SAGA South Australian German Association (SAADV)

The South Australian German Association (German Club) was established in 1886, with an aim to promote, encourage and foster German language, culture, habits and social life in Australia.

The club is open to everyone. You are encouraged to come and join us and enjoy the friendly German atmosphere, the Gemutlichkeit, which has been for so long in South Australian tradition. A range of all your favourite German beers are available at the bar and the separate bistro and dining areas offer a tantalising range of delicious German meals at very reasonable rates. The club is famous for the Oktober and Schützenfests. Twenty groups within the club cater for a wide range of interests. Check them out and enquire about joining. A wide range of rooms and halls are available for hire.

SAADV history

Written by Dr. Ian Harmstorf

The South Australian German Association was founded in March 1886. A short notice appeared in the Adelaide German language newspaper, the Australische Zeitung, on Wednesday, 3rd March 1886, announcing that a new German Association had been formed in the National Hotel the previous Tuesday. Further information was not available at the time of writing, it said.

Two editions later, on 10th March 1886, a letter appeared with the details of the meeting. Here it stated that as a result of pressure from all sides, Messrs. H. Hanold, F. Trost and H. Holtz had called a meeting on the 22nd February in order to explore the possibilities of forming an association to maintain, nurture, and enjoy German social life. The meeting was held in the presence of 70 men. The three above-mentioned were to form an initial committee until a constitution was drawn up and the members were able to elect their own.

It was proposed to form a large association that encompassed all those Germans who found the cost of the already existing German Club too expensive and who also wished to meet in a more intimate and friendly German atmosphere. The meeting on the 22nd February decided to include initially under the umbrella of the new association the Progress Association, the Low German [Language] Association, the Adelaide Quartet Association, and the Adelaide Singing Circle. It was thought at the meeting that the advantages of the new association spoke for themselves. The small associations suffered many difficulties, primarily having not enough people or money. It was thought a uniting of the smaller associations would overcome these problems and at the same time provide a more pleasant social atmosphere due to the greater numbers involved.

It was decided to call a further meeting on the Tuesday of the next week, the second of March, to elect a steering committee to work towards the formation of a General German Association. At this meeting H. Hanold was elected President, H. Schultz (Vice-President), 0. Krosse (Secretary) and 0. Tannert (Treasurer). The Association was to be incorporated and the constitution was to be published in both English and German.

Under the heading “The General German Society of South Australia” the aims were outlined: (1) To disseminate and promote science and German literature. (2) Universal fair and open discussion on all subjects. (3) Promotion of reforms that will in any way tend to increase the happiness and welfare of the human family. In the nineteenth century science was thought to be the means by which at least material perfection on earth could be brought about, and arguably the best science in the world at that time was German. But this was balanced by a view that science alone was not responsible for the happiness of people and so German literature was also included. Point (2) of the aims was clearly directed at the German Club because those who founded the Association thought the very conservative Club was against the interests of the working man. Point (3), although seemingly universal in its intent, also suggests that reform was not high on the agenda of the German Club, particularly reforms aimed at helping the happiness and welfare of the ordinary working man.

The four clubs that came together had to have their own meetings and constitutional changes to enable them to create the new German Association. The new association was finally incorporated on the 9th December 1886.

It is clear from contemporary reports that there was ill feeling between the so-called “upper class” Germans and the middle and working classes. Kiliani, the Imperial German Consul General in Sydney, writing a few years later said that the upper class Germans in Adelaide had become very select and refused to even acknowledge the existence of Germans on the social ladder beneath them. Thus the need for a “more intimate and friendly German atmosphere” takes on a new meaning. The cost of membership at the German Club was three shillings and sixpence per month (approximately 35 cents), at the German Association it was one shilling (approximately 10 cents). [A labourer earned two pounds two shilling per week, four dollars and twenty cents] Written into the Constitution of the Association was a paragraph stating that in English the German word “Verein” would always be translated as “Association”. As “Verein” is quite often translated as “Club” the founding fathers of the Association wished to ensure that there was to be no confusion in the English speaking world between their Association and the German Club. The owner of the only South Australian secular German newspaper, M. P. F. Basedow, was also a member of the German Club and, in the eyes of the Association, gave the Association a bad press. For example on one occasion, because a small group had sung the “Marseillaise” the Association was accused by his paper of being taken over by Communists.

