In the Archives: “United States” Spoken Here

Waffenstillstand auch mal zu Hause

Editor’s note: Many who live in the U.S. are distrustful of other citizens because they speak a different language, dress in a markedly different way, or have other attributes that cause them to be perceived as “not from here.” One such group is Muslims. And anti-Muslim rhetoric reached a point recently that prompted the Ann Arbor city council to pass a resoluton calling for tolerance. In 2010 it may be anti-Muslim talk that predominates among the range of “anti” rhetoric. But around 90 years ago, it was anti-German.

“It must have dawned upon any impartial observer that German is a mighty unpopular language in this country just at present and getting no better fast,” read the June 13, 1918 Ypsilanti Record.

Fritz Metzger's restaurant at 32 North Huron in Ypsilanti (near the center of this photo) was across the street from Shaefer Hardware and the Great A&P Tea Company.

The article described a Ypsilanti-area farmer who stopped in at a downtown Ann Arbor restaurant and overheard two other customers conversing in German.

“He arose and went over to the men and suggested that they make their remarks in plain United States,” continued the article. An ensuing argument turned into a fistfight in the restaurant, and police were called. “When the officer arrived, the farmer walked up to them and said, ‘I guess I’m the man you want,’ and proceeded to explain the circumstances. Whereupon the officers decided that they were not looking for anyone and left.”

Anti-German sentiment during World War I was widespread. A month earlier, Ypsilanti High School dropped German from its course offerings. “At a meeting of the Ypsilanti school board last week,” read a May 16, 1918 Ypsilanti Record article, “it was voted to get in line and accordingly the study of the German language will no longer be a part of the high school curriculum … In a short time, any messages which our German friends [many of whom were American citizens] wish to convey to Americans must be in English, and some things will sound very differently when clothed in plain United States.”

YHS was not the only school to react to the war. The University of Michigan ejected six professors from its German department for suspected disloyalty in 1917 and 1918. One of them was Carl Eggert, who was charged with being pro-German. Another was Ewald Boucke, who asked for a wartime leave of absence from the school and was refused reinstatement.

Community prejudice could even turn deadly. Neighbors of Sharon township farmer Omar Klink accused him of having said that he “hoped to live long enough to see the Kaiser running the United States,” according to the September 5, 1918 Ypsilanti Record. The article reported that Klink accused one of his neighbors of reporting him to authorities, but the neighbor denied it. Klink then allegedly fetched a rifle and shot the neighbor, hitting his car, and pursued him and shot again. While the neighbor drove to Ann Arbor to file a warrant, a report came in that Klink had shot himself.

Two months later, at 11 o’clock on November 11, 1918, Germany signed peace treaties with the Allies, a day subsequently observed as Armistice Day.

Hyperinflation in the postwar Weimar Republic was one factor that drove many Germans to emigrate to America. “The grass was greener [in America],” said 89-year-old German-born Ann Arbor resident Reinhard Wittke in a recent conversation. As a boy, he emigrated with his family in 1926 and became a UM freshman in 1939. “I had ten dollars in my pocket for room and board, and money for tuition, but that was all,” he laughs. Wittke got a job washing pots and pans in the German Inn on Huron Street, then run by Fritz Metzger, the brother of Wilhelm Metzger who founded Metzger’s restaurant in 1928.

“[Fritz] was a tremendous person,” recalls Reinhard. “He was very kindly. He had a great sense of humor,” a sentiment echoed by Wilhelm’s son Walter, who added, “He enjoyed a glass of beer; he was a happy-go-lucky guy.”

Fritz took Reinhard fishing on Island Lake and Dead Lake or on the Huron River. On one trip, the two were fishing from a bridge. It was the day before bass season. Fritz pulled up a prime bass just as a little boy wandered onto the bridge. “The boy said, ‘Gee, that’s a nice bass!’” recalls Reinhard. “Fritz said, ‘No, no, it’s a bluegill!’ And they went back and forth for some time.”

Fritz emigrated from his Bavarian hometown of Wilhelmsdorf in the mid-twenties, following his brother Wilhelm. After a few years working as a baker in Ann Arbor, a craft learned at his father Johannes’s bakery in Germany, Fritz launched the German-American Kitchen at 32 North Huron Street in Ypsilanti.

It opened two weeks before the stock market crash.

Fritz kept his restaurant open as the Depression began. He and his wife Bertha, his German-born daughter Berthilda, and his Michigan-born son Werner lived in an apartment over the restaurant. In 1936 the restaurant moved around the corner to 115 West Michigan Avenue, but trade in the small city was poor. Several establishments around the restaurant went out of business.

In 1938, Fritz and his family moved to Ann Arbor and bought a coney island restaurant at 117 W. Huron across from the onetime bus station. He renamed it the German Inn. Business improved among Ann Arbor’s large West Side German population. Eight years later, Fritz purchased the Old German restaurant on Washington from Gottlob Schumacher. Reinhard recalls, “[Fritz] loved to play cards in the Old German after closing, on Wednesday nights.” While working for Fritz, Reinhard met Fritz’s daughter Bert and married her some years later. To date, the Ann Arbor couple has been married for 63 years.

