A history of the German Language School at the Sacramento Turn Verein

Is not a School…it’s Die Schule!

German spoken in early Sacramento–1854

Among the German immigrants in 1854 Sacramento, you certainly wouldn’t have heard “Lernen wir Deutsch!: Let’s learn German!” But you might have heard:  “Lernen wir Englisch!: Let’s Learn English! Since its founding in 1854, the Sacramento Turn Verein offered classes to both adults and children…but mainly in gymnastics and other sports.  The early Sacramento Turners spoke German, but they had to learn English.  They had most likely all completed basic grammar school in German lands, which was then compulsory for everyone, but they weren’t concerned about teaching their children to read and write German!  Nevertheless, all of the STV meetings were conducted in German and the minutes were written in German until WWI, when they changed to English until 1921, and then reverted to German usage until a few days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.  By early 1942, English became the main language of use in the historical record for members of the STV. 

Interestingly, German language instruction continued in most high schools and universities after WWII,  but has waned in the past twenty years.  There may have been attempts to begin German language instruction at the STV during the first decades of the twentieth century, but there is no evidence in the historical record.  And why would you want to learn German??? Why not?? It is a useful European language, with native German speakers comprising the largest language group in Europe; it is a sister language to English; it was especially useful in science and other areas. There are a multitude of reasons to learn German, and…it’s a fun, fascinating language!  (Read Mark Twain’s famous opinion of German as expressed in his book,  A Tramp Abroad (Google “Mark Twain and the German Language”).

Birthing a German Language School

In the late 1970s, three women whose husbands were STV members (membership was not open to women until 2003), Hilde Hilmer, Heidi Neustadt and Susie Pelz, decided to start a German school for children at the STV. They all spoke German with their children at home and wanted them to learn to read and write proper German.  The first pupils were the organizers’ children and other children whose parents spoke German to them. The emphasis was on learning through participation, use of music, dance, games, and basic reading and writing.   The three women planned and instructed the classes, forming various groups.  With Bill Sullivan’s encouragement, the students formed a Kinderchor and performed with the Harmonie at times. The level of noise and activity in the Tavern (now officially the Schule) was chaotic at times.  It seemed to flourish at first, but  the biggest competition began to take a toll on attendance:  soccer. And– the students did not want to do any homework!  After two years, it became apparent that the little school sadly could not survive without more support.

It wasn’t until 1999 that an effective school was founded at the STV by Irmgard Schlenker, wife of STV member Al Schlenker. Irmgard had taught German language and culture through CSUS extension and other avenues.  Her enthusiasm and creativity appealed to both adults and children and she attracted solid attendance at classes. She organized many events around German culture that remained a part of the school after she left–for example the Maifest and the Laternenumzug (Lantern Parade), to mention a few. When she started the school, the German-American Cultural Center–Library was already a reality, and she worked with the Library for support. After Irmgard left, through the efforts of members of the Sacramento Turn Verein, the German Language School (GLS) became an approved STV Section in 2008.

A Flourishing School – Willkommen in die German Language School

The GLS has flourished through the efforts of thousands of volunteer hours by members—who created by-laws, detailed office descriptions, scholarships, fundraising activities, cultural activities, procedures for hiring teachers and directors, for establishing a fair pay scale, for evaluating classes, and accomplished a multitude of other responsibilities that come with establishing and running a school. The Maifest has evolved into a popular event and the proceeds make it possible to offer scholarships to students and high school seniors. The GLS Board approved funds to the enhance the main school classroom, formerly “The Tavern,” now referred to as “Die Schule.” Additionally, teachers benefit from the availability of maintained A-V equipment. In cooperation with other Sections, namely the Harmonie and the Alpentänzer, the children’s classes have performed singing and dancing at the Christkindlmarkt, the Maifest and even the Bezirksfest.  The GLS also works with GACC– Library in several ways, and has established its own children’s lending library, much to the delight of all.

What does the Schule actually offer the to prospective students? A glance at our current schedule, you’ll find the opportunity for both children and adults to delve into the language and culture at all levels in four eight-week sessions, beginning in August and running though May, plus one four-week session in June. Each session requires online registration. Additionally, often cultural classes, such as German Cooking, Traveling in Germany, German Genealogy, or Holiday Traditions are offered.  The teachers are all native speakers and have educational degrees. Our teachers are remarkable and adapt to students’ need . For example, faced with the issues of Covid,  the teachers and director were astoundingly adaptable, ably switching from physical to virtual teaching for both the adult and children’s classes.                                                                                                                                   

The German Language School is proud to continue the teaching of this wonderfully fascinating language and its culture, present in American since the 1700s.