In September 1897 the Secretary of the Association, Carl Wiese, wrote to the Australische Zeitung, complaining that events at the Association should be reported in the newspaper with a more friendly spirit and also free of errors. He invited the editor to visit the Association. The editor replied in the next edition that he was unable to accept the invitation. Sniping between the two went on until the sale of the German Club premises in 1898. The exclusiveness of the German Club had restricted its members to such a degree that it finally was unable to afford its large club rooms in Pirie Street, and these were sold to pay its debts. By 1907 the German Club could not even afford to rent rooms and nothing more was heard of it. The middle class Germans, many of whom had arrived as a result of the turbulent 1840s in Germany had either died or been absorbed, like their children, into the main stream of South Australian life. Many had joined the Adelaide Club as they had increasingly aligned themselves with the British community.

Meanwhile the German Association continued to flourish. The umbrella nature of the Association meant that small groups with special interests could join, gaining the benefits of the Association while not losing their individuality. Due to the bias of the Australische Zeitung against the Association little of its general activities appeared in the German newspaper while events at the German Club were always extensively reported. However after the demise of the Club the Association became the most important secular base for Germans in Adelaide and it received more publicity.

The Lutheran Church, of course, had always provided a home for Germans and their descendants particularly in country areas, since the very early days of the colony. The British Colony of South Australia had been founded in 1836 and the first large group of Germans had arrived within two years.

These Germans were Lutherans from Prussia who were fleeing from religious persecution in their homeland. Under the leadership of Pastor August Kavel and sponsored by a founding father of South Australia, George Fife Angas, they made their way to the new colony. Most of the early Lutherans settled in the country districts of South Australia where their lives revolved around the Church. Although the persecution ceased in 1840 with the death of Friedrich Wilhelm III, the same type of migrants continued to come to South Australia for many years. The composition only changed in the late 1870s when many people, mostly artisans from the larger cities of Germany, began to arrive and settle in Adelaide. It was this new type of migrant that was to form the nucleus of the German Association.

In its early years the Association rented the Central Hall in Grenfell Street, Adelaide, yet despite this the Association continued to grow as various new groups formed under its umbrella. Unfortunately, two world wars have played havoc with the Association’s records. Most were taken by the government and never returned, others were hidden and as a result accidentally lost or destroyed. Others again were destroyed by Association members who realised that in the irrational jingoistic patriotism of the times even innocent documents would be looked upon with grave suspicion. Quite sensibly, they considered the only way for the safety of themselves and their children was to burn the records. As a result some individual groups within the Association have a better knowledge of their past history than the Association itself for their records have been handed down in carefully preserved and secreted documents or, in some cases, passed on by word of mouth. In a few cases old advertisements and photographs have survived among personal papers. Thus we know that, prior to 1914 and the outbreak of the First World War, the Association was able to stage a full-scale production of Schiller’s “The Robbers”.

Many of the groups still existing within the Association today have been active practically since its foundation. The first German Shooting Society recorded in South Australia was founded in Adelaide in January 1861 and a photograph taken of this group soon afterwards still exists. Schützenfeste were also held regularly in Hahndorf, Lobethal and the Barossa Valley, while Adelaide held its first public Schützenfest, organised by the German Club in 1865 at St. Peters, at which over 5,000 people attended – a very large crowd considering the population of the city was then only 27,000.

In 1889 members of the Association formed their own Shooting Society and held their first King’s Shoot. The Australische Zeitung on 8th January l890 recorded the details of this Schützenfest which was held near Walkerville on 30th December 1889. It appears that it was a very hot day, and it was either this, the dust or the great thirst that seemed to have affected all present, and resulted in the accuracy of the shooting being somewhat below the standard set by other shooting societies in South Australia.

In the same newspaper we read that Christmas was celebrated as usual in a hotel used by members as a regular place where they quenched their thirst. Christmas was held with all the old German customs. It was a family affair with children everywhere. The evening finished with a Ball, and it was reported that those present departed knowing that they had experienced a real German atmosphere.

