Explore German influence on American culture


Lynne Breen from Lansing had little intention of writing a book when she first spoke in 2014 with Ernst Floeter, 89, a resident of Grand Ledge, who arrived in the United States for the first time as a prisoner of war. Like most prisoners of war, Floeter was returned to Germany, but his love of America brought him and his wife back to the United States.

Ernst has become a fixture at Grand Ledge, portraying Uncle Sam on the July 4 parade and as chairman of the city’s United States Bicentennial celebration. He also became well known for his photography business.

Lynne and Floeter ended up co-writing her memoir, “I’ll see you again, Lady Liberty”.

“We met for about five months at the Logjam restaurant in Grand Ledge, where I took notes. The following week I would give it a chapter to work on, ”Breen said.

When the book came out, Breen said, “There were people lined up outside Logjam’s back door.”

Floeter died in 2015, shortly after the book’s publication. He had inspired Breen to continue writing about something close to his heart: the kindness and ingenuity of the Germans and the great influence they played in American culture.

In his later years, Floeter would lecture to schools and community groups on the “goodness” of German-Americans. Breen took up that mantle with the new 237-page book, “How German Ingenuity Inspired America: More Fun, More Beauty, and More Freedom,” which was recently published by the German American Heritage Foundation. United States.

The beautifully illustrated and perfectly documented table book details from A to Z (Astaire to Ziegfeld) the impact of German creativity on the United States, since German immigrants began to make their way here in search of a better life. Breen’s book documents this influence with passages on beer, sausages, music, science, the arts, religion, and architecture, among others.

The book is a pleasure to leaf through, and it is an even greater pleasure to learn how deep German influence is throughout the country. A mandatory piece on Frankenmuth is also included.

Aided by friends, who would send him articles on German influence, Breen also did something surprisingly simple to find out its magnitude.

“My husband has a large collection of non-fiction books and I would search the index for the letter ‘G’ for Germans,” she said.

Some entries are obvious like Albert Einstein, Beer and Beethoven, but it would be a good bet most of us couldn’t name the device invented by a German who had a major influence on rock’n’roll. . The Wurlitzer jukebox was created by Franz Rudolph Wurlitzer in the 1850s as an offshoot of his previous company, creating carousel organs, which were introduced to the United States by another German, Gustav A. Dentzel. And then there’s The Mommas and Poppas and the Hohner Harmonica, both of which have German roots.

Breen, who is only half German, had never visited Germany. In a short time, she became a source of information on German influence in America. She even rejected some Jägermeisters in the name of research.

“People were pushing me to do it,” she said.

Some 20 entries in the book speak specifically of German influence in Michigan, including the Fisher Building in Detroit, designed by Albert Kahn, Niles Station, designed by Frederick Spier and William Rohns, and the original Stroh’s Brewery building, designed by Detroiter Heinz Prechter, among others.

Breen also said that she came across a German influence during her research which will be the subject of her next book.

“While researching, I came across the role of the Germans in the Underground Railroad, the election of Lincoln and the end of slavery,” she said.

In the book, she quotes abolitionist Frederick Douglass: “A German only has to be German to be totally opposed to slavery. She also writes about Franz Daniel Pastorius, who led the first official protest against slavery in the colonies.

You don’t have to be of German descent to embrace their impact on our culture. Think of the Hummel on your shelf, the Steiff bear in your child’s bed, or those wonderful Cracker Jacks, all made by Germans.

German cuisine has also become a staple in our epicurean lives and includes cutlets, sauerkraut and the barbecue’s favorite bratwurst. And with Easter this weekend, thank the Germans for giving us not only Santa Claus, but also colorful eggs and the chocolate Easter bunny.

Breen has his own favorite German influence in his life. “Growing up, our family listened to the standards of music. I didn’t know Tin Pan Alley had a connection to Germany, ”Breen said. “So many songs have been written by German Americans.”

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