I Remember When: Gemeutlichkeit-Yassoo

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In this episode, host Ted Trost profiles two of Ann Arbor's largest ethnic communities, the Greeks and Germans. Trost talks with U-M German professor Frederick Wahr about Ann Arbor's German history; and Edith and Paul Kempf, about their personal memories and the importance of music in their family. Ted also interviews Frank Kokenakes, his sister, Helen Kokales, and Anthony Preketes about Greek history and culture in Ann Arbor.

Written and directed by: Catherine Anderson
Executive Producer : Catherine Anderson
Graphic Artist: Eric Anderson
Sponsored by the Ann Arbor Public Library, with help from the Ann Arbor Sesquicentennial Commission and the University of Michigan Speech Department.

Length: 00:30:58
Copyright: Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held by: Ann Arbor District Library
Repository Information: Ann Arbor District Library Archives


  • [00:00:00.00] [MUSIC PLAYING]
  • [00:00:29.33] SPEAKER 1: Believe it or not, the Greeks and the Germans are alike in many ways. They maintained strong family ties, keep old traditions going. They have respect for their elders, for each other, and for their families. They are both proud, hardworking, thrifty peoples who enjoy good music combined with fine food and drink. And so it is that the two largest ethnic groups in the Ann Arbor area have developed celebrations and maintained traditions to keep their heritages alive.
  • [00:00:59.29] The Germans are the larger and the older of the two communities. And we'll speak about them first. I asked Professor Frederick Wahr, born in Ann Arbor in 1889 and a professor in the German department at the University of Michigan for many years, to recount some of the Germans' earliest history.
  • [00:01:18.23] FREDERICK WAHR: The first German on record that I have read about was a man named Conrad Bissinger, who was wandering, investigating, pioneering through the west, finding a place that he wanted to live. And he came through what was to become Ann Arbor and found a few cottages or log cabins here about 1820-- the latter part of the '20s, about '27, '28, maybe it's earlier than that. But the settlement had already started.
  • [00:01:55.50] But he didn't like it very well, And he made up his mind he might buy land here and went away again, went south. Later on he came back and did buy land and settled here. To my knowledge, from what I've read, he was the first German to come here. But he was followed in the early '30s by the Mann, Emanuel Mann, and the Allmendingers. And they met up with various people coming west-- they were all seeking new homes-- and finally settled here.
  • [00:02:26.60] They of course later brought their families with them, or sent for their families. I think in one case the family did, part of the family did come, and they bought up land, whatever they could buy. And they immediately cleared the territory and cleared the land and started in farming. Built a log cabin, or a house of some sort, if their family came with them. And laid claim to their land and started in with farming. The few who had some chance of other forms of work, of course stayed near the town.
  • [00:03:02.30] As time went on these-- well, I suppose what have become these blended farms out in Scio, Lodi, Freedom and so on and so forth, largely the German families-- why, they came the next generation, the following generations, younger sons particularly or daughters came into town and began to work in town. That's readily understandable.
  • [00:03:26.99] SPEAKER 1: It's said at one time, I guess, the Germans owned half of Main Street.
  • [00:03:30.43] FREDERICK WAHR: Well, let me tell you. They came into town. One of the first big influences was the church, the German church, the Lutheran church. And they called-- the Allmendingers, and the Manns, and so on, got in touch with the institution, the evangelical form of the Lutheran Church in Basel. And they sent a man over by the name of Schmid. And he became known as a Pastor Schmid. And he not only then started a church here out where the present day Bethlehem cemetery is, on Jackson Ave.
  • [00:04:06.76] SPEAKER 1: Yes, there's a historical marker out there that commemorates it.
  • [00:04:10.55] FREDERICK WAHR: And that was the first church. And of course you can see, it was outside of town. It wasn't in Ann Arbor proper. It was out-- well, in my boyhood it was quite a distance out to the Bethlehem cemetery. Well, that of course was-- Germans, those early Germans, wanted to center their activities around the church. And the Lutheran church was something of a home, shall I say, where they could all gather and meet and discuss things and so on. It was a center place.
  • [00:04:43.60] SPEAKER 1: The early German population was almost entirely from Wurttemberg. They were Swabians and spoke the Swabian dialect. They were good businessman, and before long owned many businesses on Main Street. They formed a club where they could socialize, known as the Schwaben Verein, which still exists today. I spoke with George Salter, the current president of the Schwaben Verein, with Albert Dukek, president of the German Park Recreation Club, and Hans Rauer, head of the local chapter of the Greater Beneficial Union.
