Thursday, September 10, 2015

Freiburg's Amerikahaus Demolished

Stay calm. Nobody will demolish the Carl-Schurz-Haus.

What is known as Freiburg's Amerikahaus has nothing to do with American cultural centers that were founded in all major German cities including Freiburg in the aftermath of World War II. These Houses made those defeated Germans familiar with American civilization and values. As a high school student Red Baron remembers the black-and-white Hollywood productions he used to watch there in English, luckily with German subtitles. Casablanca was my favorite movie. It was a pity that I often missed half of the action by reading the translation of the dialog in yellow letters at the bottom of the screen. Sorry, that is history.

Starting in the 1960s many America Houses disappeared not so much because the US regarded the education of the German people in democratic values as finished but rather due to a lack of money from the States. In some places German authorities took over the financing of existing Houses. In the case of Freiburg the city council guaranteed the existence of the American bridgehead in town while renaming the America House after Carl Schurz, the revolutionary who fled Germany as a 48er and launched his career in Wisconsin.

This naturally leads me to Freiburg's other Amerikahaus, the Wirtshaus zu Amerika, a popular pub from the 18th to the 20th centuries. It was the meeting place for Freiburg's liberal democrats including the revolutionaries of 1848/49.

The Amerikahaus on Habsburgerstraße under demolition (©BZ/Hasi/Bamberger)
Where is the link to Carl Schurz? He was fighting for the revolution in northern Baden in 1849, ultimately escaped the besieged Fort Rastatt via the sewage system but never had a Schoppen (half a pint) of wine or a Halbe (a pint) of beer at the Wirtshaus zu Amerika. Nevertheless Carl Schurz was a revolutionary.

Why did the pub carry the name Wirtshaus zu Amerika and later become known as Amerikahaus? The story goes like this: The builder of the house, Johann Baptist Messy, had made a fortune in Surinam (South America) as a farmer. When he returned to Freiburg he bought the plot in 1775 to build ein großes Wohnhauß an der Landstras (a big residential house on the road). In his building he operated a pub he named Wirtshaus zu Amerika.* Johann Baptist used to entertain his guests with quixotic stories about his stay in America.
*It is often conductive to business to give an establishment an "exotic" name. Recently a Freiburg Gastropub opened in Madison.

Many organizations and people in Freiburg bitterly opposed the demolition of the "cultural monument" Wirtshaus zu Amerika. However the building stock was rotten and a new building is planned.

The planned new building (©BZ/Thomas Kunz)

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