America East Frisians: Home is not only a place…

In the Krummhörn, once an East Frisian peninsula, there are still 18 round villages (also called terp villages) and a fishing village. The fishing village of Greetsiel is the most famous tourist destination in this region, attracting holidaymakers in droves every year.

People who visit Krummhörn for the first time often get the first impression that they have been taken back in time. Even today, the round villages are characterized by their historical buildings, mostly their churches, which were built on a terp and the oldest of which dates back to the 13th century. It is these small, not conspicuous rites that are still maintained here. They are the typical Frisian houses, which are built of red bricks and appear timeless. An often vast expanse, the sparse settlement is still a characteristic today.

In one of the smaller villages, Jennelt, with a population of about 370 people, the older and younger inhabitants meet regularly in the old village school. The town is called “Herrlichkeit Jinnelt” by the East Frisians. Some years ago the villagers rebuilt the old village school “Oll School” on their own, renovated it lovingly and chose it as the new community house. Everyone with manual skills took part and today, visibly moved, the language representative of Low German of the Krummhörn guides the visitors through the old school, which has now been converted into a cultural meeting place for the people. The high cohesion in the villages is a particular source of happiness, which quickly strikes visitors’ eyes.

“Cultural evenings” are always on tap. The East Frisians remember old times. Of a past, when dike construction was a big thing and poverty could not be denied, or memories of an unforgotten time, when much, much more low German was spoken. Today they sing together the old songs in the old language that not many young people can speak anymore and hard-fightingly try to keep the old language alive in the schools. Together they remember the time when the narrow-gauge railway “Jan Klein” had winded itself through the Krummhörn on a route of 23 km from Emden. By may 1963 it had transported people from Emden to Pewsum or Greetsiel and was then replaced by the expansion of the road network and the use of buses. The times in which many East Frisians had to emigrate are remembered again and again. Old memories, texts, stories from the village, which were transmitted to and by the American Frisians, are read aloud. They are profound, humorous experiences. TrueHappenings from the lives of the communities.

by User:pixelfehler – User:pixelfehler, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Since the 17th century, America has been a seductive call promising wealth, happiness and freedom for many families willing to emigrate. Many people left their European homeland for religious and economic reasons to settle on the new continent. In the 19th century, people, therefore, spoke of a so-called emigration wave. Most people resettled because they starved to death and were promised land where milk and honey flowed. The impoverishment was great – some were undoubtedly also marked by a desire for adventure. Political persecution played no role in East Frisia, but rather rural poverty or oppression by a rich peasantry. For many young people at that time it would have been almost hopeless to found their own family.

Also, the East Frisians from the Krummhörn felt drawn to America. In the second half of the 19th century, there was true mass emigration, which is proven by historical numbers at hand. Previously they had been “recruited” by specially founded agencies. The work of these agencies was lucrative anyway, by exploiting the plight of the people and advertising with almost utopian promises. The East Frisians, who had already emigrated, also contributed with euphoric letters to the fact that their relatives and friends also set forth on the great maneuver. There was not much to lose. Many set out on the arduous path and settled in the USA in an “East Frisia colony.” For the American East Frisians, this meant the hope of being able to create a second home with a growing community. At the same time, they wanted to fight homesickness. Thus small settlements slowly developed from the community. One of the first settlements, the so-called “Saathoff Colony,” was founded in Texas in 1850. However, Texas was not the ideal place for the East Frisians. Almost 90% of all emigrated East Frisians settled in the states of Iowa, Nebraska or Illinois, as the agricultural conditions there were more suitable and the climatic conditions of East Frisia quite similar. About 1.2 million people were looking for a new home in America.

Emigrant East Frisians have been living in the New World for generations. The contact with the old homeland has never been completely lost over the years. Mutual visits and initiatives became a big thing. There was a newspaper edition for the East Frisians in America, which reported promptly and almost identically about the daily events in the old homeland and is still published today. Travels and a town twinning provided and also provide today even for a firm cohesion. Today, there is a collection (the result of family research) which presents a total of around 800,000 names of emigrant families on the Internet. Up to 7% of the East Frisians had left their homeland by the beginning of the First World War. The port in Emden became the hub of this time, from where the emigrants started their new life with immeasurable large hopes. In search of a homeland.

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