Supposedly I Have Cousins Here

German cities generally fall into two categories. “Not-Bombed” and “Rebuilt.”

The not-bombed ones are summarily gorgeous. The rebuilt ones are usually pleasant but not terribly interesting– Hanover is a sound example. Der Spiegel has at times posed the question, “Is Hanover Germany’s Most Boring City?” If you lived nearby you would drive there for a nice restaurant or shopping, and I reckon the school district is probably good. Otherwise it’s something of a low-fat schnitzel so far as German metropoli go.

Long before allied bombs paved the way for immense avenues of bistros and designer eye-wear shops, it was the ancestral home of what would become the British Royal Family. Due to laws forbidding any Catholic to inherit the British crown, when Queen Anne died in 1714 the monarchy bypassed some fifty closely-related kin in favor of George Ludwig of Hanover, who was barely related and didn’t speak English, but happened to be Protestant.

King George I was far more concerned with his feudal holdings in Saxony than his accidental island kingdom, and in fact died on his way to visit Hanover and is buried there today. Given the amount of focus he paid to his continental Duchy, de facto power of the kingdom landed on his Prime Minister, Henry Walpole. While historians often speak of the Glorious Revolution as the point when Britain transitioned from absolute to constitutional monarchy, it’s George I’s apathy towards Britain which created the modern cabinet system with a monarchy fundamentally incidental to national decision-making.

It’s also when the English began pronouncing the River Thames as “Tames.” Germans don’t have a “th” noise (as in “thunder”), compelling court sycophants at the time to rename their river to avoid embarrassing the king. Presumably they kept it “Tames” after his death in order to forever correct visiting American tourists, who even at that time Londoners despised and enjoyed correcting.

Had it not been for World War I the Royal Family would today be known as the House of Saxe-Coburg & Gotha (Edward VII took his father’s surname). But that sounded slightly too German in the throws of the Great War.

More importantly, Hanover is where one wing of my family emigrated in the late 1800’s. They were part of the vast flood of German immigrants who came to America and county-by-county remain the largest group. Most of the Midwest is descended from Germans, although you wouldn’t immediately think so. German-Americans were seamlessly integrated or purposefully forgotten long before Hanover turned modern and milktoast.

Today the only German-speaking communities in the US are the Amish, but at the turn of the last century there were German colonies all over the place. My great-grandmother was born in Pennsylvania, and to my knowledge never left the United States, but spoke English as a second language. Hers was a German town. That all stopped in 1914 when her father came home and announced that they were Keseveters no longer, and henceforth were the respectable-sounding Keswater family. Except for a lingering correspondence with Hanovarian cousins, English became the language of the house and Deutsche became verboten.

In Oklahoma we used to have a community called Germantown, but during World War I enough windows got broken by neighboring patriots that they decided to rename it Freedom. Presumably its Shmidt and Mueller families have likewise become Smiths and Millers. But I’ll reckon they eat a lot of potatoes and sausage all the same.

 Andrew Heaton is a writer and standup comedian in New York City. If this post made you laugh or think, kindly "like" it on Facebook.

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