Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis has a long history as a melting pot of different cultures and a new, photo-illustrated book, “Ethnic St. Louis,” is striving to do justice to the various immigrant communities that have made their home here. While many people know the stories of the French and German settlers that helped to create the city from the very beginning, the book delves into lesser-known ethnic groups as well.

Face of the Neumeyer Glacier 1915 by Frank Hurley
Face of the Neumeyer Glacier, 1915|Frank Hurley|Flickr

It’s a frequently shared adage in publishing that only 3 percent of the books published in the United States are translations from books originally written in another language. Although that exact statistic is sometimes debated, the idea that it’s almost impossible to get a translation project published remains. And yet some are able to make it work.

In 1833, two men from Giessen, Germany, decided to immigrate to the United States where they hoped to create their own utopia with the freedoms and democracy they desired but did not have under an aristocracy. They recruited hundreds of others and formed the Giessen Emigration Society.

“It was the year 1834 when 500 Germans came over here to Missouri with the big idea of creating a German state as a new state within the United States of America,” Peter Roloff told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Tuesday.

Missouri History Museum

World War I collared the spread of German culture and language across the globe. Though far from the front lines, St. Louis’s vibrant German community was no exception. 

A hundred years ago, the growth of the city had largely been driven by thousands of Germanic immigrants who built and controlled large swaths of government, industry, education, and religion. The Great War tested and ultimately transformed that influence in many ways that linger today.

Images courtesy Stih & Schnock © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

When Berlin-based conceptual artists Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock first visited St. Louis in 2002, they were surprised by how familiar the city felt to them.

"We were baffled by how German it is. How normal everything sounds and looks," said Stih. "It wasn’t New York, it wasn’t Chicago, for sure not LA, It was something like a nice, quiet, city with extraordinary town planning."

xxxRobert Koenig | Beacon staff From the west, two West Germans gather at Wall, while East German police stand guard on top of it. From Nov. 1989.
Robert Koenig | St. Louis Beacon | November 1989

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON - Fifty years ago this week, President John F. Kennedy confronted Cold War tensions in Wall-divided Berlin and bolstered the confidence of its beleaguered residents by telling them, in his unmistakable Boston accent, "Ich bin ein Berliner."