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Karl Klinger: the first tour guide of NB

By Tara Kohlenberg, Sophienburg Executive Director —

Tourism has been an important economic facet in New Braunfels for many years. All can agree that the beauty of natural springs bubbling out of a rocky hillside to form the crystal clear Comal River, Landa Park, historic homes and businesses, music venues in century old dance halls, and the beer, sausage and Gemütlichkeit of Wurstfest are not really a difficult sell. But who started it all? Who was the very first tour guide of New Braunfels?

After a quick search through the Archives, I found that it might be a man by the name of Karl Klinger. Okay, so this might need a little background. In 1845, New Braunfels was settled by German immigrants led by Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, Commissioner General of “The Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas” or Adelsverein. When the townsite was surveyed and laid out, the Prince chose a large section of land for the Adelsverein. According to the earliest town maps, the land was bordered by what is today Hill Street, Guenther Street, Cross Street and Butcher Street. A three-room log cabin with large doors was built on the crest of the small hill overlooking the settlement to serve as both the Adelsverein headquarters and guest quarters for visiting dignitaries. The building was also to be the beginning of a fortress to protect the colonists. Now, Prince Carl was already betrothed to Princess Sophia of Salm-Salm, so he did not stick around long in New Braunfels (actually only about 6 weeks). Before he left for his homeland, he dedicated the property and named the log structure “Sophienburg” (Sophia’s Fortress) in honor of his fiancée. A couple of other structures were erected on the site including a supply warehouse (or magazine) for foodstuffs and farm implements (thus the street named Magazine Avenue). After the Adelsverein went bankrupt in 1847, the whole Sophienburg Hill property was sold & divided to satisfy debts. The original headquarters building fell into disrepair, standing as a decaying memory of the Verein for over forty years until it was destroyed in a storm (that’s another story for another time).

For a good part of those forty years, the original Sophienburg building was occupied by Christian (aka Karl) Klinger as a sort of caretaker. Klinger had immigrated to Texas in 1845 as a servant of Prince Carl from the Province of Bavaria. He is listed in census records as a “joiner”, which is an antiquated term for someone who joins wooden building components like stairs, doors, and window frames. He also served during the Civil War in Captain F. Heidemeyer’s Company of Infantry, Texas State Troops, 31st Brigade with the rank of Private. According to an 1888 New Braunfels Zeitung article, Karl Klinger lived in the “only rainproof corner” of the dilapidated old Sophienburg headquarters building until it collapsed (now that’s dedication!). So, what do you do when your historical hilltop home is blown away? What Klinger would do — build a small cabin to operate out of, keep on showing people around the site, keep telling the history of the Prince, Sophienburg Hill and stories about his time as a bugler in the Prussian Regiment of the Guards. To support himself, he sold such items as candy, soda drinks, homemade cider and postcards… the first tour guide and father of tourism in New Braunfels! Klinger was so well known that he was even included in an anonymous poem lovingly penned in German and submitted to the Zeitung in 1877:

The Sophienburg in New Braunfels

At New Braunfels on the hill
An old ruin perched;
There once dwelt the knight
Where now the Klinger lives.
He planes there all day
He tends to play the flute,
His beer is good, the cider clear
For Little money, one gets a lot.
And if you step out in front of the door,
One sees a friendly picture’
There lies the town in green adornment
Shrouded with gardens.
Prince Solms, a good knight,
Had this house built
Thirty-two years ago
To see something different.
After his much loved Lady
Did the Prince name it.
Sophienburg was its name,
So it is still known today.
There in the valley below swayed
The grasses back and forth,
Where you see the manicured farms
Was in those days, bare and desolate.
Wherever the eye turns
One sees today the fruits of Labor
What the parent’s diligence provided,
Was a blessing for their young.

Fast forward to 1928 and when S.V. Pfeuffer, along with a handful of very civic minded people, raised money during The Great Depression to acquire part of the Hill property and build a museum and library. The Museum, built on the original Hill Property, was dedicated on October 8, 1933. New Braunfels Herald accounts of the dedication reported “this was the first instance in the Southwest, at least, where a memorial has risen on the exact site where a city or town had its birth.”

Almost 84 years to the day, the Sophienburg Hill will be recognized by The Texas Historical Commission as a significant part of Texas history by awarding it an Official Texas Historical Marker. The designation honors Sophienburg Hill as an important and educational part of local history. As an added bonus, The Lindheimer Chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas will also recognize the Sophienburg Hill as an Historic Site of the Republic of Texas.

A ceremony to commemorate these two events will be held on Tuesday, October 10, 2017 at 401 W. Coll at 5:15 pm. The Comal County Historical Commission invites the public to share in and witness this exciting dedication of the historical Sophienburg Hill.

Christian (Karl) Klinger in front of the ruins of the old Sophienburg c.1878.

Christian (Karl) Klinger in front of the ruins of the old Sophienburg c.1878.


Sources:

  • Neu Braunfelser Zeitung
  • New Braunfels Herald
  • The First Founders, by Everett A. Fey
  • THC application for site status