German Free School

The second weekend of October saw the 150th anniversary celebration of the German-Texan Heritage Society‘s headquarters. Perched high on a bluff overlooking Waller Creek, the rammed-earth structure was originally a free school, one of the first established in Austin. Added onto in the 1870s, the school included a residence for the teacher and his family. Today, it’s a great place to research local German history and partake of the Society’s frequent parties and language classes.

Of German parentage myself, I was commissioned to craft a tour of German Austin for the commemoration. Whereas, the Teutonic influence was felt more strongly in San Antonio and the Hill Country, nonetheless, Austin also benefited quite a bit from German influence and sensibilities. These were evident in the sites our trek visited. First was a drive past the German-American Ladies College and a walk in the Texas State Cemetery. Of high interest there is Elisabet Ney’s sculpture of the fallen general Albert Sidney Johnston. Another off-the-bus stop took us inside Ney’s home and studio, “Formosa,” now a museum dedicated to her fine art. We also viewed Weigl’s Iron Works, the Old Land Office, several other commercial buildings and residences, and, of course, Scholz Garten. A German video crew followed us, preparing a documentary for German TV.

Back at the celebration, the crowd experienced a symbolic tapping of the beer keg, oom-pah-pah music, a kinderchor, folk dancing, and plenty of heffeweitzen und wurst. While I wore no lederhosen, I most certainly enjoyed swilling the suds and speaking Deutsch with many fellow attendees.