Category Archives: German

Name Dropping

In his book Beer, Brats and Baseball (Second Edition) author Jim Merkel writes about “The Streets with Two Names” in St. Louis, sharing how Frank Knapstein, a German immigrant had his own name on a block long street just south of Meramec in 1916. He was a contractor and he was building brick homes along the street. Then, World War I came, and suddenly everything German was bad, including street names. To be less offensive, Knapstein Place became Providence Place. Nativism and anti-German hysteria had taken hold on everything

Merkel mounted a campaign to retake these symbols of our city’s pride in our German heritage. The German American Heritage Society of St. Louis helped by enthusiastically supporting the project and even paying for the honorary signs. On November 15, 2014 George Knapstein’s grandson Frank (and about 35 other members of his family) watched as Providence Place once again became Knapstein Place.

On Sunday, January 17, 2016 the public is invited to join Jim Merkel, members of German American Heritage Society of St. Louis, and other officials as they unveil two new street signs. The former Habsburger Avenue will be unveiled at 2pm with a brief ceremony at the corner of Cecil Place and Gravois Avenue; and Kaiser Street will once again take its place among St. Louis street names with a sign at the corner of Gresham (current name) and Kingshighway at 2:30 pm.



The Legacy of Utopia

Missouri History Museum St. Louis, Missouri
Missouri History Museum
St. Louis, Missouri

A special day has been set for descendants of families that were part of the Giessen Emigration Society on Saturday, December 13, 2014 at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis, Missouri. The Missouri History Museum will open the exhibition from Germany Utopia – Revisiting a German State in America on November 22, 2014, which tells the story of one of the largest and most organized German emigration societies in Missouri’s history. But like the Giessen Society itself, the Utopia exhibit is the story of so much more. On December 13th there will be a free private event by Missouri History Museum for the descendants (see registration below) of the Giessen Emigration Society which will include programs for the public in the afternoon as well.

On Saturday, December 13, 2014 the Missouri History Museum will present a program at 2:00pm – Legacy of Utopia with speaker Dorris Keeven-Franke , who will host a Day for Descendants for those whose ancestors were members of the Giessen Emigration Society. This is a special day with two private programs, that as a descendant of one of its’ many members we would like to invite you. Time is growing near and we understand that travel plans are being made so we would like to provide you with more information. 
Descendant Day Program Schedule:
  • 10 a.m. The day will begin at the Missouri History Museum’s Research and Library Center at 225 S. Skinker Boulevard in St. Louis, Missouri, with a private tour by the Director Chris Gordon. This tour is free but we ask that you RSVP so that we may know of how many to expect.
  • 11:00 a.m.  There will be time allowed for a lunch on your own. There are many delightful restaurants in the area, including Bixby’s in the Missouri History Museum where reservations (free) are required.
  • 12:30 p.m. There will be a special tour just of the Utopia – Revisiting a German State in America exhibit. This exhibit opens on Saturday, November 22, 2014 in the Missouri History Museum. Created in Germany by the Traveling Summer Republic Utopia first opened in Giessen Germany and then traveled like the society to Bremen. In August of 2014 the exhibit traveled – like the society – to the U.S. where it is currently on display at the German American Heritage Museum in Washington, D.C. Again reservations (free) are necessary.
  • 2:00 p.m. Legacy of the Giessen Emigration Society – Dorris Keeven-Franke, historian, author and member of the Traveling Summer Republic will share stories of what became of many of the members of the Giessen Emigration Society. This program is free and open to the public.
The day’s program is planned with all of your families in mind, and who were all members of the Society. For those of you who might be visiting from out of town:  If you have a family member who is also related and who is interested, please feel free to share this message with them.
In 1834, over 500 German emigrants arrived in New Orleans and Baltimore, many of which headed for St. Louis. Known as the Giessen Emigration Society, their story IS the story of immigration.  For more on this story visit the Missouri Germans Consortium today. In 2004 a group of historians, film makers, photographers and performing artists, became interested in the Giessen Emigration Society. By 2005, the Traveling Summer Republic had held their first Island Congress after becoming fascinated with this large group of Germans who left with plans to found a German State in America. In 2009, they joined other historians and writers in America, and in 2010 work began on the exhibit, book and documentary Utopia – Revisiting a German State in America which opened in Giessen, Germany in November 2013. Won’t you please join us in this journey?
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or wish to make reservations for the morning’s two private events at or by calling 636-221-1524 or  by filling in the box below, so that we may know the number of descendants to expect.

The immigration discussion is an ongoing story relative to today. By examining the history of this large group of German emigrants that came to the United States in 1834, we are able to open new discussions, and hopefully THEUtopiaLogofind new insights into current events. While the decision to immigrate is so personal and individual, visitors to the exhibition will have the opportunity to share in the story of nearly 500 individuals that made the decision to create a new homeland for themselves in America. Ultimately they made a profound impact on Missouri and St. Louis’ 250 years of history. stl250_waterEveryone is invited to share their vision of Utopia.

