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Little Germany, Manhattan, 10030



Little Germany, known in German as Kleindeutschland and Deutschlandle and called Dutchtown by contemporary non-Germans, 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. 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, 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. Tompkins Square Park, in what is now known as Alphabet City, was an important public space that the Germans called the Weisse Garten. 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.






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. 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.


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.


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