  • [00:05:17.38] Albert Dukek, a Schwaben Verein member since 1923, explained how the German Park was acquired. He told me that during prohibition, the group held their meetings at the Schweitzer Halle in Toledo, where there was a Bavarian dance group and all the three and a half percent beer they could drink.
  • [00:05:39.38] ALBERT DUKEK: And finally, the prohibition ended. Then we thought, well, my gosh, we could have something in Ann Arbor. Then Schwaben Verein had 50th anniversary in 1938-- no, that wasn't--
  • [00:05:56.06] SPEAKER 1: Yeah, it was in '38.
  • [00:05:57.99] ALBERT DUKEK: 1938, then we had at Hanselmann's grove, off Waters Road, we cleared off a space in the woods and celebrated the Schwaben's fiftieth anniversary there. When we looked around for a place of our own, and we looked around two or three years then found this place here. And we have to give Adolph Helber credit for that, because he really found it.
  • [00:06:26.66] SPEAKER 1: When did you move out here? When did you first--
  • [00:06:30.00] ALBERT DUKEK: We made a down payment on it, I guess in December '38, in 1938. And in July 1939 we had our first German picnic out here. We opened it to the public.
  • [00:06:46.43] SPEAKER 1: Did you have a big crowd? Do you remember that?
  • [00:06:48.50] ALBERT DUKEK: Yes, good attendance at that time. But we didn't have hardly anything. We didn't have any rail yet. We had one road to get in. And you were here when we built that little bridge down there.
  • [00:07:03.98] SPEAKER 1: The German festival has continued as an annual celebration from that day to this. And this year's byword for the festivities was Gemutlichkeit. I asked all three gentleman what the word meant to them.
  • [00:07:17.68] SPEAKER 2: Just a simple good time.
  • [00:07:20.02] SPEAKER 1: Just a simple good time?
  • [00:07:21.48] SPEAKER 2: You can make leave the simple off, but it's a good time. That is my interpretation of gemutlichkeit. You can read a lot more into it, but it comes down if, everybody has a good time, you have gemutlichkeit.
  • [00:07:33.38] SPEAKER 1: OK, how about you?
  • [00:07:36.44] SPEAKER 3: Well, that is just a nice social get together, and having fun, and enjoying whatever you're doing, mostly drinking. Goes with it, with gemutlichkeit.
  • [00:07:50.41] SPEAKER 1: That's all right, when you're among friends. How about you, Mr. Dukek?
  • [00:07:53.25] ALBERT DUKEK: Well, I really call gemutlichkeit more of the Bavarian style. You can sit at a table and have a sitter, or a harmonica go in and singing along and drinking beer at the same time and have a good time with each other. That's what I call gemutlichkeit.
  • [00:08:15.20] SPEAKER 1 : And that's what the German festival is all about. It's food, friends, singing, dancing, just a generally good time where everybody has fun.
  • [00:08:25.24] [MUSIC PLAYING]
  • [00:08:29.69] SPEAKER 1 : Even the youngsters have a chance to be involved in their German heritage.
  • [00:08:33.33] [MUSIC PLAYING]
  • [00:08:40.20] SPEAKER 1 : Here some of the children dance the old German dances in authentic German dress.
  • [00:08:45.14] [MUSIC PLAYING]
  • [00:10:57.23] SPEAKER 1 : One of the most important celebrations that takes place in almost every American home is Christmas. And the Germans really know how to celebrate it. Edith and Paul Kempf, whose families were both among the original German settlers, described Christmas as they remembered it when they were youngsters.
  • [00:11:17.19] PAUL KEMPF: And I think the Germans probably made more of it, at least in my family. That was the greatest day of the year. And it was sort of a ceremony. Of course with my mother, who taught singing, she was a music teacher-- and father being piano and organ, music was the predominating characteristic of the family.
  • [00:11:47.15] And the affair usually took place in a family way on Christmas Eve. And of course there was a tree with a garden, which my mother made out of old crates and then covered up with rugs. And then they would go out to the woods and bring in moss and they would put the moss over the rugs. And then they would have a looking glass in the middle there, representing a lake. And a little bit of a canoe on the lake, and so forth. It went right across the end of the room.
