Ethnic Clothes: German


Figure 1.--Lederhosen are not commonly worn in the United states, even by German Americans. They are, however, worn at ethnic festivals.

Folk or ethnic costumes are now somewhat romanticized versions of clothing styles that were once worn in Germany. The lederhosen outfits worn in Bavaria are probably the most widely recognized Herman folk costume. There are, however, many different outfits worn in the different regions of Germany. Germans live in many other countries. The largest number live in America. Large numbers of Germans used to live in Central and Eastern European countries and even Russia. As a result of World War II, however, these Germans often referrd to as Folk Deutch have return to Germany or been expelled by the different countries involved. In many cases they could not even speak German when they arrived. The best known German/Austrian ethnic event is the annual Octoberfests in Germany. There are also Maifests and other German theme events. These events commonly include games, booths, authentic German food, dance, and music.

Regional Costumes

Folk or ethnic costumes are now somewhat romanticized versions of clothing styles that were once worn in Germany. The lederhosen outfits worn in Bavaria are probably the most widely recognized Herman folk costume. There are, however, many different outfits worn in the various regions of Germany. Most have nothing what-so-ever to do with lederhosen. Modern Germany is a relatively recent creation. Unification took place in 1861 as a result of the Franco-Prussian War. Even after unification, the various German states or Landen had considerable authority and estinct regional differences. Before modern communication and mass media there were significant differences between different regions. Note that this section deals with folk costumes and not differences in ordinary clothing and fashion conventions within Germany.

Overseas Germans

America

Over 50 million Americans are of German descent--the largest ethnic group. This means that one in four/five Americand identify as being of German origin. The strong German influence has had a profound inclue on American culture and the American culture. America's German immigrants helped shape the nation's music appreciation, the celebration of Christmas, the striving for the ideal, and indeed the entire culture. President Dwight Eisenhower was a German American. So was the atomic age's J. Robert Oppenheimer. So was artist Thomas Nast, creator of the Democratic donkey, the Republican elephant, and our favorite image of Santa Claus. There are hundreds of others.

German Americans are spread throughout America. Some cities like Milwaukee have particularly large concentrations of German Americans. Milwaukee is different from most American cities. Where else do thousands of residents play a card game called schafskopf? Where else would they order a schneck (sweet roll) with their morning coffee? And what other American phone book boasts 38 pages of names beginning with "Sch," from Schaab down to Schwulst? Milwaukee actually has more Schmidts, in all the variations of that name, than it has Smiths. In 1990, a stunning 48 percent of the metro area's residents claimed at least some German heritage. That tops 44 percent for Cincinnati and 41 percent for St. Louis--two other capitals of German settlement--and doesn't even hint at the Teutonic influence just beyond Milwaukee's borders. Citizens of German descent made up 54 percent of Wisconsin's population in 1990, a proportion no other state could match. Milwaukee is without question the most German big city in the most German state in America.

The German move to assimilate with mainstream America was entirely natural, but the assimilation of local Germans was hastened, to put it mildly, by World War I. As long as the United States maintained a policy of official neutrality, many actively supported Kaiser Wilhelm, but when America joined the Allies in 1917, a wave o culture. Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms were banned from the local concert stage. Sauerkraut became "liberty cabbage," and hamburger was rechristened "Salisbury steak." The Brumders, owners of the largest German-language publishing firm in the country, were forced to pull down a statue of Germania from atop their downtown headquarters. The well-heeled Deutscher Club became the Wisconsin Club. In 1919, the Milwaukee Journal won a Pulitzer Prize for its efforts to root out local supporters of the Kaiser. At some point during the war, patriotism crossed over the line to persecution. Older Germans found themselves ducking into doorways to exchange a few words in their native tongue. Milwaukee's long reign as the nation's Deutsch-Athen came to an abrupt and inglorious end.

World War I effectively killed self-conscious Germanism in Milwaukee, and the Depression and World War II did nothing to revive it. What survives today is largely (but not exclusively) the work of postwar immigrants, who form the backbone of more than 40 German organizations based in Milwaukee. For the vast majority of those born in this country, Germanness has become a matter of surnames, favorite foods, and childhood memories. Even the neighborhoods have changed. Teutonia Avenue now runs through the heart of Milwaukee's African- American community, and North Third Street, once a thoroughly German commercial district, is now Martin Luther King Drive.

German immigration to America increased significantly in the mid-19th Century. Revolutions occuured throughout Europe in 1848. These were middle class revolutions with Germans and other Europeans demanding liberal reforms. In many cases they were brutally supressed by conservative royalist forces. Many Germans despairing of reform in their homeland, descied on immigration. As a result, many of the Gernmans would immigrated were men and women of liberal, secular outlook. They were in many cases educated, modern people. This was in sharp class to the wave of Irish immigrants streaming into America at the same time who were largely uneducated peasanys with a depply religious outlook.


