The first Oktoberfest, held from October 12–October 17, 1810 in Munich, was to celebrate the occasion of the wedding of Prince Ludwig I of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Sachsen-Hildburghausen.
Because of its success, it was repeated annually, later also with an agricultural fair, dance, music and amusement rides. The Germans call it “die Wiesn.”
Largely due to coincidence, the festival now generally starts in September and ends on or near October 3. Since the reunification of Germany on October 3, 1990, the day has been recognized as the Day of German Unity and is a German public holiday.
While I suspect Germans and others in Hawaiʻi celebrated the annual beer-based parties in the past, I have not yet found references to them (I am still looking.)
However, I’ll use this occasion (between my sips of lager) to relate some history of Germans in Hawaiʻi.
Three Germans were among the sailors and crew aboard Captain James Cook first visit to the islands in 1778. Johann Heinrich Zimmermann sailed on HMS Discovery and subsequently wrote an account of the voyage (his journals were published 3-years before Cook’s.)
A few years later, on a voyage to China in October 1796, Captain Henry Barber, from Bremen, Germany, sailing the English ship, Arthur, ran aground at Kalaeloa on Oʻahu. Captain Barber and his crew of 22 men took to the life boats. Six drowned.
Today, we refer to the location of where the survivors landed as “Barber’s Point,” however, the traditional name, Kalaeloa, is coming back into more common use.
In 1815, German scholar, Adelbert von Chamisso, was aboard the Russian brig Rurik, which Captain Otto von Kotzebue sailed to Hawaiʻi. He was one of the first western scholars interested in the Hawaiian language, and reportedly wrote one of the first Hawaiian grammar books.
In a summary of his visit to the Islands, Chamisso noted, “’Arocha’ (Aloha) is the friendly greeting with which each man salutes the other and which is answered by a like expression. Upon each occasion that one is greeted with ‘Arocha’ one answers ‘Arocha’ and goes ones way without turning around.”
Around this same time, a notorious German, Georg Anton Schäffer, representing the Russian-American Company of Alaska, arrived in Hawaiʻi to recover the cargo of a Russian trading ship wrecked at Waimea, Kauaʻi.
After first attempting to build a fort in Honolulu, he sailed to Kaua‘i and gained the confidence of King Kaumuali‘i. Kaumuali‘i also used the engineering skills of Schäffer to lay out a plan for a fort (commonly referred to as Fort Elizabeth) which Kaumualiʻi had constructed next to his own residence.
The Russian flag was raised over his fort. Hearing this, Kamehameha sent Captain Alexander Adams, a Scotsman who served in the navy of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i to gain control of the fort. Schäffer was forced to leave Hawaii and Adams raised the Kingdom of Hawai‘i flag over the fort in October 1817.
German-born Paul Isenberg came to Kauaʻi in the 1850s to work at Līhuʻe Plantation on Kauaʻi. He married Hannah Maria Rice, daughter of missionary-turned sugar-plantation owner William Harrison Rice.
Isenberg became manager of Līhuʻe Plantation in 1862. Along with his brothers, Isenberg played a prominent role in developing sugar plantations on Kauaʻi’s west side.
In 1881, Isenberg became a business partner with earlier German merchant Heinrich Hackfeld. Through his business H. Hackfeld & Company, Hackfeld is one of the most prominent, and prosperous, Germans to Hawaiʻi.
His company would become American Factors, shortened to Amfac, one of Hawaiʻi’s “Big 5” companies (with interests in sugar plantations, shipping and other entities.) This included the Liberty House department store, originally called “B. F. Ehlers”, after Hackfeld’s nephew.
World War I proved catastrophic for the Germans in Hawai’i who with the entry of the United States into the war had become enemy aliens overnight; the Isenbergs and Hackfields lost control of their company during World War I.
Dr. William Hillebrand, a German researcher, played an important role in public health. He was the founding physician of Queen’s Hospital in Honolulu during the 1860s. Hillebrand was an avid collector of plants; his property eventually became Foster Botanical Garden.
Claus Spreckels (1828–1908) was perhaps the most successful German-American immigrant entrepreneur of the late-nineteenth century; he was one of the ten richest Americans of his time.
The first industry in which Spreckels succeeded was quite typical for German immigrants: beer brewing. Though profitable, he sold his beer operation in 1863 and switched to a new field that would make him rich: sugar.
Spreckels founded the Hawaiian Commercial Company, which quickly became the largest and best-equipped sugar plantation in the islands. The career of the “sugar king” of California, Hawaiʻi and the American West consisted of building and breaking monopolies in sugar, transport, gas, electricity, real estate, newspapers, banks and breweries.
In more cultural contributions, Captain Henri Berger of Berlin is well remembered in for his decades of conducting the Royal Hawaiian Band. He was called “The Father of Hawaiian Music” by Queen Liliʻuokalani. Among others, he wrote music to lyrics by King Kalākaua for the state anthem “Hawaiʻi Ponoʻi.”
So, as you celebrate Oktoberfest (yes, while it is not clear if it was celebrated before, it certainly is celebrated here, now,) remember some of the many contributions of the Germans to Hawaiʻi. In addition, I have added some images related to the German influence in Hawaiʻi in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook page.
© 2012 Hoʻokuleana LLC