  • [00:12:23.33] And then of course the presents, which were for my sister and myself. Now, my sister was 12 years older than myself. But we were kids at that time. And presents would be placed around this garden. And we weren't allowed in there all day long, they were busy activity there. My grandmother and mother in the kitchen making springerle and lebkuchen, and what have you. And we could sneak one out the back door if we were quick.
  • [00:12:57.89] But on the other hand, the place was kept all curtained off. And we would sit down to dinner that evening and it was always the same. The kids, myself and my sister, were primarily anxious to get inside of that curtain. That was the thing that interested us most.
  • [00:13:22.73] However, we didn't get in there until after dinner was over when father or mother, whichever one happened to be closest to the piano, sat down. And they played Holy Night, Silent Night, and several other Christmas carols. Which we had to sit then and there and sing, all the time recognizing the fact that we wanted to be out in the other room, see what we got for Christmas. So after that was over, father went out and he would open the curtain and it was a free for all at that point. And it was just a wonderful time.
  • [00:14:01.15] EDITH KEMPF: Many of my relatives were members of Bethlehem, so I heard what went on there. The big Bethlehem congregation and the big Zion congregation had hundreds and hundreds of children in their Sunday school. There wasn't anybody with a German name in Ann Arbor who didn't go to Sunday school at one of those two churches. And that meant practicing for weeks and weeks before Christmas Eve for the big celebration on Christmas Eve.
  • [00:14:32.61] Which meant being there promptly at 6 o'clock, and marching two by two down the aisle, which looked very long. It really wasn't so long, but to a child, it did. And everyone reciting or taking part in a chorus. And I never saw the Christmas tree at Bethlehem, but I am told it was huge. At Zion, there was a Christmas tree that must have been 25 feet high, huge, just huge, all beautifully decorated.
  • [00:15:06.55] And that was Christmas Eve for people of German descent, the Sunday School celebration, and then home, and then whatever way people wished to celebrate. But all the Ann Arbor people of German descent baked lebkuchen, springerle, pfeffernusse, [INAUDIBLE], all those things were based in the kitchens west of Main Street and south of Huron street. I think you could smell the lebkuchen baking all around.
  • [00:15:45.59] I have to tell one little thing about springerles. That's really a south German cookie made in a mold, that we call a model. And many of the people had brought their molds with them. I have some right here. All hand carved, brought them from the old country with them. Which was extremely important, you made springerles out of your own molds and have the same pictures every year, you see. That was important.
  • [00:16:17.10] And going into the country, long before Christmas to gather hickory nuts for hickory nut drops, without trespassing on any farmer's land. Because there were many hickory nut trees all around Washtenaw County. You could just pick them up and then you get to spend many Sunday afternoons, at least I did, for weeks before Christmas picking out hickory nuts. Picking the nuts out, the nut meats out.
  • [00:16:44.82] SPEAKER 1 : Professor Wahr, too, loved the German community on the west side of town, what he still calls the Old Second Ward. Remembering a time when there was still a great deal of tradition and strong national and family ties, Professor Wahr sums up the essence of the old German spirit.
  • [00:17:02.26] FREDERICK WAHR: I don't know. I'm an old man, I know now. But I go back to my boyhood so often in my thoughts and I always think of the Second Ward as one of the loveliest places in Ann Arbor. That's the Old Second Ward out there west of Main Street. It was clean. The Germans had lovely little homes, and beautiful homes, beautiful yards, beautiful gardens, fruit trees.
  • [00:17:24.22] They were honest. They were modest. They took care of their work. They worked hard and church was still the center.
  • [00:17:37.70] SPEAKER 1 : As with the Germans, the church is a central place for the Greek community. Mr. Frank Kokenakes and his sister Mrs. Helen Kokalis have lived in Ann Arbor for over 60 years. I spoke with them about the building of the Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church. When was it?
  • [00:17:58.10] FRANK KOKENAKES: 1936.
  • [00:18:01.80] HELEN KOKALIS: It was during the Depression. Tell them about we collect the money to build it.
  • [00:18:05.72] FRANK KOKENAKES: During the Depression, we had to go out. And the women, they give sometime play to collect the money to put it in the church. And then we used to go out ourselves, somebody put $5, some $10. We didn't have much money. Nobody has the amount of money.
