German spirit rings familiar in Fredricksburg, Texas
My grandparents were German, German-Swiss they would always point out. So the names, Otto, Ida, Ernst, the faces, the food and the artifacts in Fredricksburg, Texas, have a familiar ring for me.
The immigrants who settled this town in the Hill Country were stout folk or they never would have survived. They were lured to Texas with promises of free passage from the homeland, free land once they arrived and free supplies for the first year they were here. Instead, they were dropped on the beach of south Texas, no wagons to bring them north because they had been commandeered by the army for the Mexican-American War, and the land they had been promised was prime hunting ground for the Penateka Comanches, or Honey Eaters, who were not inclined to give it up even if told some white men had purchased it.
So the Germans walked from the beach to a new swath of land now called Fredricksburg, just south of the promised land grant. There, they built homes, schools, churches and businesses. They signed a treaty in 1847 with the Penateka guaranteeing safe passage through the Comanche hunting grounds, the only treaty between settlers as private citizens and a tribe. It was recognized by the federal government in 1936, and is one of only a few treaties that were never broken.
We rolled into town and walked into the Old German Bakery and Restaurant, where Tom had schnitzel, spätzle and warm German potato salad. I had a smoked pork chop and red cabbage that was warm and sweet. Before we left, Tom got a loaf of fresh-from-the-oven pumpernickel, a dark brown like aged cedar.
We strolled past historic sandstone houses, including the birthplace of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, who despite grounding his destroyer in the Philippines while an ensign, rose to commanded Allied air, land, and sea forces during World War II.
We walked through the Pioneer Museum, with preserved houses, a barn, smokehouse, one-room schoolhouse and bath house. It all was so reminiscent of my grandmother, Ida Prichard. The sausage grinder, the German translations on the school’s blackboard, even the doorknobs.
At Farmhaus Antiques, down the street, there was a water pump that looked exactly like the one in Ida’s yard.
I was filled with nostalgia for my German ancestry and the salt-of-the-earth people who made everything out of nothing.
The people who made Fredricksburg were like that, walking because there was no wagon, building a kiln in a hillside to make lime to plaster their houses, making the plaster blue with laundry detergent to add some color to the walls, keeping their word with the Comanche, because that’s what you should do.
Fredricksburg has embraced tourism with upscale B&Bs, wine gardens, and year-round celebrations, but it’s charm, to me, is its hardscrabble German roots.