Dishes such as currywurst, soup, and Kentucky fish sit on long table at the back of the restaurant Eiderdown. The rooms are decked with small German flags and you can hear a mix of German and English being spoken.
“This is called Stammtisch,” said Ingrid Tower, gesturing to the gathering. Tower is originally from Germany and is a professor of German at the University of Louisville.
“Where it came from in Germany is where a group of local men who are grounded and connected to the community come together once a week and they drink beer and they talk and talk and talk and then they go home.”
She said this conversation often includes international affairs, politics and philosophy.
Louisville has immigrant roots. And a group of visitors in town are in search of the city’s German immigrant history.
In Louisville, the group Sister Cities of Louisville sometimes hosts these gatherings, and about a dozen people usually attend. But this evening, attendance got a boost. That’s because the German Embassy from D.C. is in town as part of the German Bus USA Tour.
“One-third of the population of Louisville identifies themselves as having German heritage,” said author Bob Ullrich.
Bob and Vicky Ullrich have been married for 47 years. They literally wrote the book on German history in the city. It’s called Germans In Louisville: A History.
The Ullrichs coordinated the two-day Louisville tour for the German Embassy, which included visiting old German churches and neighborhoods.
Churches were a vital part of life when German immigrants first started arriving in Louisville.
“They were very religious people,” says Bob Ullrich. “They wanted to attend church but all of churches in Louisville when they came spoke English. So they decided to go establish their own churches.”
St. Paul’s was the first Protestant church established by Germans in 1836. A year later, German Catholics established St. Boniface. The city had 15 Protestant and Catholic churches by the end of the Civil War.
The press was important to German immigrants as well. The first German newspapers were established in the city in the 1840’s.
“There were 28, at least, German language newspapers in Louisville,” Bob Ullrich said. “The one that lasted the longest was the Anzeiger.”
The paper lasted for 89 years, from 1849 -1938.
Louisville also had numerous German businesses including breweries, department stores and bakeries.
“It’s just good for people to know what their own roots are and what the roots are of the place that they live and the importance of all the different ethnic groups in contributing to our community,” Vicky Ullrich said.
The German embassy tour is heading to Virginia next. It’s the preview for a larger tour the embassy is planning for next year.