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German Culture & Festivals: Oktoberfest Deep in the Heart of Texas

Oktoberfest: This lively German celebration dates to October 1810, when Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria married. The annual festival expanded to include performers, an agricultural fair and beer pubs, eventually becoming a great tourist attraction in Munich and claiming the title of largest festival in the world.

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Today, Oktoberfest is celebrated by German-Americans in communities across the United States, with San Antonio being no exception. Beethoven Maennerchor, an organization formed here in the mid-1800s, is a group dedicated to preserving German song, music and language. They hold Oktoberfest at their King William-area Halle und Garten the first two weekends in October (and sponsor several other German-themed events throughout the year). Fredericksburg also holds an Oktoberfest in the Texas Hill Country the first weekend in October in their main street MarktPlatz. In nearby New Braunfels, Wurstfest is an annual celebration of German culture that spans 10 days in November and features food, beer, music, dancing, carnival rides and games.

Music: The German immigrants brought their button accordions with them to Texas, gathering on Saturday nights to play polka music for community dances attended by German families. The instrument was adopted by musicians in northern Mexico and Tejanos in Texas for their norteño conjunto bands, performing songs in Spanish but playing polka-style music. It’s not unusual to hear Tex-Mex bands playing music with an oom-pah-pah sound.

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Food: Chicken-fried steak is big in Texas but is thought to have been influenced by the German schnitzel, also a breaded and fried meat. Beer- and sausage-making are other contributions Germans made to the local cuisine.

Religion

While many of the German settlers in San Antonio were Protestant, a number were Roman Catholic, and they built St. Joseph Catholic Church on Commerce Street in 1868, adding a steeple in 1898 and importing stained-glass windows from Munich in 1902. The Shops at Rivercenter now wrap around the church on three sides, because in 1944, Joske’s department store proposed buying the church grounds for commercial development. The parishioners chose not to sell, so Joske’s built around it. Local tour guides often point out the church to visitors, telling them that it became known as “St. Joske”. The Joske’s department store closed, although the building remains as part of the shopping center and houses new tenants.

In Fredericksburg, St. Mary’s Catholic Church was built in 1862 with native stone quarried near the city and designed by architect Leo Dielmann of San Antonio. Prior to building their own church, the members of the congregation attended the Vereins Kirche, the community church in Fredericksburg’s main square that was built by the Adelsverein in 1847 and stood until 1896. It was rebuilt in 1935 and now houses the Pioneer Museum.

San Antonio’s St. John’s Lutheran Church, founded in 1857, was also built by German immigrants. The church building that you see today on Nueva Street across from La Villita was built in 1932 and features stained-glass windows, wood carvings and embellished stone.