known as "Germantown." The Germans were generally well educated, liberal, anti-clerical, and dedicated to applying their ideals of freedom and progress through education to their adoptive country (Hoyt, 618). Many were dedicated to the teachings of Friedrich Jahn, who preached the ideal of "mens sana in corpore sano" (a healthy mind in a healthy body), a motto engraved on the Independent Turnverein building on North Meridian Street.

By the 1860s German immigrants and their offspring had become an important part of the Indianapolis business community. Clemens Vonnegut set up a hardware store, Henry and August Schnull a wholesale grocery, John Ott a furniture business, Peter Lieber a brewery, Herman Lieber an art supplies and frame store. George Meyer dealt in wholesale tobacco products, Wilhelm Langsenkamp established a train repair business, and Albert Kipp dealt in wholesale products. By 1875 there were 91 German-American Businesses in the three blocks on Washington street between Illinois and Delaware (Hoyt, 619).

German-Americans also played an important role in the developments of the arts in Indianapolis. The oldest and continuously existing men's choir in the United States is the Indianapolis Maennerchor. Karl Schneider founded a local symphony orchestra in 1895. Many German artists also existed in Indianapolis. Herman Lieber, a great patron of the arts, made it possible for the artists of the "Hoosier Group" to study in Munich. Wilhelm J. Reiss, who arrived in Indianapolis in 1884, painted scenes of the West and Indian life.

German architects also designed many of Indianapolis' churches and public buildings. Anton Scherrer re-designed the present Indiana State House. George Schreiber designed the Scottish Rite Cathedral. The architectural firm of Vonnegut and Bohn was responsible for the Athenaeum and the Heron School of Art, among others. Dietrich A. Bohlen designed many public buildings, including City Market, Tomlinson Hall, the Murat Temple, Roberts Park Methodist Church, and the Majestic Building. Bruno Schmitz of Berlin designed the Soldiers and Sailors Monument.

Germans also contributed to the diversity of religious beliefs in Indianapolis. Many churches claim a German-American heritage, including First Lutheran, Zion Evangelical U.C.C. (which still holds services in German), Friedens U.C.C., St. Peter's Lutheran, St. Mary's Catholic, Sacred Heart Catholic, and First German Evangelical Church.

One example of German influence today is German Park located at 8600 S. Meridian Street. In 1881 the Indianapolis German Park Association purchased the 30-acre Old Germania Park, which included a clubhouse, dance pavilions, bowling alleys, tennis courts, and baseball diamonds. The park went through a couple of names until in 1934, the Federation of German Societies purchased the park and named it German Park. The members of the Federation worked on weekends to improve the park. The Indianapolis Street Railroad Company donated an old streetcar to serve as the park's first kitchen. The first successful German Day celebrations were held in 1936 and 1937. In the early 1970s the Federation began to plan construction of a cultural center, which opened a decade later. The park is the site of many annual events, such as a Fourth of July picnic, the Oktoberfest, and the annual picnics of Federation Societies.

Many of the large corporations in the U.S. are rooted or can somehow be traced to Germany. In Indiana one of these is Boehringer Mannheim, a manufacturer of medical diagnostic devices. This corporation started in Germany in 1859 and began U.S. operations in New York in 1964, selling biochemicals and reagent tests. In 1974, Boehringer acquired Bio-Dynamics, moving its headquarters to Indianapolis the following year. Boehringer then changed into the field of glucose monitoring devices for diabetics. The company grew rapidly in the 1980s. It expanded its campus and in 1988 Boehringer ranked second largest medical diagnostic devices company in the world. The company employs approximately 2,0000 people at its Indianapolis headquarters.

It is interesting to trace a store's history. For example take Osco drugs in the Indianapolis area. The drug stores started out as Haag drug stores. They were founded by German-born brothers Louis and Julius Haag. They opened their first store at 802 Massachussets Avenue. They decided they could increase sales by cutting prices on popular items by 10-20 percent. Their strategy to "cut-price drugs" was successful and the firm set up three other stores downtown. After the founders died, the company was sold. Haag changed hands several times and in the process new owners eventually managed 80 stores. Since the 1980s Haag's Indianapolis stores have changed hands three times, bcoming Peoples (1980), Reliable (1989), and Osco (1993).

The 150-year presence of the Germans continues to be evident. It can be seen in many street names and the architecture of downtown buildings. It can be seen at Boehringer Mannheim, at the Oktoberfest in German Park and at the Athenaeum Turners' St. Benno Fest. It can be seen on German-American Day (6 October) and in the sisterhood of Indianapolis and Cologne. German culture has become an important part of the Hoosier mainstream culture.

Sources: Articles from The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis (1994), by Joan Cunnigham, "German Park"; Deborah B. Markisohn, "Boehringer Mannheim," and "Haag Drug Company"; Giles R. Hoyt, "Germans."

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Created: 10 March 1998, ARK
Updated: 16 November 2007, BAS
Comments to: IUPUI Max Kade German-American Center,
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