The evolution of German-American culture in the United States

© dpa / picture-alliance

The United States is a country built on immigration — and the largest group of immigrants actually came from Germany!

Based on the most recent US Census, more than 44 million Americans claim German ancestry. That’s a higher number than those who claimed English, Italian or Mexican ancestry.

At the turn of the last century, Germans were even the most predominant ethnic group in the US, with eight million people out of a population of 76 million. The world’s third-largest German-speaking population was in New York City, following only Berlin and Vienna. So what changed?

The perception of Germans in the US became less favorable during World War I. But this change in perception became even more pronounced when the US became involved in World War II. During and after the war, Germans were scrutinized and looked at with suspicion. Their loyalty was questioned and they were accused of being spies. As a result of these changing perceptions, German-Americans let go of their pride, customs and culture and instead began to assimilate. After the war, being German was no longer considered a good thing. German breweries changed their names, people changed their names, German language courses were discontinued in schools and people stopped speaking German publicly.

Germans get ready to travel to the United States in 1949. © dpa / picture-alliance

But as decades passed and people celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification, things began to change once again. In 2010, a German-American congressional caucus was created. German-style Oktoberfest celebrations take place all throughout the country – and Americans join in. Today, people are celebrating German heritage and culture in all 50 states.

It would be difficult to list all of the Oktoberfest celebrations in the US, simply because of the sheer volume of these events. But some of the largest of these festivals take place in cities where German ancestry is particularly noteworthy, such as Milwaukee (WI), Cincinnati (OH) and Fredericksburg (TX).

But there are countless others. One such festival is the Germanfest Picnic in Dayton, Ohio. This event celebrates the “German heritage that has given Dayton some of its cultural identity all while enjoying an import beer and a Schnitzel,” according to a Dayton Local article.

Another noteworthy event is the Steuben Parade (scheduled for Sept. 15), which takes place in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago. The New York parade is one of the biggest celebrations of German and German-American culture in the US – and it’s followed by a German-style Oktoberfest in Central Park!

So if you’re living in the US but miss the German culture, there’s plenty of events that may prompt you to throw on your Dirndl or Lederhosen. Cheers to that!

© dpa / picture-alliance