Louisiana’s German citizens constitute, at the same time, one of the oldest and one of the newest populations in the state. The earliest recorded German immigrants to Louisiana arrived in 1722 and Germans continue to arrive, especially in the New Orleans area, every year. While the bulk of scholarly and popular attention has been given to French, Spanish, and African-derived culture and contributions, and more recent studies have included less sizeable cultural groups, the fact that residents of German descent actually comprise Louisiana’s largest cultural group is often overlooked, and it has only been in the last decade that scholarly forays have been made into this history. According to Reverend Heinz Neumann, who maintains the Deutsche Seemannsmission in New Orleans, “the two world wars contributed to the muting of this culture in Louisiana and America, so that many people are not aware of the German traditions here and the contributions Germans continue to make in Louisiana.”
According to Wayne Schexnayder of Kenner,"[My family is from] Hahnville in St. Charles Parish; it’s part of “Cote des Allemandes.” My family has been here since the early 1700s. They were German farmers that were brought here by the French to farm, to start a new colony... My family also told me that the German Coast farmers kept New Orleans from starving during one emergency period because they provided fresh produce and the milk and cheeses and that type of thing."
Food and HolidaysEdit
Many Germans who were interviewed for this project report that the first question a German will ask, when exploring a new place, is, “Where can one find good bread?” They point out that New Orleans’ famed French bread is misleadingly named because the majority of “French bread” bakers in the city have been either Italian or German; often they presided over small corner markets, some of which grew into giant enterprises such as the Schweggmann’s supermarkets. Names like Leidenheimer, Reising, Binder, and Haydel continue to dominate New Orleans baking. Smaller boutique bakeries continue to be owned and operated by bakers of German heritage, sometimes under French names.
The connection between German baking and local heritage is made humorously, unambiguously clear by artist Bunny Matthews’ decorations on the Leidenheimer’s bakery trucks, on which locally-beloved cartoon characters Vic and Nat’ly proclaim, ““Sink ya teeth into a piece a New Orleans cultcha, a Leidenheimer po-boy!” The sister and brother team of Katherine and Robert “Sandy” Whann, the fourth generation of the Leidenheimer family to operate the bakery, plan to organize a Po-Boy Preservation Society to encourage the use of locally-made bread in commercial po-boys.
German families in Louisiana celebrate many holidays with traditional German food and decoration, but the one that garners the most interest is probably Oktoberfest. The German-American Cultural Center sponsors a “German village” at the October Gretna Heritage Festival, and the Deutsches Haus’s Oktoberfest lasts five weekends. The event primarily features a Biergarten where members and visitors can sing together and enjoy food and drinks, keeping the spirit of both Germany and Louisiana alive and well.