In 1834, nearly five hundred German emigrants became Missouri immigrants. And like every such story there is a before and after, and a story of here and there, depending who is telling the story. Meet Utopia – Revisiting a German State in America, a traveling exhibition funded in Germany created by the Traveling Summer Republic and the City of Giessen. It opened last year in Giessen, moved to Bremen, Germany, is currently being shown at the German American Heritage Museum in Washington, DC. and will soon open at St. Louis’ Missouri in the Missouri History Museum. The exhibit shares the stories of these politically motivated emigrants that came from all walks of life and all over Germany. The immigrants settled all over the United States, with many beginning the huge wave of Germans that make Missouri what it is today.
The Utopia project began when a Berlin film maker became intrigued with the Giessen Emigration Society in 2004. Beginning in 2005, artists, historians, writers, photographers were coming together in Germany to discuss this interesting segment of their history. In 2009, they contacted historians across the U.S., and in Missouri, and this story became International. After the release of the documentary, A Trip to a Forgotten Utopia,made of their 2009 visit, the Traveling Summer Republic took the story to the next level. Funding was secured for an exhibition, which opened with its’ own bilingual book which accompanies it, on November 1, 2013. This coming November, a documentary by the same title will make its premiere with the St. Louis International Film Festival on November 23, 2014 at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park.
While the bilingual exhibition, book and documentary shares its’ story with these emigrants’ voices; it also draws one in and gives one pause to reflect on what today’s immigrant experiences. Faced with so much to overcome in 1830s Germany, the idea to create a German State in America where they could find freedom, and build a new life for their families; was considered to be a Utopia. Visitors are asked to share their idea to what they consider Utopia today.