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Here’s a whale of a tale

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

In our downtown New Braunfels, there is a pub at 367 Main Plaza on the south side of the plaza called the Black Whale Pub. Strange? Why would anyone call a pub a black whale? It’s not as strange as it seems because supposedly there are many pubs called “Zum Schwarzen Wallfisch” (Black Whale) in Germany and that’s what this pub was called in the mid-1800s. Now the Black Whale Pub has returned and is located where Zum Schwarten Wallfisch was located.

It is thought that these pubs referring to a whale were named after an old German student drinking song that can be traced back to the early 1800s. The first owners of the pub in New Braunfels had just “gotten off the boat” and no doubt they were familiar with this old song.

The song, “The Black Whale of Ascalon”, tells the story of a drunk being thrown out of a pub because he couldn’t pay. Here are the translated first four lines:

In the Black Whale of Ascalon,
a man drank day by day.
Till stiff as any broom handle,
Upon the floor he lay.

The last two lines to the song say:

And he who would drink in peace,
Must pay the money down.

I think the moral is that if you drink, you better be prepared to pay.

Lot #47, where the Black Whale Pub is located, was one of those lots set up by Nicholas Zink. Zink was chosen by Prince Carl to divide the tract into town lots. These lots were, in turn, drawn and claimed by the immigrants. Zink drew up the town lots and included in the plan several smaller plazas or lots designated for certain activities. He drew the Main Plaza (Marktplatz) as the center of the town. It became what Zink intended, the center and it remains so to this day.

Let’s go back to 1845, the beginning of New Braunfels. Three siblings of the Johann Riedel family of Nassau, decided to immigrate to Texas. They were Anton, Nikolaus and Catharine Riedel Arnold. The brothers and their families arrived in Galveston on the brig Herschel and their sister arrived at the same time with her husband, Peter Arnold. They made their way to New Braunfels along with the other first settlers. All three siblings were awarded one-half Bavarian acre town lots.

Nickolaus Riedel arrived with his wife, Magdalena, and their two children; Therese, aged 3 and Franz, aged 1. He received town lot #47, which faces the Main Plaza’s south corner. The original lot#47 stretched from the present Black Whale Pub to Seguin Ave. where the UPS is now located. Two and a half months after arrival, Nickolaus Riedel died, and his wife died a few months later. Anton Riedel, Nickolaus’ brother, was appointed guardian to the children and consequently protected the children’s interest in their father’s property. The children eventually received the rights to town lot #47. Over time, this lot would be divided up by the heirs and bought and sold by various individuals.

Then Ferdinand Simon Sr. entered the picture. Ferdinand Simon was given the job of contracting the first courthouse in New Braunfels finished in 1860. It was to be built on the corner of San Antonio St. and the south side of the Plaza, close to town lot #47. Simon built a small wooden house there and this small building became known as the Simon house or building and in time there were several small businesses located in this building. In 1885, Carl (Charles) Schumann moved his saloon, location unknown, but named Zum Schwarzen Wallfisch Saloon to the Simon building. An old story tells of prisoners singing along with saloon goers.

Now we enter the second half of the story, and historically what makes this site so important. The first English newspaper in town, the Herald, was located on lot#47 from the late 1800s until to the end of 1907, and then returned for 20 years beginning in 1924. The history behind the Herald was that the Neu Braunfelser Zeitung announced that on March 10, 1892, “our German settlement will get an English weekly newspaper.” The Messrs. J.D. Guinn, Harry Landa, B.F. Voelcker, S.V. Pfeuffer and Sharp Runnels Whitley of Austin spearheaded the project and chose Whitley as editor. There were several locations of this first English Herald before and after it first moved to lot #47. Publishers and/or editors following Whitley included E.M. deAhna, who first moved the Herald to the Plaza location, A.C. Coers, Fred Tausch and A.R. Ludwig. The last editor was D.O. Bell. It was he who purchased the Simon property and built the 1924 building. The Simon wooden building was removed and a 1924 brick building contracted by A.C. Moeller was built in its place. The Herald once again was relocated at this building site as it had been years before when it was in the wooden Simon building.

In 1952, the exclusive hundred-year-old German newspaper, Neu Braunfelser Zeitung, began writing some stories in English in its weekly edition. The large Zeitung’s 100th Anniversary Edition was the last one to carry German on its front page and promised not to drop German altogether. Soon it became difficult to obtain linotype for the German section. When the English section became dominant, the name had been changed to the Zeitung-Chronicle.

Gradually the town was giving up its predominant German language. Finally in 1957, after WWII, when Claude W. Scruggs took over as owner-publisher, the Herald merged with the former German language newspaper the Zeitung-Chronicle.

Not only saloons and newspapers made the Simon house and that property their home. The Christian Science Society met at the Simon building from around 1912 to 1924.The Herald moved into their new building and stayed there until they built another building in 1944 on Castell Ave. After the move, the Dean Office Supply moved in there from 1945 and stayed until 1974. Until the Schwarzen Walfisch LP bought the property in 2002, various cafes located there.

The present owner of the lot#47 site is Donna Byrd. Realizing the significance of such an historic site, she is requesting to commemorate it with a Texas Historical Marker. The research for her request and the information for this article were done by John and Cindy Coers of the Comal County Historical Commission.

Early 1880s photo of Charles Schumann’s Zum Schwarzen Wallfisch (The Black Whale) with the jail to the right.

Early 1880s photo of Charles Schumann’s Zum Schwarzen Wallfisch (The Black Whale) with the jail to the right.