In 1911 the Association celebrated its 25th Anniversary. The festivities were reported in full in the Adelaide Advertiser of 4th March 1911. Under the title of “Deutscher Verein, Jubilee Celebrations” the newspaper wrote:

“The South Australian Allgemeiner Deutscher Verein [General German Association] is celebrating the silver jubilee of its formation. The festival, which is to extend over three nights, began with a smoke social in the Central Hall on Friday evening when the President (Mr. H. Vetter) presided over a good attendance. He was supported by his Excellency the Governor, the Mayor of Adelaide (Mr. L. Cohen) and the German Consul, Hon. H. C. F. Muecke. The whole proceedings were marked by wonderful enthusiasm. The toast of ‘the King, the Emperor and the Founders of the Club’ was drunk heartily. Mr. B. Memmler (last year’s President) briefly ran over the history of the club. It had been in existence for 25 years, he said, having been formed in 1886 as an amalgamation of four weaker clubs which had existed before. From a small beginning the club had worked up until it now had a membership of six hundred and he hoped it would continue to progress.” (Applause)

“Mr. H. Franke, the first President of the club, congratulated the members on the splendid strides the club had made, and especially on the acquisition of such a fine billiard room and library as they now possessed.”

“His Excellency [the Governor] was received with rousing cheers, and expressed his cordial sympathy with the German colonists who had become such valuable citizens of the Commonwealth and States of Australia. The German colonists had won the respect and esteem of other citizens of the Commonwealth, he said, by the qualities of energy and perseverance that had ever distinguished them in Australia. Through hard times and in prosperity they had done their part well in advancing the development of the country wherever they were situated. In this State they especially owed to the German colonists a tribute of admiration for the fortitude and determination with which they embarked on the conversion of the desert country into fruitful vineyards and garden districts, at a time when the people of Great Britain had almost lost faith in the future of South Australia.” (Hear, hear!) “South Australians generally did not wish to obliterate the German citizenship of the colonists from the Fatherland. They wished rather to incorporate it as a quality of the highest value in the formation of an Australian nationality.” (Hear, hear!) “He wished the club every success and prosperity.”

“The Consul [the Honorary German Consul for South Australia] pointed out that one of the first objects of the club was to promote and foster the national German feeling amongst those German colonists who had come to South Australia, and he urged the gathering never to forget their nationality. ‘Let them never forget their native language, but speak it among themselves and transmit it to their children,’ he said. Every German who came to Australia enjoyed the same freedom of action and thought as his English neighbours, and though they might retain their German nationality they were good citizens and most loyal subjects of King George.” (Applause) “The inborn love of the Fatherland especially adapted Germans to be good colonists and loyal citizens of their adopted country, and they all looked upon Australia as a new Fatherland and the new home they all loved.” (Applause).

“Mr. Cohen [the Lord Mayor of Adelaide] remarked that his great-grandparents came from Germany, and though he could not follow all the speakers he felt at home among them. He congratulated the club on its past record and wished the members every success in the future.”

The confusion so graphically illustrated in these speeches by both British and German-Australian speakers as to what was German or Australian nationality or citizenship clearly indicates the sea of troubles into which Australian-Germans were heading when the First World War was to break out three years later. While it is obvious that all thought of themselves as subjects of Britain and the King of England, and therefore politically loyal, the Germans’ cultural loyalties to the old homeland were to leave them open to the charge that they were not “totally” loyal to Britain. Given the intense feelings during the war, this led them to be accused of being disloyal to Britain and the Empire when all they were trying to do was to keep alive their traditional language and culture. To the Germans the attack on them was all the more confusing as they had previously been praised in the highest official circles for their contribution to South Australia, and congratulated on keeping alive their language and culture.

The “Cyclopedia of South Australia”, published in Adelaide in 1897, said “a strong infusion of the Teutonic element has hence invaded every department of public life. Germans have taken high positions in the learned professions, industrial and commercial enterprises, and also in the political world.”

As a result of their wartime experiences a great many people of German descent had a strong feeling of injustice and betrayal to the end of their days. This period was perhaps one of the saddest in the history of the Germans in South Australia for, despite the accusations levelled at them, many died fighting for their new homeland in both world wars.

In 1913 the Association after having rooms in Gay’s Arcade and Grenfell St., finally acquired a house on which the present building was erected, at 223 Flinders Street, Adelaide.

In 1914 came the First World War, and the Association went into recess. As a result the membership dropped dramatically.

