German spirit rings familiar in Fredricksburg, Texas

  • Quarried limestone from the surrounding hills was used in most of the buildings in Fredricksburg, Texas, including the library.

My grandparents were German, German-Swiss they would always point out. So the names, Otto, Ida, Ernst, the faces, the food and the artifacts in Fredricksburg, Texas, have a familiar ring for me.

The immigrants who settled this town in the Hill Country were stout folk or they never would have survived. They were lured to Texas with promises of free passage from the homeland, free land once they arrived and free supplies for the first year they were here. Instead, they were dropped on the beach of south Texas, no wagons to bring them north because they had been commandeered by the army for the Mexican-American War, and the land they had been promised was prime hunting ground for the Penateka Comanches, or Honey Eaters, who were not inclined to give it up even if told some white men had purchased it.

So the Germans walked from the beach to a new swath of land now called Fredricksburg, just south of the promised land grant. There, they built homes, schools, churches and businesses. They signed a treaty in 1847 with the Penateka guaranteeing safe passage through the Comanche hunting grounds, the only treaty between settlers as private citizens and a tribe. It was recognized by the federal government in 1936, and is one of only a few treaties that were never broken.

We rolled into town and walked into the Old German Bakery and Restaurant, where Tom had schnitzel, spätzle and warm German potato salad. I had a smoked pork chop and red cabbage that was warm and sweet. Before we left, Tom got a loaf of fresh-from-the-oven pumpernickel, a dark brown like aged cedar.

We strolled past historic sandstone houses, including the birthplace of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, who despite grounding his destroyer in the Philippines while an ensign, rose to commanded Allied air, land, and sea forces during World War II.

We walked through the Pioneer Museum, with preserved houses, a barn, smokehouse, one-room schoolhouse and bath house. It all was so reminiscent of my grandmother, Ida Prichard. The sausage grinder, the German translations on the school’s blackboard, even the doorknobs.

At Farmhaus Antiques, down the street, there was a water pump that looked exactly like the one in Ida’s yard.

I was filled with nostalgia for my German ancestry and the salt-of-the-earth people who made everything out of nothing.

The people who made Fredricksburg were like that, walking because there was no wagon, building a kiln in a hillside to make lime to plaster their houses, making the plaster blue with laundry detergent to add some color to the walls, keeping their word with the Comanche, because that’s what you should do.

Fredricksburg has embraced tourism with upscale B&Bs, wine gardens, and year-round celebrations, but it’s charm, to me, is its hardscrabble German roots.


  1. Reply
    Jim Johnson February 26, 2018

    Zoomed past there once. Wish we had stopped.

    • Reply
      Judy Nichols February 26, 2018

      Well worth a stop. If even just for lunch!

  2. Reply
    Michael February 26, 2018

    Freeedrick not Fredrick. Sorry, obcure movie reference.

    • Reply
      Judy Nichols February 26, 2018

      The hills are alive!!!

  3. Reply
    Keven February 27, 2018

    We LOVE Fredricksburg. We loved the restaurant The Nest so much that we violated our rule against eating at the same restaurant twice and returned there. That was a few years ago; no idea if it’s still there. But it was exquisite.

    • Reply
      Judy Nichols February 27, 2018

      We loved it, too. So much interesting history. And the shops were great. Next time I want to make sure we can spend an afternoon in one of the charming wine gardens.

  4. Reply
    Jana G McBride February 27, 2018

    We floated on a river in inner tubes near there one summer long ago, it was so much fun.

    • Reply
      Judy Nichols February 27, 2018

      Very cool. I’m putting it on the list for a return trip.

  5. Reply
    Kirstin March 1, 2018

    How funny — my grandmother and mother always refer to us as Swiss, Swiss-German speaking (apparently somewhat different than straight German). One of my mother’s most delicious dishes is a warm German potato salad with bacon. Mmmm…

    A few years ago Tom and I discovered the most amazing German bakery on a trip around Lake Arenal in Costa Rica. Those Germans know their way around an oven!!

    • Reply
      Judy Nichols March 1, 2018

      I’ve had your mother’s potato salad and it was awesome. Mom makes some good German/Swiss things, too. I remember Hasen Ohren, or rabbit ears, strips of pastry dough baked and covered with cinnamon sugar. Did grandma ever make those for you?

  6. Reply
    Meredith March 7, 2018

    Wow! Makes me want to go there. NOW!

    • Reply
      Judy Nichols March 11, 2018

      It really was great. And I’m still thinking about the food.

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