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Leonard Earl Johnson (photo credit Frank Parsley) covered Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005), and the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for Consumer Affairs.com. He is a contributor to Gambit Weekly, New Orleans Magazine, SCAT, Baton Rouge Advocate, Advocate Magazine, The Times-Picayune, Country Roads Magazine, Palm Springs Newswire and the books FRENCH QUARTER FICTION (Light of New Orleans Publishing), LOUISIANA IN WORDS (Pelican Publishing), LIFE IN THE WAKE (NOLAfuges.com), and more. Johnson is a former Merchant Seaman, and columnist at Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans; and African-American Village. Attended Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship at Piney Point, Maryland. Winner of the Press Club of New Orleans Award for Excellence, 1991, and given the Key to The City and a Certificate of Appreciation from the New Orleans City Council for a Gambit Weekly story on murder in the French Quarter.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Roberts Cove German Fest / October 2016

LEJ's Louisiana
Yours Truly in a Swamp

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Leonard Earl Johnson,
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German Flags on Unity Day   /   Wikipedia

Roberts Cove German Festival

October 2016

by Leonard Earl Johnson

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in Roberts Cove, Louisiana. You Laugh? It might tickle the lederhosen off a real German, but this is the best ~ albeit somewhat zany ~ German Festival in the USA that I have ever attended. 

There is beer, singing, Alpine horns (Alphorn), yodeling, white marble graves of original settlers decorated with bright German flags, and hot spicy (normally mild veal with a hint of nutmeg) Bratwurst sausages. These had Tabasco Sauce added. 

Technically it was a Germanfest, not an Oktoberfest. Oktoberfest is the German harvest / Munich Bier (beer) festival starting in September and ending the first weekend of October.

German immigrants were few to French Louisiana, but those who came left their mark.  Notably there were the Germans lured over by the Scotsman, John Law.  They are said to have fed the early indolent folk of New Orleans from their productive farms along the Côte des Allemands (French for German Coast) around present day Bayou des Allemands (Bayou of the Germans).  

Hurricanes, floods and the collapse of John Law's Mississippi Company ~ and monetary schemes (he invented paper money) ~ scattered this settlement.  And New Orleanians took further to eating seafood, sugar, rice, and game.

Bayou  des  Allemands  /  Courtesy  of  Wikipedia

Some of Law's Germans resettled near Lafayette, Louisiana at today's prosperous rice-growing town of Roberts Cove.

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Crossing Bayou des Allemands aboard Amtrak out of New Orleans we saw des Allemands boys moon ole Train #1, The Sunset Limited.

Amtrak  over  water  /  Courtesy  of  Amtrak
From the bayou's bank two white and one black butt shined up at us as we sipped our morning coffee and zipped across an old rusty iron bridge.

"Some things change, some things don't,"  L. A. Norma said. "Boys mooning trains is still with us, but now its integrated.  Rosa Parks would be proud."

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Further, back down the road.
My Illinois-German Grandmother spoke English and German. Her Daughters spoke only English. It was a time when immigrants were bent towards assimilation in all things including language.

It is sad my Mother and her Sisters never talked with their Grandparents.  

We all lived in our turn in a village named Ullin, after early settlers or, as my Father erroneously argued, the daughter of the Polish Count Casimir Pulaski. Pulaski perished in the Battle of Savannah during the American Revolution ~ young and childless.

My Father's nickname was "Porky."  He was vaguely defined as Danish/Norwegian and he did not like the idea of his village being named for Germans.  Besides, descendants of the Ullins still lived there and he did not much like them.

"Germans are pig-headed," he would moan. "I should know, I married one!"

My Father and Mother owned a roadside nightclub where he expounded frequently on this and issues such as F. D. R.'s New Deal (he stood helplessly against it, too).  My Mother, who grew up in Ullin and liked the Ulins "Just fine," would shrug.

My Father must have won the Ullin argument because the resident family named Ullin dropped one "l" from their spelling, and took to pronouncing their name as though an umlaut had sprouted above the Ü

"Out of fear Porky was making people think them Polish," my Grandmother used to laugh.

My antecedents had been citizens of Bönnigheim, near Stuttgart in the German state of Swabia.  Theirs was the land of Black Forests, German industry and people who liked to sing and yodel.

My people arrived three years after Mark Twain captained river boats to New Orleans, fled West to avoid the Civil War, and moved to Hartford, Connecticut to write.

Twain came from Hannibal, Missouri, two hundred miles upriver from Ullin. Growing up, my siblings and I read his books and thought ourselves the better for it. 

The German brother/uncle to first seed our New World became my Great Uncle, though he never lived long enough to know it. I don't know if he read Mark Twain. His name was Wilhelm Staudacher. When he first arrived in Ullin he secured land along the Cache River, on the opposite bank of a sawmill. The new century saw the mill's offices become a roadhouse called Porky's owned by my Father, "Porky" and Mother, "Mac the German."

When Wilhelm returned to Germany he gathered his extended family and led them back to the Promised Land of Ullin, America.

Swabia was a good land full of "Jovial people who liked clocks," my Grandmother told us. It sounded like Texas and Arkansas to me, with a dash of Detroit from the days before Detroit became America's first fallen star. 

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"Do you speak German?" asked a lady with a heavy Cajun accent. She was descendant from original Roberts Cove Germans, she said.  Her accent came from the fact the French-Canadian Cajuns had taught these later arrivals how to speak English.  We were in the Songfest Tent, yodeling and listening to Alpine horns.

"Bisschen Deutsch,I said. She understood the "Deutsch," but not the "Bisschen."

"A Little," I explained.

We raised our bier and joined in the Rucksack Song.  Her husband wore nice lederhosen and sang with gusto. I would bet my last Deutsch Mark he sang those same songs when a boy.

Near Roberts Cove is Hawk's, a crayfish cafe' noted for purging their "mud bugs." Hawk's also prides itself on no signage. Finding it is something of a local game. Outsiders are a double muddled source of entertainment. One day, washing up at the dining-room wash basins, I asked a man where he was from.

The man said, "Down the road."

"Is your name German?" I asked.

"No," he said, "further down the road."

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Your comments and corrections are welcome: Comments

Alpine Horns (Alphorn)
Lagniappe du Jour 

 Roberts Cove

German Coast, Louisiana 

Scotsman, Englishman, Frenchman,
inventor of paper money
and German Tour Guide,
John Law

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Leonard Earl Johnson
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