In South Australia German was no longer taught in the schools and if the German language or customs were kept up in the home and this was discovered, enormous suspicion fell on the family concerned. The children were subject to ridicule in the schools during those sad times. Many people of German descent in the period 1914—1918 anglicised their names, often by translation, but usually by changing the spelling to a more English form. Some Lutherans also decided life was easier among the ranks of the Methodists or Church of England. This attitude of distrust for things German existed for quite a few years after both wars. The difference between cultural loyalties and political loyalties was rarely understood. It was commonly thought that if one tried to keep up German cultural traditions then this indicated political sympathies. Added to this were groups within the South Australian society who always saw the Germans as a threat to the ‘British way or Life’. Others were frightened that the Germans were going to set up an ‘imperium in imperio’ a [German] state within a [South Australian] state. The moral courage and strength of character of the men and women who were prepared to openly support their German heritage in these conditions cannot be overestimated and deserves the highest commendation.

On 10th January 1918, 69 German place names in South Australia were listed in the Government Gazette. All had been changed to British, Aboriginal or the names of famous battles in World War I. The Association became, therefore, the only secular link with the original German pioneers of the colony. Germans and their descendants constituted almost 10 percent of the population of South Australia until the outbreak of the First World War. The settlers of German descent who lived on the land had an attitude that one must work the soil rather than indulge in land speculation. They had done much to lay the foundation for the State’s prosperity. All this was to be forgotten. The Lutheran Church, although also hard pressed, continued to fight for its faith, but the burden of continuing the secular traditions of Germany lay squarely on the shoulders of the Association. It did not fail in its task and by 1920 – two years after the conclusion of the war – activities were again started, the buildings renovated and the hall enlarged.

By 1936 the Association had again 200 members and celebrated its 50th anniversary with a social evening and concert in the club rooms. In the same year the Association elected its first Australian born president, G. B. Otto. The longest serving president between the wars was Adam Pfeiffer. Also in 1936 South Australia celebrated the centenary of its foundation as a white settlement. The Government, in honour of the contribution the German settlers had made to the State of South Australia, restored the names of Klemzig, Lobethal and Hahndorf. Members of the Association were active in the negotiations that led to these changes, and were supported by members of the German Historical Society and the Lutheran Church.

In 1939, having just recovered from the disasters of the First World War, the Association was struck by World War II. Again all activities of the Association stopped and the building was taken over by the Red Cross although Joseph Zoeckel was allowed to stay as housekeeper.

In 1947, again two years after the cessation of hostilities, the first members’ meeting was held. The people who brought the Association back to life in 1947, like those in 1920, deserve special praise. Erich Molkenthien, having been interned during the war for apparently no other reason than being active in the German community and having German citizenship, returned to become the first long-term serving President after the war. He also initiated the German Saturday School and helped revive the “Adelaider Liedertafel” which had also gone into recess during the war years. Mr. Molkenthien had the honour of being President of the “Adelaider Liedertafel” in its centenary year. The “Adelaider Liedertafel 1858” became affiliated with the Association in 1956.

The work of Mr. Diestel-Feddersen also deserves special mention. President of the Association from 1967 to 1976, he guided the rapid expansion of the Association in such a way that at no time did it lose its feeling as a family club. The German Association from its beginning had always an intimate feeling, a feeling of “Gemütlichkeit” – well being – for the whole family and, despite many pressures, Mr. Diestel-Feddersen was able to carry forward and strengthen this tradition.

It says much for the continuity of the German tradition and culture in South Australia that those who arrived after 1945 were able to come into the Association and find there a home from home, building the Association up to a strength and influence in the community it had never known before.

By 1956 membership had again risen to 500 from some 170 at the start of the decade. Some groups, such as the Skat Group (Card Players), which were in existence even before the foundation of the Association, continued. However, trends and hobbies change and while a centre core of the Groups has always remained stable, other groups have changed with the times to meet the needs of old and new members alike. In this year, too, two large German clubs joined the Association, the club “Gute Freunde” (under the then President G. Petersen) and the Concordia Football Club. The Association became the centre of virtually all organised German social and cultural activities in Adelaide. An Oktoberfest (or Winzerfest) was also begun and women were admitted as full members of the Association.

In 1961 the Association celebrated its 75th anniversary in the Norwood Town Hall. Festivities continued for five days, culminating in a Jubilee Ball in the Centennial Hall and a finale in the club rooms.

In 1963 the new hall, planned since 1961 and necessary because of the increase in membership, was opened. Much of the work had been done with voluntary labour. A Kegelbahn (Bowling Alley) had also been built on the ground floor, but it was later dismantled. Membership continued to grow and by this time included a number of English speaking people as well as people from other immigrant communities.

