Former Odd Fellows Hall, 98 Forsyth St

In the second half of the 19th century, the Lower East Side was known as Little Germany. Recently, with the guidance of Ruth Limmer’s Six Heritage Tours of the Lower East Side and the company of a fellow descendant of Germans, I followed the German heritage walking tour from Grand Street, up the Bowery, across St. Mark’s to Tompkins Square Park, and back down to Houston.

I can’t say I could truly picture the area swarming with Germans. The trail goes through such a variety of neighborhoods that have been transformed—over and over—with such vigor. Still, the buildings that remain give you a sense of the lives they tried to lead. The Social Reform Association, the Free School, the Bowerie Lane Theater, the German American Shooting Society, the Ottendorfer Library, and Stuyvesant Polyclinic—the people were active and idealistic. After Germany’s uprisings in 1848, a generation of revolutionaries began arriving, following by another after 1865. There were staunch conservatives as well, such as Father M├╝ller of Most Holy Redeemer R.C. Church, on 3rd Street between Avenues A and B.

Monument to children who died in General Slocum disasterAccording to Limmer, “the heart went out of Kleindeutschland” after the General Slocum disaster in 1904. More than a thousand passengers on a special church excursion, mostly women and children, died when the steamer went up in flames in the East River. The Germany community dispersed—primarily to Yorkville and Astoria, Limmer says. There’s a monument to the children in Tompkins Square Park, although the area is closed off right now (at least, it was on Memorial Day).

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