  • [00:18:22.92] We just go out sometimes to sell the tickets for $0.25. And the guy says, you come back again for tickets? Because $0.25 was a lot of money in those days. Depression, big Depression.
  • [00:18:32.55] HELEN KOKALIS: We used to do dinners for a dollar.
  • [00:18:35.18] FRANK KOKENAKES: Dinners for a dollar in order to make a few extra dollars to support the church. Finally we finish it, 1937.
  • [00:18:46.58] HELEN KOKALIS: Mostly Charlie Preketes.
  • [00:18:49.41] FRANK KOKENAKES: Charlie Preketes.
  • [00:18:51.07] HELEN KOKALIS: He was the head.
  • [00:18:52.29] FRANK KOKENAKES: And Poulos, and Dames, Chris Bilakos, Chris Kokenakes, Frank Kokenakes, Paul Kokenakes, and a few other people here in Ann Arbor, they support the church.
  • [00:19:08.23] SPEAKER 1 : Was this when you had your first full time priest?
  • [00:19:11.75] FRANK KOKENAKES: When we had first full time priest, he came from-
  • [00:19:15.09] HELEN KOKALIS: From Chios.
  • [00:19:16.42] FRANK KOKENAKES: From the-- no, first before we make the church, we used to go-- we would have homes. We used to go here. But after we made the church, we had a priest come in from the island of Chios. And we didn't pay him very much money because the community didn't have much money.
  • [00:19:35.08] HELEN KOKALIS: We only paid him $75 a month. That's all he charged.
  • [00:19:39.66] FRANK KOKENAKES: But the community was poor. But after a while, everything began going better.
  • [00:19:46.02] SPEAKER 1 : Have you been active in the church, Mrs. Kokalis?
  • [00:19:47.55] HELEN KOKALIS: Very much.
  • [00:19:49.18] SPEAKER 1 : I guess before the church, weren't you saying a little earlier you had to go to Detroit?
  • [00:19:54.10] HELEN KOKALIS: Yes, we went to Detroit for holidays and to baptize our children. My two children, they were baptized in Detroit, [INAUDIBLE], they call them.
  • [00:20:08.13] FRANK KOKENAKES: When I got married, we had to bring the priest from Detroit here to Ann Arbor to marry me.
  • [00:20:13.65] HELEN KOKALIS: And get married right in the house.
  • [00:20:17.34] FRANK KOKENAKES: We didn't have no halls, we didn't have things like that. The priest cam over.
  • [00:20:22.19] HELEN KOKALIS: And we were happy. Cook right there, and everybody eat right there. The
  • [00:20:26.10] FRANK KOKENAKES: State and Parker, the street car used to come from Detroit. And I was living on Hill Street then, Hill and State, between Hill and State and Parker, those houses there. That's what I got married.
  • [00:20:39.73] SPEAKER 1 : Within the last several years, the Greek community has established an annual Greek festival much like the one given by the Schwaben Verein in the German park. Unlike the German festival, however, the Greek festival is a church-related activity. Mr. Kokenakes and Mrs. Kokalis explained how the Greek festival originated.
  • [00:21:00.98] FRANK KOKENAKES: We had one minister, a young minister, and he says, we'll have to start something, he says, so we can make money.
  • [00:21:07.70] HELEN KOKALIS: Father Anastas, you remember him? He was the one who started it.
  • [00:21:11.48] FRANK KOKENAKES: He says, we'll do this. So he ran up and talked to all of the women. And says, you've got to come to the church, and make up this and make that,
  • [00:21:22.21] HELEN KOKALIS: Make over 50,000 piece of sweets the first year.
  • [00:21:26.14] FRANK KOKENAKES: So they made very good success the first year. The second year, they made more success. And then they begin to have the ethnic festival on Main Street. One Jewish rabbi and our minister, they got together in the idea, and they make that festival. And then they keep on going. They had one this year, too, also.
  • [00:21:48.06] SPEAKER 1 : That's the ethnic festival.
  • [00:21:49.32] FRANK KOKENAKES: Yes. And they make pretty good.
  • [00:21:50.62] HELEN KOKALIS: First of all, we were given-- the ladies, we used to give a bake sale. That's how we started. So that brought the festival. Says we give dinner with that, and be much better and everything else, you know.
  • [00:22:09.38] SPEAKER 1 : The Greek festival is held each summer at the Saint Nicholas church. The title of this year's festival was Yassou, which means health to you. For at least a month before the festival, the Greek ladies in and around Ann Arbor bake sweets to sell of Greek origin. And they sell them at their bake sale.
