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Debating the Fate of ‘Little Germany’

Deutsches DispensarySophie Hoeller The Deutsches Dispensary, Third Avenue and St. Marks, an enduring icon of the East Village’s history as “Little Germany.”

Last Friday, at the start of the first weekend of Oktoberfest, we wrote about the East Village’s former notoriety as “Little Germany,” an enclave for German immigrants in the 19th century.

As the celebration of German culture comes to close this weekend, the answer to one question remains elusive: What happened to the German community in the East Village?

Some historians — and at least one reader — link Little Germany’s decline to the General Slocum disaster in 1904, when a chartered cruise boat carrying members of the St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church to a picnic, caught fire in the East River, killing more than 1,000 people, including many inhabitants of Little Germany.

A memorial of the General Slocum disaster can be found in Tompkins Square Park, where a small fountain reminds us of the Germans who lost their lives.

However, author William Grimes said that the decline was due more to the classic immigrant pattern of “succeed and disperse,” in which immigrants prospered and moved out of the immediate neighborhood. Many successful Germans moved to 86th Street, creating Yorkville, another German enclave of which little remains.
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An Oktoberfest Tour of ‘Little Germany’

Schützen GesellschaftSophie Hoeller Signs of the East Village’s former notoriety as Little Germany can still be found in pockets around the community. Here, the former German-American Shooting Hall at 12 St. Marks Place.

Oktoberfest – the 200-year-old homage to German beer – and arguably the most identifiably German thing next to sauerkraut, kicked off this weekend. But you don’t have to cross the Atlantic to partake. In fact, you don’t even have to leave the neighborhood.

Most of us are well aware of the Lower East Side’s Jewish roots, but many don’t know that what is now called the East Village used to be known as “Kleindeutschland,” or Little Germany, home to German grocery stores, restaurants, beer gardens, libraries, theaters, shooting clubs, schools and churches.
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