In 1964 the Association returned to the tradition of the Schützenfest. Even before World War I Hahndorf had always been the favourite place for picnics, often taking place in conjunction with the Hahndorf Liederkranz – singing circle. Between the wars the Association’s annual picnic had always been held there in conjunction with a shoot. After an initial trial at the Gorge, organised largely by the “Bund der Bayern” (Bavarian Dancers), and then under the guiding hand of Ernie Salomon, the Association decided to run a full scale Schützenfest at Hahndorf for the whole South Australian community. The Schützenfest became a South Australian tradition, enjoyed by the whole community sharing in the merriment and happy relaxing German atmosphere. Since 1972 it has begun with a procession through the streets of Adelaide, reviving a tradition first recorded in the city in 1858. Today the organisation of the Schützenfest is still one of the major activities undertaken by the Association although in 1994 the venue was successfully changed from Hahndorf to the West Parklands.

In 1970 membership had grown to almost one thousand, and special emphasis was being placed on groups that catered for the young, such as the Bavarian Dancing Group, German Folkdance Circle, Tennis and Football Groups.

By 1973 the number of groups stood at 18, and the hall was again too small. Plans were drawn up to remove the front of the old building and replace it with a three-story structure with a basement. The “Richtfest” – Topping Out – was held in Picture: Zoom inOctober of the same year.

In 1974 the new building was opened by the German Ambassador. Membership had climbed to 1700 and the Schützenfest was attracting thousands of visitors in a day of unrelieved festivities at Hahndorf. Australia was beginning to adopt a policy of multiculturalism, and the German Association, representing the oldest non-English speaking ethnic community in South Australia and being itself one of the oldest such clubs in Australia – was in an excellent position to bring the traditions and culture of a country outside the United Kingdom and make them part of an Australian tradition.

During this period and in the ensuing years the work of Fred and Ilse Lorenz must be mentioned. Fred as a long serving president and Ilse as the founder and leader of the ‘Geselligkeitsgruppe – The Social Group’. This group under her leadership was responsible for raising most of the money which furbished the interior of the new club rooms and gave them their attractive ‘gemütliche’ atmosphere.

In the 1980s and 1990s the constitution was altered to allow English speaking members to become full members and in what may be seen to be a return to the traditions of the 1890s English is now accepted at meetings of the Association. Dieter Fabig, another long term president, with Fred Lorenz, were instrumental in guiding the club through many changes with an important interlude in the early 1990s where the presidency of Günther Pratz steadied the club financially. Initial entrepreneurial steps were taken to have 223 Flinders Street used by outside bodies to help the financial situation. In 1993 in response to a critical financial situation in the Club a group known as the Corporate Members was founded within the club by Mr Fred Möller. This group not only brought funds to the club but financial expertise to the management. Unfortunately it ceased to exist in the early part of this present millennium.

In 1986 the Association celebrated one hundred years and looked back with pride on its achievements. The loyalty to its traditions by the membership had enabled the Association to survive times that have destroyed lesser institutions.

In hindsight it is possible to see the years surrounding the centenary as halcyon days. The Association had 24 groups, had paid off its premises and had a membership of almost two thousand. Today migration from Germany has dwindled to practically a trickle, effectively drying up the main source of new membership. However a 2001 change to the constitution has opened up the club to a wider range of membership while changes to South Australian law have meant that the club is open to anyone who wishes to enjoy its facilities. The club has responded positively to these challenges and membership which had been falling for many years has again begun to rise. In 1998 Brigitte Kloss was elected the first female president of the club. She introduced new accounting procedures. As a result the club was again put on a sound financial footing. In 2001 she was succeeded by Elke Pfau, a long term chairman of the Schützenfest Committee. In 2005 Dr Ian Harmstorf took the reigns with a largely new committee. Renting of the rooms increased and the result of this was the upgrading of many amenities within the club, although the Schützenfest still remained the financial backbone of the club. The Welfare Centre begun under Elke Pfau greatly expanded due to the ageing profile of the German speaking community in South Australia. While healthy debates about the future of the Association continue, the willingness of the club to respond to new challenges has given members a renewed confidence in the future.

Germans and their descendants have always been an important part of South Australia, both culturally and economically, and the German Association for over 121 years has given guidance, inspiration, comfort and companionship to its members and the German community as well as contributing richly to the cultural diversity of South Australia. Long may this continue.