  • [00:22:35.15] This year, along with a bake sale, they served dinner, which included souvlaki. Plus they had two bars, one at each end of the tent. And for entertainment, professional Greek dancers and singers from Detroit. But perhaps better than professional entertainment was that dancing that was done by the Greek children, like the German children perform in their native costumes.
  • [00:22:59.80] [MUSIC PLAYING]
  • [00:23:52.27] SPEAKER 1 : The first Greek family to come to Ann Arbor was the Praketes family. The Praketes brothers arrived around the turn of the century and eventually owned the Sugar Bowl restaurant on Main Street. Among the many interesting anecdotes Mr. Anthony Praketes recounted for me about Ann Arbor history was one that happened in the Sugar Bowl during the Depression.
  • [00:24:15.24] ANTHONY PRAKETES: One Saturday afternoon, about 2 o'clock in the afternoon, a young lady, probably around 25-- nice dark hair, beautiful looking lady with a little child, girl-- the girl was about, probably I would say not quite two years old. She sat in one of the booths in the lower part.
  • [00:24:36.74] SPEAKER 1 : The lower part of the restaurant.
  • [00:24:37.78] ANTHONY PRAKETES: Yes, there's the lower part and upper part, see. The girl went away. [INAUDIBLE] says, I want a bowl of hot water. So the girl come up to me and says, well, I charged that. I says give deliver that, and tell her, not tell you what you do. But there was a place I can stay and I can watch what's going on the whole place without them detect me.
  • [00:25:07.73] So I saw, them days we used to have a bowl of oyster crackers. And ketchup, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper, it was all on the table. And as I watched her, she took the ketchup and put some ketchup in the soup. And then took some crackers, and put in a little salt and pepper and started feeding the child.
  • [00:25:40.92] That kind of touched me up. I says, all right. I called the girl, come here. I says, go back, select order hot sandwich with all the trimmings, and coffee, and take a glass of milk and some ice cream for the child and take it down the table to this lady. So she did. When she looked at her, she says, I didn't order that. Almost tears in her eyes, and it kind of touched me. So I kind of watched her. And she says, I've only got a dime. I say, don't worry about it, everything taken care of.
  • [00:26:20.81] When she got through, she come up to me to thank me. I say, for what? She says, for things. Oh, I says, don't worry about it. Where are you from? She says, I'm from North. Where are you going? She says, I have a sister in Detroit and I want to go to her.
  • [00:26:37.62] And at that time, we had street cars running to Detroit up to Chicago. So the fare, if I can recall, was about $0.35. that time, $0.35 to go to Detroit. So says, well, I says you know there's people a little ways down here. I give her a dollar. I don't want to say this, I give her a dollar says, you, go and meet your sister. So she thanked me for it.
  • [00:27:10.18] But you know, about 12 years later, she come in one Saturday afternoon in the store. And says, do you remember me? I say, my dear lady, I see thousand, millions, your face sometimes. But I-- do you remember that lady that come with a little girl? And she had a beautiful little girl. She wasn't very tall. Oh yes, I says, that's my daughter.
  • [00:27:33.04] I said, what are you doing here? And she says, I come in to enroll my daughter. She wants to go to school and become a teacher. Wonderful, I said. I think her name was Maria.
  • [00:27:44.70] SPEAKER 1 : That's her daughter.
  • [00:27:45.49] ANTHONY PRAKETES: I said, look, honey. I said, whenever you want anything, don't be ashamed to come down here and tell. Whenever you're downtown, stop in. You know, they can't place me. Four years later, she graduate. Isn't that something?
  • [00:28:00.11] SPEAKER 1 : That's something.
  • [00:28:01.34] ANTHONY PRAKETES: Oh, I can tell so many, so many things that happen.
  • [00:28:08.07] SPEAKER 1 : Mr. Praketes speaks for both the Greek and the German communities when he says that there are many similar stories that could be told. We have just given you a glimpse of Ann Arbor's two largest ethnic groups, the Germans and the Greeks, who despite entirely different backgrounds, comprise tightly knit, proud, and energetic communities which have strongly influenced the Ann Arbor we know today. Until next time, auf wiedersehen, or as the Greeks would say, [GREEK].
  • [00:28:40.20] [MUSIC PLAYING]

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