Figure 2.--American boys wearing lederhosen a folk festivals, generally do not wear kneesocks with them, unless party of a band uniform.

Other European countries

Large numbers of Germans used to live in Central and Eastern European countries and even Russia. As a result of World War II, however, these Germans often referrd to as Folk Deutch have return to Germany or been expelled by the different countries involved. In many cases they could not even speak German when they arrived.

Ethnic Costumes

Some of the best known German ethnic costumes are lederhosen, both short pants and knicker style. These ethnic costumes are called "tracht". Lederhosen are commonly worn by German bands and dance groups. Boys participating in German ethnic events commonly dress up in lederhosen. HBC has noted consideable variation in folk costume. Many of these variations may be just variation of the costumes worn in Germany. Some of these differences may be regionally based. The outfits included different types of hats, blazers, shirts, pants, and socks. I'm not sure what the hat style was called but feathers were often added. One style is the Allgäuer Hat with Gamsbart (beard of a chamois). For festive occasions--a single flower in hat is added to match the womens' hats. The blazers were often grey with a wide variety of trim--often in green. Trachten shirts often have their sleeves rolled up. The pants were either lederhosen or knickers style pants. Some were elaborately trimmed. Hosenträger is one distinctive regional style. It may have gereen embrodiery with large white Edelweiss. Boys wore both kneesocks and a kind of hose that was a band around the calf. The kneesocks are most commonly gray with double green stripes. I'm not sure why this type of kneesock is so common. Trachten shoes are also worn. Women and girls also wear a variety of ethnic outfits. There are many regional differences. One example is Allgäuer style. The woman's Festtracht exemplifies the traditional simplicity of the area. We wear: a gray skirt (about 16 rows of gathering---the way this skirt is gathered typifies the Allgäuer style) , a white Trachten blouse, a black Mieder, a Allgäuer Hat with feather (worn on the crown of the head) , a red apron, a single red flower Trachten Shoes (white or black hose).

Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic costumes in Germany are generally thought as the various costumes worn in Germany by basically people all ethnically German and all speaking German, albeit with different accents and dialects. There were, however, once large numbers of other ethnic populations within Germany, especailly the German Empire (1871-1918). There were an especially large number of Poles because Germany (Prussia) participated in the partition of Poland. There wer, however, other ethnic groups including Czechs, Gypsies, Jews, Serbs, and others. German Jews were highly assimilated. Other grous less so. Many of these groups wore destinctive costumes, at leasdt for special events and celebrations. The Treaty of Versailles ending World War I, NAZI ethnic policies and the Holacaust, and the redrawing of boundaries after World War II all acted to reduce the popukation of thnic minorities in Germany, but some remain.

Ethnic Events

The best known German/Austrian ethnic event is the annual Oktoberfests in Germany. There are also Maifests and other German theme events. Very famous (especially for several town along the Rhein river is carnival in March. Children love to masquerade with fancy dresses. These events commonly include games, booths, authentic German food, dance, and music. There are many activities associated with a typical Octoberfest. Brass bands and of course oompah music are very popular. German folk dancing is another popular event. In American Oktoberfests, other ethnic dance groups may be invited to participate. Dancing can include, in addition to polkas and waltzes, the german quadrille style "Square Dancing" (Bunten) brought over from the Lüneburger Heide area of northern Germany in the 1840s and 1850s. Schuhplattler is Bavarian (German) and Tirol (Austria) folk dancing performed in folk costumes (tracht). It includes traditional Schuhplattler and other folk dances. Schuhplattler are seen as a typical dance in Alpine area, both German and Austrian, but in fact it was really only native to some regions. German food is always a big attraction. Popular German dishes include: wiener schnitzel, bratwurst, potato pancakes, sauerkraut, apple strdel, Spanferkel chicken, Rollbratenand and many other dishes. Some events stress crafts demonstrating the folkways and skills of German immigrants. Guests find juried artisans, often in period attire using the same primitive tools as immigrant artisans. Watch broom making, rail splitting, clothes washing, scherenschnitte, kloppolei and German fractur--just a few of the seventy early skills demonstrated. Mule powered sorghum mill, timber sawing and splitting shingles is also a rarely seen event. One event offers a tour of an 1820 log home.

Choral Groups

German American cultural groups often sponsor performances of German boys and children choirs. This includes groups like the the mixed choir from Palatinate/Germany brings songs from Germany and Austria Reise-Chor (travel-choir) founded for concert-tours in the United States. Some of the more established choirs like the Vienna Choir Boys are so well know that they need no assistance in organizing perfprmances in the United States.

Church Services

Special search services are often offered at German events. As Germans are both peotestant and catholic, these services are often offered at Lutheran, Catholic, and other churches. In many communities, churches play an important role in organizing the events.

Personal Experiences







HBC




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Created: September 9, 1998
Last updated: 10:58 PM 10/19/2008