Fritz died in 1954 and was buried in Arborcrest Memorial Park. His son Werner (“Bud”), ran the Old German until its close in 1995, when the building was purchased by the Grizzly Peak Brewing Company.

Reinhard remembers Fritz as “a very modest person.” So modest that in all the years of working and fishing together, Fritz never mentioned the honor that the City of Ypsilanti had given him in 1933. That year, Fritz and another former soldier in the German Army, John Wrosch, were the guests of honor at an Armistice Day ceremony at Ypsilanti High School.

“Armistice Day with its connotations was brought vividly home to Ypsilanti High School pupils in their assembly Friday afternoon,” begins a November 11, 1933 Ypsilanti Daily Press story. “Fred A Battelle, district commander of the American Legion in a brief talk spoke of the values of citizenship . . . [h]e also mentioned the mingled feeling of joy and relief that Nov. 11, Armistice Day, signifies. He then introduced John Wrosch and Fritz Metzger, former members of the German army who today are American citizens and making their home here.”

The Press wrote that Wrosch spoke of his time in service as something that “could not be described but could only be realized through experience.” He had joined the German army in 1914. He was wounded, captured, and spent 18 months incarcerated in a French prison, “the last seven months of which he was unable to shave or wash.”

Fritz then spoke to the students. He also had enlisted in the German army in 1914, at age 20. He had manned a small field weapon. “He stated he had fought English, French, and soldiers of other nationalities but had never opposed any American troops. He described himself as being lucky in that he had not been wounded and was the only one out of his group to be so fortunate.” Fritz was in Belgium when the war ended.

“Both former soldiers expressed an aversion to war.”

Mr. Batelle gave closing remarks to the students on citizenship, urging them to “exercise the privileges and duties of good citizens, thereby preventing another war caused by the selfishness of the few.” The school band performed “Over There.”

Last, three students played “Taps.”

With the advent of World War II, local anti-German sentiment rose again. It eventually forced Wilhelm Metzger, despite his numerous supporters in the community, to publish a letter defending his patriotism in the local newspaper.

But for a little while, one Armistice Day in the Depression, the gathering of schoolchildren applauded the two onetime soldiers of an enemy army who had made a life in, and contributed to, their adopted home.

Thanks to John and Walter Metzger and Reinhard Wittke.


Clifford Wilcox, “World War I and the Attack on Professors of German at the University of Michigan,” Education Quarterly, 33 (1993): 59.

Howard Peckham, “The Making of the University of Michigan,” Ann Arbor, Bentley Library, 1967, 145-146.

Mystery Artifact

The answer to last column’s Mystery Artifact and the new one may be viewed in this video. Take your best guess below in the Chronicle’s (not Youtube’s) comments!

Section: Neighborhoods, Opinion

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  1. November 18, 2010 at 3:08 pm | permalink

    My Grandmother immigrated to Adrian during hyperinflation in post WW1 Germany, she was “sponsored” by her Aunt. I asked her about WW2, being an American citizen with a German heritage and accent was like, she smiled and said , “I found out who her real friends were”. Thanks for the article and reminder of “the more things change the more they stay the same”.

  2. By Laura Bien
    November 18, 2010 at 3:21 pm | permalink

    Mark: Wow, it sounds like your grandmother has a lot of stories behind that comment. Have you asked her if she’s willing to tape record them with you? Or participate in some sort of StoryCorps project? Thank you for your nice comment.

  3. November 18, 2010 at 3:55 pm | permalink

    Thanks for this sad and moving article. As the editors note, it’s a piece of history all too relevant at a time when hatred and xenophobia still run rampant.

    I think I remember reading that the pronuncation of “Bach” school got “de-Germanized” (to the present sheep-like sound) sometime during World War One. Is this correct?

  4. By Laura Bien
    November 18, 2010 at 4:04 pm | permalink

    Joel: Thank you for your kind comment. I love finding genuine upbeat feel-good stories when I can, and it’s always a sort of risk to publish less-rosy stories, but this story is no less true.

    Funny you ask; I have often wondered about the local pronunciation of “Bach.” As the daughter of a Dutch mom, my instinct is to pronounce the “ch” as the guttural Dutch-German sound. I don’t see and have never read of any reason to pronounce it otherwise; this is one of the many old German names of things on the West Side. But maybe I’m missing something.

  5. By Sabra Briere
    November 18, 2010 at 4:20 pm | permalink

    I was told it was the Schwaben pronunciation — as so many of Ann Arbor’s early German settler’s came from that part of (what is now) Germany.

    Hence Schwaben Hall, on Ashley, above Vie Fit.

  6. By Laura Bien
    November 18, 2010 at 4:52 pm | permalink

    Sabra: Hm, that is an interesting point. Did a bit of digging around but only came up with this: [link] …which doesn’t answer the question of whether the local pronunciation of “Bach” is due to a Schwaben pronunciation. Hmm, wonder if there’s a German linguist who can weigh in…

  7. By Lisa Lemble
    November 18, 2010 at 7:35 pm | permalink

    Nov 18th Mystery Artifact is a double cherry pitter. Makes me wonder, why not triple? Or quadruple?

