German Immigrants

German Food: Max’s Allegheny Tavern

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Max’s Allegheny Tavern resides on a quiet, unassuming street, nestled between brick churches and two-story houses.  The interior of the bar is dim and quiet, with occasional customers sitting down on brown leather seats or wandering into the dining hall.  This room is bright and sunny, decorated with old photographs and paintings of Pittsburgh, serving as a cultural and historic repository.  Because the bar is closed at the time, the bartender is kind enough to show me the party room, a former rathskeller.  This cool, large basement, originally used for chilling beer, became a famous speakeasy during Prohibition years, allowing the restaurant to continue to turn a profit (“About Max’s Allegheny Tavern.”).

The tavern was founded by George Rahn, who sold his saloon on East Ohio street in the early 1900s and built the Hotel Rahn, operating a bar and restaurant with his wife on the first floor.  George, a descendant of immigrants, served traditional German foods and local Pittsburgh beer. This allowed the local German immigrant community to meet, keeping culture and traditions alive.  Although Prohibition exacted a heavy toll on the tavern and bar industry, speakeasies like Max’s thrived, providing an enjoyable, albeit illegal, form of entertainment among the poverty and difficulties of the Great Depression.  Allegheny County was hit hard by Prohibition, with one third of all workers unemployed. In this environment, illegal gangs flourished, some founded by immigrant Mafias who had moved to America, expanding their empires.  However, Max’s Allegheny Tavern did not import alcohol, so its owners and patrons were spared from the violence and illicit actions that other bars faced (Mellon, Steve.).

Upon glancing at the menu, I notice that the food described is a collage of the traditional and the modern.  Between Knackwurst with Kraut and Bavarian Nachos, the intermixing of cultures embodied by Pittsburgh is obvious.  The food is rich and heavy, and is deemed authentic by many of the Tavern’s patrons.  The rich, smoky aroma of the sausages and reubens pervade the cold air, and drift along the tranquil Pittsburgh street.

1- “About Max’s Allegheny Tavern.” About Max’s Allegheny Tavern. Max’s Allegheny Tavern, n.d. Web. 03 May 2014.

2-“German – Building Institutions, Shaping Tastes – Immigration…- Classroom Presentation | Teacher Resources – Library of Congress.” German – Building Institutions, Shaping Tastes – Immigration…- Classroom Presentation | Teacher Resources – Library of Congress. Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 02 May 2014.

3- Mellon, Steve. “Pittsburgh: The Dark Years.” Pittsburgh: The Dark Years. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, n.d. Web. 04 May 2014.


Teutonia Mannerchor and Penn Brewery: Pittsburgh’s German Community

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The Fachwerk facade of the Teutonia Mannerchor building stands out in stark contrast to the dilapidated brick of the surrounding neighborhood.  As I walk through the adjacent parking lot, signs indicating the spaces of the Hausmeister and the President mark a center of the German-American community in Pittsburgh.

The private choral society, founded in 1854, first occupied the building on July 15, 1888 (“Teutonia Mannerchor History”).  The group was founded by German immigrants arriving in Pittsburgh, evolving from a previous group known as the Liedertafel.  These men and women wanted to preserve their heritage and formed a closely-knit community around this organization.  The chorus performs traditional German music, traveling around the Tri-State Area on tour.  Their official goal, to “further choral singing, promote our German cultural tradition and extend good fellowship.” is maintained by over 3,000 members to this day (“Choir Activities”).

Walking up the steep Troy Hill Road, the neon sign of Penn Brewery beckons.  In the distance, the H.J. Heinz factory billows steam, a remnant of the Industrial Age.  Heinz himself was the son of German immigrants, his success serving as a testament to the rising influence of Pittsburgh immigrants (Wiggin, Sally).

The Penn Brewery was founded as the E&O Brewery in 1848 by the German immigrant families of Eberhart and Ober, but became the Pittsburgh Brewing Company in 1899 with several other small breweries.  The original buildings still stand, and include labyrinthine stone tunnels underground to chill, or lager beer (“Penn Brewery – Pennsylvania Brewing Co. – Est. 1986 Home History of Penn Brewery.”).  Like Teutonia Mannerchor, the Penn Brewery served as a center of the German immigrant population, providing a cultural center and continuing German brewing traditions.

1- “Teutonia Mannerchor History.” Teutonia Mannerchor in Pittsburgh Deutschtown PA. Teutonia Mannerchor, 2014. Web. 06 Apr. 2014.

2-“Choir Activities.” Teutonia Mnnerchor in Pittsburgh Deutschtown PA. Teutonia Mannerchor, 2014. Web. 06 Apr. 2014.

3- Wiggin, Sally. “History of the H. J. Heinz Company.” WTAE Pittsburgh. Hearst Stations, Inc., 14 Feb. 2013. Web. 06 Apr. 2014.

4- “Penn Brewery – Pennsylvania Brewing Co. – Est. 1986 Home History of Penn Brewery.” Penn Brewery – Pennsylvania Brewing Co. – Est. 1986 Home History of Penn Brewery. Penn Brewery, 2011. Web. 06 Apr. 2014.

German Immigration: Push and Pull Factors

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I walk a Pittsburgh street studded with plaques commemorating the German immigrants who first settled here, finally arriving at the historic Priory hotel, formerly a home for Benedictine priests and Brothers (“Priory Hotel History”).

The German immigrants who worshipped here arrived in their greatest numbers in the 1880s. In this decade, almost 1.5 million emigrated to the United States, seeking better lives and new opportunities (“The Germans in America”). Catholic immigrants, especially priests like those in the Priory, fled Bismark’s Kulturkampf, in which the Catholic Church and the Prussian State fought for influence and control. The German 1878 -1890 Anti-Socialist law forced many Democratic and Socialist activists to emigrate to American cities, hoping to campaign in an environment more conducive to free speech. Finally, many German minority immigrants fled to America to escape the horrors of the Holocaust in the 1935- 1945 era (Adams, Willi Paul).

The many German immigrants who are commemorated with the plaques along Pittsburgh’s Lockhart Street left their homes for a multitude of reasons, propelled by the desire for a better life. They sought to gain religious and intellectual freedom, finding a dearth of such liberties under the regimes of Bismarck and Hitler (Addams, Willi Paul). Another motivational factor in this great migration was economic prosperity, as America’s industries surpassed those of Germany and offered a chance at greater riches (“Waves of German Immigrants”)

As I walk through the ornate hallways of the Priory Hotel, I appreciate the beautiful architecture and array of historic artifacts lining the walls. The building itself, repurposed as a hotel in 1888, still maintains strong ties with its rich history (“Priory Hotel History.”). Framed maps, blueprints, and photographs provide physical testimony to the changes wrought in Pittsburgh society by arriving immigrants. Building this edifice was, for many, a fulfillment of the American Dream.

1- “Priory Hotel History.” The Historic Priory Hotel in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. The Priory Hotel, n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2014.

2- “The Germans in America.” Chronology : (European Reading Room, Library of Congress). The Library of Congress, 21 Sept. 2010. Web. 30 Mar. 2014.

3- Adams, Willi Paul, Lavern J. Rippley, and Eberhard Reichmann. “The German-Americans-Chapter Two.” The German-Americans: An Ethnic Experience. Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2014.

4- “Waves of German Immigrants.” Immigration Library. The Advocates for Human Rights, 2011. Web. 04 Apr. 2014.