WXYZ-TV7 December 2007

German immigration to Detroit began before 1820, and increased following the turmoil of unsuccessful European revolutions in 1848. Today, Germans are the largest ancestral group in Michigan , representing over 2.6 million descendants, or 22% of the state's population and the Bavarian villages of Frankenmuth and Gaylord stand as testaments to the once proud and vigorous German communities that dotted both rural and urban Michigan landscapes.

In Detroit , most German immigrants settled in an area known as Germantown, located between the Jefferson and Gratiot Avenue corridors. Many opened shops and businesses ranging from breweries to tailoring shops to tanneries. Harmonie Park was as important center of Germantown . Greek immigrants moved into a part of Germantown that later became known as Greektown.


  • In the 1880’s, German immigrant Oscar Meyer began his career as butcher in Detroit’s Germantown before his moniker became a famous brand name for packaged hot dogs and cold cuts.

  • Albert Kahn, a young German immigrant, designed the General Motors headquarters in the 1920’s, then the world’s largest private office building.

  • In 1925, Walter P. Chrysler, the son of a German speaking mother and a father descended from German immigrants, launched the Chrysler Corporation.

  • Walter P. Reuther, the son of German immigrants, was elected to the presidency of the United Auto Workers union in 1946.

  • Detroit G. (Gerhardt) Mennen "Soapy" Williams, whose German grandfather built the Mennen toiletry fortune, was elected in 1949 to the first of six two-year terms as Michigan’s governor and later served as Chief Justice of the State’s Supreme Court.

  • John Engler, a descendant of German and Austrian immigrants, followed a similar path in 1990 when he was elected to the first of three four-year terms as Michigan ’s governor.

  • Long before Detroit became renowned for the production of automobiles, the city had earned a solid national reputation for the manufacturing of cigars and chewing tobacco. Among the biggest of the cigar makers in Detroit , The Rothchild and Brother Tobacco Co. was founded in 1854 by two German immigrants.

  • Frankenmuth, located below "The Thumb" of the mitten, has indeed earned its title of Little Bavaria. Settled by German immigrants in 1845, the town reflects its ethnic heritage. Alpine chalet-style buildings crowd the sidewalks and Zehnder's and the Bavarian Inn restaurants (famous for all-you-can-eat chicken dinners) are filled to capacity on a daily basis. Don't miss Bronner's Christmas Wonderland, billed as the world's largest Christmas store.

  • Saint Mary's in today’s Greektown district, was founded 1841 and served 1,800 German Catholics. By 1855 the German population had increased and had expanded geographically to the east; a daughter parish, St. Joseph ’s, would serve the newly settled farms and community.

  • The Germans established cultural institutions to preserve the traditions of German Catholicism and the German language. Newspapers included the Detroiter Abendpost, which survives today as the Nordamerikanische Wochen-Post.

Detroit 's Dakota Inn Rathskeller has barely changed since Karl and Katherine Kurz converted a laundromat into a restaurant in 1933. The Kurzes' son and daughter ran the Dakota for years, and since 1986, grandson Karl Kurz has been in charge. A friend of Karl and Katherine Kurz painted the murals on the walls, which depict the German towns the Kurzes came from.