31 December 2014
On the eve... Germans in Britain in 1913
Throughout 2014 we have been using posts on the European Studies blog to mark the twin anniversaries of the Hanoverian succession and the outbreak of the First World War by looking at Anglo-German cultural relations and the role of Germans in Britain during the two centuries between. As the year draws to a close, I turned to a publication of 1913, Die deutsche Kolonie in London, issued by the ‘Anglo-German Publishing Company’ (based, coincidentally, like London’s earliest German printers and booksellers, near The Strand), to see what Britain’s ‘German colony’ looked like at the end of those two centuries.
The book was published to mark Kaiser Wilhelm II’s silver jubilee, and opens with a portrait of Wilhelm, fulsome tributes in prose and verse and an appeal for contributions to a commemorative ‘Imperial Jubilee Fund’ intended to support Germans and German institutions in Britain. This is followed by a brief history of German settlement in Britain and a comprehensive overview of the German community and institutions in London and beyond, demonstrating the strength and vitality of this community on the eve of the First World War.
Some 15 German churches and congregations in London are described as well as 12 in other cities including Edinburgh, Bradford, Liverpool and Newcastle. In London there is a German School in the south-eastern suburb of Forest Hill, a location chosen because it and the neighbouring districts were popular with German families. (Today’s London German focus has stayed south of the Thames but moved westwards: the modern ‘Deutsche Schule in London’ is in Richmond-on-Thames.) Continuing the educational theme, the German professors Karl Breul of Cambridge and H.G. Fiedler of Oxford reflect on the study of German and the role of German academics in British universities and schools.
St George’s German Lutheran Church, one of the oldest in London; the BL acquired its library in 1996
Social welfare comes next, with institutions including a benevolent society and an ‘Arbeiterkolonie und Altenheim’ in Hitchin, which accepts any needy German-speaker. Hitchin was also the location of a convalescent home attached to the German Hospital in Dalston (one of the few British German institutions revived after 1918). Orphanages in Dalston and Clapham, and sailors’ hostels and missions in various port cities are also described.
Recreation and culture are represented by the ‘German Athenaeum’ (a society for arts and sciences) and the ‘Turnverein’, a gymnastic society whose specially built London gymnasium still stands not far from the British Library. There are literary and gymnastic clubs outside the capital too, and a range of ‘Vaterländische Vereine’. The ‘Deutsches Volkstheater West-London’ founded in 1911 is described as enjoying some success and critical acclaim, although London’s German colony is not sufficient to support it as a permanent company playing every night. More popular are the many singing clubs. And gymnastics is not the only sport catered for: there are clubs for skittles and cycling, and the ‘Deutscher Fußball-Klub London’ has been ‘deemed worthy of taking its place in the 1st division of the North London league’.
There is also a range of professional clubs and societies for workers of all kinds, from bankers to waiters (the charmingly named ‘Union Ganymede’). As well as places to meet and socialise, these groups offered various kinds practical help to their members: lectures and training, help finding positions, and support when out of work.
Finally – and always worth a look in such publications – there are advertisements. Businesses catering specifically for Germans include bookshops, hotels, a photographer and J.C. Bell, ‘the German dentist’, who offers written guarantees on false teeth and promises that ‘a trained and experienced lady is always present when ladies are treated.’ Other firms advertise German products sold in Britain; I was struck by the proud claim by the makers of ‘König’s Liqueur-Gin’ that their product was ‘drunk by H.M. Kaiser Wilhelm II in the English House of Lords and House of Commons and at Buckingham Palace’, which gives a presumably unintended impression of the Kaiser boozing his way through a state visit.
Altogether the book paints a picture of a flourishing community, and one with a deep pride in a recently-unified native land. In their introduction the authors seem almost wilfully blind towards the rise in British anti-German sentiment at both popular and political levels, even suggesting that Wilhelm II is figure admired among the English. But one passage in the introduction by Richard Pflaum is oddly prophetic. Praising Wilhelm for having gained international recognition for Germany by peaceful means, he adds:
Für die Deutschen in England hätte ein Krieg Deutschlands die unabsehbarsten Folgen hervorrufen können, weil ein solcher Krieg … zu einen Weltkrieg sich hätte entwickeln müssen, in dem das Volk, unter dem wir wohnen und dessen Gastfreundschaft wir seit Jahrhunderten genießen, an die Seite der Gegner Deutschlands gedrängt worden wäre.
[For the Germans in England a German war could have led to the most incalculable consequences, because such a war would surely have developed into a world war, in which the people among whom we live, and whose hospitality we have enjoyed for centuries, would have been forced on to the side of Germany’s opponents.]
The following year what most Britons saw as very much a ‘German war’ did break out, and the consequences were indeed incalculable for Britain’s German community and its institutions. In the century since, very different waves of German migrants, refugees and settlers have come and gone, but the ‘German London’ depicted in this book has become a thing of the past.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic studies
Some further reading on Germans in Britain and Anglo-German relations 1714-1914
Aneignung und Abwehr : interkultureller Transfer zwischen Deutschland und Grossbritannien im 19. Jahrhundert / Rudolf Muhs, Johannes Paulmann und Willibald Steinmetz (Hg.). (Bodenheim, 1998). YA.2000.a.20029
Anglo-German scholarly networks in the long nineteenth century / edited by Heather Ellis, Ulrike Kirchberger. (Leiden, 2014) YD.2014.a.909
John R. Davis, The Victorians and Germany (Bern, 2007). YD.2008.a.1627
Germans in Britain since 1500, edited by Panikos Panayi (London, 1996). YC.1996.b.5061
Rüdiger Görner, Dover im Harz : Studien zu britisch-deutschen Kulturbeziehungen (Heidelberg, 2012) 11823.t.3/299
James Hawes, Englanders and Huns (London, 2014). YC.2014.a.15194
»In unserer Liebe nicht glücklich« : kultureller Austausch zwischen Großbritannien und Deutschland 1770-1840 / herausgegeben von Uwe Ziegler und Horst Carl. (Göttingen, 2014) Ac.6431/2[Vol.102]
John Mander, Our German cousins : Anglo-German relations in the 19th and 20th centuries (London, 1974). 74/9820
Migration and transfer from Germany to Britain, 1660-1914 / edited by Stefan Manz, Margrit Schulte Beerbühl, John R. Davis. (Munich, 2007) YD.2007.a.9202
Philip Oltermann, Keeping up with the Germans : a history of Anglo-German encounters (London, 2012). YK.2012.a.24179
Panikos Panayi, German immigrants in Britain during the nineteenth century, 1815-1914 (London, 1995) YC.1996.a.721
Richard Scully, British images of Germany : admiration, antagonism & ambivalence, 1860-1914 (Basingstoke, 2012). YC.2013.a.465
Miranda Seymour, Noble endeavours : the life of two countries, England and Germany, in many stories (London, 2013) YC.2015.a.8377
Susanne Stark, "Behind inverted commas" : translation and Anglo-German cultural relations in the nineteenth century (Clevedon, 1999) YC.1999.a.3194
Viktorianisches England in deutscher Perspektive / herausgegeben von Adolf M. Birke und Kurt Kluxen. (Munich, 1983) X.800/39562