  8. By Laura Bien
    November 18, 2010 at 8:04 pm | permalink

    Lisa: A cherry pitter? Hmm, interesting guess! We shall see.

  9. November 19, 2010 at 9:36 am | permalink

    I started kindergarten at Bach in 1959 and it’s been pronounced that way as long as I remember. But at that time Koch Street was pronounced the way it’s spelled, at least by the people I knew, whereas today it’s “Cook.” And Wurster Park was known as the Indian Trails.

  10. By Laura Bien
    November 19, 2010 at 9:45 am | permalink

    Jim: Hmm, interesting information. Hadn’t known about “Indian Trails” I must say–good to know; thank you!

  11. November 19, 2010 at 10:39 am | permalink

    Yeah, that looks like a device for pitting fruit, and from the size, cherries make the most sense.

  12. By Laura Bien
    November 19, 2010 at 11:12 am | permalink

    Seemingly random fact: I was reading an old grocer’s ad in an old newspaper the other day that highlighted Thanksgiving items. One of them was “Queen Olives in Bulk,” and I wondered who in the world would need bulk quantities of giant olives, of all things.

  13. By Rod Johnson
    November 19, 2010 at 4:03 pm | permalink

    What does “the way it’s spelled” mean with Koch? Rhymes with “botch”? With “broke”?

  14. By Laura Bien
    November 19, 2010 at 5:38 pm | permalink

    Hmm, this German pronunciation site says it ends with that soft “g” sound: [link]

    but this one says it’s “koak”: [link]

    Which is not too helpful, sorry.

  15. November 19, 2010 at 6:30 pm | permalink

    Re: [13] … what it would mean to pronounce “Koch” like it’s spelled.

    I take Jim Rees’s description just to mean that at least some final consonant got pronounced, whether [k] or [ch]. In German, the latter is not the same as the beginning of English “chin” but rather resembles what you’d get by very mildly hockering [as in "hockering up a loogie"]. It’s known as an ach-Laut [ach-sound] for Germanic linguists. It’s similar to the ich-Laut — ich-Laut is palatal compared to the velar ach-Laut.

    Regarding the absence of expected final [ch] in the local pronunciation of “Bach,” my recollection from my now ancient schooling in the history of German language is that one hallmark of Allemanisch, which includes Schwabisch, is the lack of the usual allophonic alternation between ich-Laut and ach-Laut, which is a pattern typical of standard German. In standard German you always get ich-Laut after front vowels and ach-Laut after back vowels — it’s a parade example of assimilation that can be analyzed by some sort of phonological rule instead of needing to assume that speakers really have two separate sounds in their inventory of possible noises with which to communicate.

    But in Allemanisch it’s ach-Laut everywhere, even after front vowels. So even for Schwabisch, I’d expect the ach-Laut still to be there. But the disappearance of that sound from the end — either historically within Allemanisch, or as heard by English-speaking Ann Arborites — is reasonable to expect: The ach-Laut is different from the preceding vowel only in the amount of friction used to make the sound. So there’s a plausible story to tell about why some speakers were going around saying [bach] and other people were hearing just [ba].

    It’s very likely the same phonological process that, if he’d lived even longer, would have given us Bo Sembeler from Boch Schembechler.

    Yes, well, that was a very long walk around the blo.

  16. November 20, 2010 at 1:32 pm | permalink

    Koch rhymed with “botch.” Unfortunately I don’t remember how the Germans pronounced it, just how we pronounced it as kids. I do remember the Germans on the Old West Side speaking with a softer “ch,” closer to “chin” than the “hockering” you describe.

    I’m curious to know why we called Wurster the “Indian Trails,” and whether that name had been in use in previous generations or if it’s just something we made up.

  17. By Rod Johnson
    November 20, 2010 at 1:38 pm | permalink

    My point, which you’ve amply illustrated, was that pronouncing something “how it’s spelled” is not as straightforward as it seems, since the same spelling can represent lot of different things depending on who’s looking at it.

    I believe you’re right, by the way, that the allophonic variation after front and back vowels (ichlaut, [ç] vs. achlaut, [x]) has been neutralized to [x] in several Southern dialects, including Alemannisch. German dialectology, particularly along the Rhine, is crazy complicated, but I don’t believe there’s any variety in which the final [x] ever disappears, though. So the Swabian hypothesis doesn’t really stand up–Swabian has weird vowels and some non-standard vocabulary, but it does have that final [x].

  18. By Rod Johnson
    November 20, 2010 at 1:39 pm | permalink

    Oops, Jim, you snuck in there between me and Dave, who my #17 was responding to.

  19. By Eric Wucherer
    November 23, 2010 at 4:16 pm | permalink

    I’m not too familiar with detailed differences between German dialects, but for what it’s worth the “High German” pronunciation of “Koch” matches the first link Laura posted in #14.

    Also, I was taught in high school that Liberty Street used to be called “Freiheitstrasse” (meaning “Liberty Street”) prior to WWII (I think, maybe WWI), though I never looked it up myself…