The Giessen Emigration Society was founded by two fellow revolutionary students at the University of Giessen in Germany in 1833, Paul Follenius and Friedrich Muench. They issued a call to their fellow countrymen in 1833, and had thousands respond. In 1834, Follenius and a ship of over 250 left Bremen bound for New Orleans. The passengers were devastated by disease on the Olbersforsitevoyage, and on the steamboats headed for St. Louis. After a horrific delay of weeks on a deserted island near Bremerhaven, nearly 250 more, led by Muench arrived in Baltimore. These were immigrants of all ages, from all over Germany, not just farmers, but teachers, physicians and preachers. They also had several religious affiliations – Catholic, Lutheran, Evangelical and Free-Thinkers.

What these emigrants endured in their struggles is a sample of the thousands that came. Over 30,000 Germans emigrated to Missouri between 1834 and 1837 alone. This is their story, and the thousands more, told by Traveling Summer Republic in both German and English, by both American and German historians, film makers, writers, and artists. While local history for both Germany and the U.S., it truly is an international partnership.

If you have an ancestor that was part of the original 500 emigrants, we would like to hear from you. Please use the contact form below if you would like more information or to register for the special event on December 13, 2014. Visit the page Giessen Emigration Society for a list of the members of the Society. Those in bold have been located. We will not share private information. Suggested reading for this event is Utopia-Revisiting a German State in America: the book available from




Crossing the Atlantic

Bremen“Paul Follenius went to sea with the first division under Captain Exter, on the Olbers on March 31, 1834 departing from Bremerhaven. Shortly before, he met with Schmidt and Müller, the two emissaries who were chosen  by the Society during the original meeting in Friedberg and sent to Arkansas half a year ahead to investigate the terrain. They could only advise against it! The climate there was insupportable; the land was boggy and unusable in many places. The best territories were already in the hands of the slave owners.

Follenius immediately sent a message to Muench, St. Louis and not Little Rock, was now to be the new meeting point. Presumably the seductive portrayal by Gottfried Duden was the deciding factor in this situation. In any case, Missouri was now the declared goal for the second division as well.”

The Olbers reached its destination on June 2, 1834 with 354 passengers after a difficult crossing. One passenger, Neyfeld, later wrote that while still near the French coast, disease broke out. It spread so quickly that within two weeks over 30 people had been afflicted with the disease. Fear was widespread, that as they reached New Orleans they would fare even worse when held in quarantine. But worse news came, as they passed ships departing New Orleans, and learned that the cholera epidemic had broke out there.

With the second division, Karl Runckwitz, a bookbinder from Altenburg penned

“Farewell, farewell unto distant shores

You may soon hear, long before,

The call of the land of the free

Farewell unto faraway seas”

The second division had arrived in Bremen, only to learn their ship chartered was not in port, and no one knew what had become of it. Funds would not support a lengthy stay in the city while waiting for a ship, as they were needed for purchasing land in the U.S. and setting up their homesteads. Desperate to keep their group together, their leader Friedrich Muench, was able to negotiate a temporary lodging for his division on the Harriersand Island in the Weser River, near Brake. The “temporary” stay turned into a stay of over five weeks, with dissent breaking out amongst the division. Diaries and reports of Cornelius Schubert, Friedrich Haupt, Friedrich Muench and Gert Goebel give us hints of the events.

Muench was able to secure passage on the Medora,  a ship launched by the Beacham Shipyards in Baltiore in August 1832.  The ship left on June 4, and arrived in Baltimore on captained by David Griffith.

Giessen Emigration Society boarding the Medora at Bremen in July 1834
Giessen Emigration Society boarding the Medora at Bremen in July 1834

Aboard the Medora, Schubert’s diary tells us

“Wednesday July 2, We happened upon such a storm in the night that the waves forced their way into the steerage area and in the same instant, as I wanted to stand up, came such a wave as we had not yet seen, and drowned the whole floor, such that any objects which had fallen to the floor during the night were absolutely soaking wet, including my cap and shoes. The most rearward mattress in the berth was reached and soaked through. The fork upon which the yard is attached to the main mast was broken by the storm’s violence and had to be replaced by a strong rope.”

Utopia - Revisiting a German State in America: the book
Utopia – Revisiting a German State in America: the book

Quotes from the book Utopia – Revisiting a German State in America available in the U.S. from Amazon.

The Utopia container is crossing the Atlantic and the exhibit will soon arrive in the Baltimore harbor!  Join us on September 1, as a German emigrant,  Esther Steinbrecher, and the container arrives at the  Baltimore Immigration Memorial Garden in Locust Point, at the bottom of Hull Street at water’s edge (meeting point) and at the nearby Immigrant House on Beason Street. PDF for more information: Muss I denn in Washington,DC