Just 55 miles west of New Orleans you can find Lac des Allemands, which is French for "Lake of the Germans." The surrounding area, which to this day is known as the German Coast, was first owned by a Scottish economist named John Law who was seeking workers to help make his fortune. In the early 1700s, he promoted his holdings in war-torn Germany, particularly in the Rhineland.
Although many died in transit, those Germans that safely arrived began the Herculean task of farming the buggy, swampy Louisiana land. These hard-working Germans are credited with feeding the struggling settlement of New Orleans, allowing it to survive, and introducing the accordion into Cajun music.
German immigration into the port of New Orleans crested in the 1840s and 1850s with tens of thousands arriving each year to join family and friends. Many of them continued west, but New Orleans remained an important center for German life in the United States. In 1847, the German Society of New Orleans formed to help immigrants become acclimated in America. The Civil War halted all immigration to the Crescent City, and afterwards, German immigration slowed to a trickle, influenced by the yellow fever epidemic, the option of Ellis Island and improving conditions in Germany.
Still, in the early 1900s, more than 250 German-American societies existed in Louisiana, primarily in New Orleans. Certain schools taught German to immigrants' children, and German churches grounded the community. The first World War (and then the second) obscured much of the German presence in New Orleans. Laws prohibited the teaching of German, forbid the display of German flags, and suppressed German culture in general. Many of the German-American organizations disbanded.
German breweries also once flourished in New Orleans, many near the foot of Canal Street In the 1850s, there were some 30 breweries, each with its own beer garden. Although prohibition killed most off, beer gardens were once centers of New Orleans social life, hubs of drinking, dancing, and music.
Germans dominated other industries in New Orleans, and those legacies continue. For a time, almost all of the city's draymen were German. One of their tasks was to haul coffins during funerals, leading to the establishment of many New Orleans funeral homes with German names. German-owned bakeries still supply New Orleanians their essential baked goods, such as Haydel's with beloved Mardi Gras king cakes. Still popular Leidenheimer’s and Reising’s started with the traditional dense brown breads of Germany but soon began successfully producing French breads. Leidenheimer’s is now the leading producer of French bread in the city, and bought Reising’s in the early1990s. Both brands are available in grocery stores all over New Orleans.
Today, German heritage is also celebrated with our annual Oktoberfest at Deutsches Haus where everyone is German – there is music and dancing, beer and brats -- and on Bourbon Street at Fritzel’s.