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Ann Arbor's Germans: Swabians

Ann Arbor is famous for the presence of the University of Michigan and its 43,000 students. Not appreciated by many is that Ann Arbor outside of the university was at one time a very German city, and it still is to some degree.


Dancers in German costumes at German Park

Dancers perform periodically at German Park picnics.

A trickle of Swabian immigrants came to the Ann Arbor area in the early nineteenth century, and by the early twentieth century many downtown businesses were owned by German immigrants, mostly Swabians, or by their descendants. At that time they also owned most of the farmlands in the western half of the country. Traces of this history can be found in five different local museums devoted to the Swabians. The German presence can also still be seen in some of the celebrations around town.


A German Christmas Booth at Kerrytown

A Christmas Market (Weihnachtsmarkt) booth at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market.

The German immigrants who came to the Ann Arbor area are notable for being almost wholly Swabians, or Celtic Germans, hailing from the southwestern corner of today's Germany (Swabia). The mixed heritage of the Swabians came about because barbarian Germans infiltrated Celtic settlements and interbred with the Celts, making the Swabians shorter and darker than the stereotypical tall, blue-eyed blond Germans. More importantly, the Germans assimilated to much of the Celtic culture and psychology, especially their spirituality, individuality, and love of music. They also found the Celtic love of alcohol compatible. Of course, the later history of the Celtic Germans, including a very severe Protestant Reformation, ensured that the Swabians also came to emphasize that very German cultural trait, conscientiousness. Swabians are stubborn, thrifty or frugal, perfectionistic, tidy, well-organized, and hard-working.


Bethlehem's church windows with German inscriptions

John 20:17

Bethlehem Church in Ann Arbor has windows with German inscriptions. Here: "I go up to my God and to your God, to my Father and to your Father." John 20:17.


Swabian musicians at Manchester Chicken Broil

Luke Schaible and his band often play at events in rural Washtenaw County.

Music is almost always present at the Swabian festivals around town, but beer is also an important ingredient. The nineteeth-century settlers in Ann Arbor came mostly from New England, either directly or via upper New York State. These puritanical people objected strenuously to the German preference for drinking beer, thus resulting in a battle that lasted until 1969. The puritanical settlers also objected to the German love of musical entertainment on Sunday afternoons. The Americans preferred a solemn quiet on the Sabbath.


Greffs and beer at their Oktoberfest on Washington Street

Beer is popular at the numerous Oktoberfests in town. Here: Renee and Matt Greff, Arbor Brewing and Corner Brewery owners.


This website presents an overview of the history and the psychology of the Swabians in Ann Arbor. Additional photos and historical details can be found in my book, Celtic Germans: The Rise and Fall of Ann Arbor's Swabians.


3D image of the book, Celtic Germans by George Wieland


To find the Kindle version of the book on Amazon, click here. To find the print version on Amazon, click here.