Germans in Hawai‘i: Beer, Bible, Music, Commerce, Grammar

In 2000, the Lutheran Church in Hawai‘i celebrated its 100th anniversary. But Germans in Hawai‘i go back much farther than that.

  • Heinrich Zimmerman, who arrived with Captain James Cook in 1778, published his own journals in Germany three years before Captain Cook’s official English version was released.
  • Ship captain Henry Barber from Bremen, Germany, made his name by running an English ship aground at Kalaeloa (‘the long cape’) on O’ahu, later named Barber’s Point (and now renamed back to Kalaeloa).
  • The German scholar Adelbert von Chamisso, a naturalist who arrived in 1815 aboard Captain Otto von Kotzebue’s Russian brig Rurik, wrote one of the first Hawaiian grammar books.
  • Claus Spreckles, a California sugar refiner, found his business greatly threatened by the Kingdom of Hawai‘i’s 1876 reciprocity treaty with the United States. Rather than fight the treaty, he sailed to Hawai‘i and immediately bought half the sugar crop of 1877 just before its value skyrocketed. His innovations in sugar planting included steam plows, electric lights, railroads for hauling cane, and controllable irrigation.
  • Sprecklesville in Maui, and Spreckles Street, Widemann Street, Hausten Street, Isenberg Street, and Hamm Place in Honolulu, all signify the heritage of Germans in Hawai‘i.
  • The Deutsch-Evangelisch-Lutherische Gemeinde zu Honolulu was founded in 1900. The Hackfelds and Isenbergs each donated $25,000 to build it and import a pastor and pipe organ from Germany. Henri Berger, Royal Hawaiian Band bandmaster and composer of the state anthem “Hawaii Pono‘i,” was a charter member and the first organist.
  • Rev. Arthur Hörmann who came as pastor in 1916 at the instigation of his brother-in-law, who managed the old Primo Brewery, would later tell people he came to Hawaii “for beer and the Bible.”

World War I changed everything. According to “The Effect of World War I on the German Community in Hawaii” by Sandra E. Wagner-Seavey in The Hawaiian Journal of History 14 (1980): 109-140:

  • In October 1914, two Japanese warships, the Hizan and Asama, arrived off Honolulu to intercept the German warship Geier and its collier Locksun, which were then interned in Honolulu under very friendly conditions until February 1917, right after the U.S. severed relations with Germany, when Honolulu authorities discovered that the German crews had sabotaged much of the machinery aboard their ships.
  • In June 1917, U.S. Army Private Luisz Sterl was sentenced to hard labor and dishonorably discharged for treasonously refusing to fight in France and disparaging U.S. troops sent there to fight.
  • A devastating anthrax epidemic aroused suspicions (never proved) against Max Weber, a German timekeeper at Pioneer Mill.
  • Many Germans lost their jobs, including Minna Maria Heuer, an assistant professor of German and French at the College of Hawaii, who failed her loyalty test. She then taught at the German language school in Lihue until it was forced to shut down in 1918.
  • Under the Rev. Dr. Arthur Hörmann’s guidance, the Lutheran church changed from a German-speaking, foreign-based congregation to an American church. English services were introduced gradually and both languages were used in the ministry until 1941, when the U.S. entered World War II and the church legally became “The Lutheran Church of Honolulu.”
  • In 1918, H. Hackfeld & Co. was reorganized as American Factors, and the B. F. Ehlers & Co. department store was reorganized as Liberty House (which lasted until Macy’s bought it out in 2001).

“By the end of the war, there was no longer a German community in Hawaii, as there once had been. Germans had lost their jobs, church, leadership, and the respect of their neighbors. Many had migrated to the West Coast to escape persecution. Those who remained assimilated into the greater haole community, some by anglicizing their names. Young Germans after the war did not renew their cultural ties to Germany. They kept no German publications or customs, spoke no German, and did not even use German gestures. Their homes were 100% American and so were they. The German community simply disappeared.”

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