Little Germany, Manhattan

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Little Germany, known in German as Kleindeutschland and Deutschländle and called Dutchtown by contemporary non-Germans,[1] was a densely populated German immigrant neighborhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City. The neighborhood of Little Germany went into a major decline starting in 1904 after the General Slocum disaster wiped out the social core of the area.



Starting in the 1840s, large numbers of German immigrants entering the United States provided a constant population influx for Little Germany. In the 1850s alone, 800,000 Germans passed through New York. The German immigrants differed as they usually were educated and had marketable skills in crafts. More than half of the bakers and cabinet makers were Germans or of German origin, and many Germans also worked in the construction business. Educated Germans were important players in the creation of Trade unions, and were also often politically active.

Germans tended to cluster together more than other immigrants, such as the Irish, and in fact those from a particular German state preferred to live together.[2] In 1845, Little Germany was already the largest German-American neighborhood in New York; by 1855, its German population had more than quadrupled, displacing the American-born workers who had first moved into the new housing,[3] and at the beginning of the 20th century, it was home to almost 50,000 people. From a core in the riverside 11th Ward, it expanded to encompass most of the 10th, 13th, and 17th Wards also: the same area that later became known as the Jewish Lower East Side.[4] Tompkins Square Park, in what is now known as Alphabet City, was an important public space that the Germans called the Weisse Garten.[5] There were beer gardens, sport clubs, libraries, choirs, shooting clubs, German theatres, German schools, German churches, and German synagogues. A large number of factories and small workshops operated in the neighborhood, initially in the interiors of blocks, reached by alleyways. There were major commercial streets including department stores. Stanley Nadel quotes a description of the neighborhood at its peak in the 1870s:
At the beginning of the '70s, after a decade of continuously rising immigration, Kleindeutschland (the German city in the ever-growing Cosmopolis) was in fullest bloom. Kleindeutschland, called Dutchtown by the Irish, consisted of 400 blocks formed by some six avenues and nearly forty streets. Tompkins Square formed pretty much the center. Avenue B, occasionally called the German Broadway, was the commercial artery. Each basement was a workshop, every first floor was a store, and the partially roofed sidewalks were markets for goods of all sorts. Avenue A was the street for beer halls, oyster saloons and groceries. The Bowery was the western border (anything further west was totally foreign), but it was also the amusement and loafing district. There all the artistic treats, from classical drama to puppet comedies, were for sale.[6]

General Slocum Disaster

File:General slocum burning.jpg
Firefighters working to extinguish the General Slocum.
File:Little Germany House.jpg
Former German-American Shooting Society Clubhouse with German inscription "Einigkeit macht stark" (Unity strengthens)

Disaster struck Little Germany on June 15, 1904. St Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church had organized their 17th annual picnic to commemorate the end of the school year. A large paddlewheeler, the General Slocum, was chartered for a cruise on the East River to a picnic site on Long Island. Over 1,300 passengers, mostly women and children, participated in the event. Shortly after departing, a fire started in a storage compartment in the forward section. Although the ship was equipped with lifeboats and preservers, both were in disrepair. Passengers found the boats stuck and inoperable, and the life preservers were rotten and failed to float. The absence of adequate safety equipment, compounded with the poor leadership of Captain William Van Schaick, caused an estimated 1,021 passengers to die by fire or drowning. Although only one percent of Little Germany's population was killed by the disaster, those lost were members of the most established families, the social foundation of Little Germany's community, and the extent of the disaster had enormous repercussions on the St Mark's parish. The disaster accelerated an exodus that was already well underway. Some bereaved parents, spouses, children, and friends committed suicide.[7] The desire to find a culprit led to conflicting public opinion, and family quarrels about the distribution of money from a Relief Fund among survivors led the society of Little Germany to turn sour.[7]

The decline of Little Germany

The General Slocum disaster was a key factor in hastening the end of the Lower East Side German community. Many of the remaining German settlers in New York moved to Yorkville.[8][9]

See also


  1. Nadel, Stanley (1990), Little Germany: Ethnicity, Religion, and Class in New York City, 1845-80, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, p. 29, and note 6, p. 182, on the use of "Dutch" to mean "German", ISBN 0252016777 [Interwiki transcluding is disabled] .
  2. Nadel, pp. 29, 37-39.
  3. Nadel, pp. 29, 32.
  4. Nadel, p. 29 and Map 2, p. 30.
  5. Nadel, p. 35.
  6. Lohr, Otto (1913), "Das New York Deutschtum der Vergangenheit", in Spengler, Otto, Das Deutsche Element der Stadt New York, New York: Steiger, p. 12 , in Nadel, p. 36.
  7. 7.0 7.1 See O'Donnell, R. T. (2003), Ship ablaze: The tragedy of the steamboat General Slocum, New York: Broadway Books, ISBN 0767909054 [Interwiki transcluding is disabled] .
  8. Collins, Glenn (June 8, 2004), "A 100-Year-Old Horror, Through 9/11 Eyes; In the Sinking of the Slocum, a Template For the Arc of a City's Grief and Recovery", New York Times,, retrieved November 20, 2007, "The disaster helped accelerate the flight of Germans from the Lower East Side to Yorkville and other neighborhoods, although there were other motivations as well. 'The very dense old housing on the Lower East Side was no longer attractive to upwardly mobile Germans,' said Dr. John Logan, director of the Center for Social and Demographic Analysis at the State University of New York at Albany." 
  9. Strausbaugh, John (September 14, 2007), "Paths of Resistance in the East Village", New York Times,, retrieved December 29, 2007, "On June 15, 1904, about 1,200 people from St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church (323 Sixth Street, between First and Second Avenues, the site of the Community Synagogue since 1940) died when the steamship the General Slocum, taking them on a day trip up the East River, burned. It was the deadliest disaster in the city before Sept. 11, 2001. It traumatized the community and hastened residents’ flight to uptown areas like Yorkville." 

External links

Coordinates: 40°43′34″N 73°58′53″W / 40.72611°N 73.98139°W / 40.72611; -73.98139de:Kleindeutschland (New York City) fr:Little Germany nl:Little Germany sk:Little Germany

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