Beginning in the 1830s, German citizens fled religious and political oppression in their native country – and sought sanctuary in a new land: Texas. Books and letters paying homage to their new home gain widespread fame back in Germany. “A boundless sea of green,” one author wrote. A country with a “climate like that of Sicily.” This vast new frontier, unstained by the corruption and persecution of their homeland, offered the deeply yearned for opportunity to live as free men and women in free communities.
Between 1865 and 1900, about 40,000 Germans arrived in the Lone Star State; the single largest European immigrant group at the time. Within a generation, a wide swath of the state from the coastal plain to the Hill Country included dozens of German-settled towns; later generations of Germans also settled in North Texas. Many of these place names, including New Ulm, Frelsburg, Bleiblerville, Oldenburg, Weimar, Schulenburg, Gruene, New Braunfels, Boerne, Fredericksburg, and Luckenbach, still dot the map today.
As German Texans planned and engineered a new life here, their influence spread to nearly every facet of Texas life: industry, politics, music, religion, food, and education. One of the most significant imports they brought was their culture: an appreciation for classical music and opera; Bach and the accordion; social traditions like breweries and biergartens; the German language; a deep belief in the importance of public education and the trades; an abiding love for freedom and equality; and a social fabric that was more about community than the individual, a stark difference in philosophy with many pioneers of the American West.
There are many examples of German heritage still visible on the Texas landscape, from dance halls and shooting clubs to churches and schools, and this legacy continues to exert a strong influence on modern-day Texas.