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Turnverein promoted gymnastics, other community events

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

If you have lived in New Braunfels at least six months, you haveprobably noticed that quite by accident, you have mastered the German language. Well, at least a few words. I’m sure you know these: Haus, Fest, Bier, Gruene, Wurst, Halle, and Verein (Nouns are capitalized).

“Verein” means “organization” and the immigrants brought their love of organizations with them in 1845. That’s why we have so many old clubs with the word Verein in them. Thus we have: Adelsverein (society of noblemen), Schuetzenverein (shooting club), Frauenverein (women’s club), Gesangverein (singing club), das Verein (the club), and the one that I’m going to tell you about – the Turnverein. (Athletic Club).

There were two Turnvereine (the “e” at the end makes it plural so now you know German grammar}. The two were called Turnverein New Braunfels, and New Braunfels Turnverein. Is this confusing?

Hermann Seele is given credit for organizing the Turnverein in 1855 for the purpose of promoting gymnastics, but it was more than that. They sponsored entertaining programs, literary events, and formed a fire-fighting brigade. Another purpose was to improve and promote intellectual and moral culture of youth.

The second club was organized sometime at the early part of 1870. They met at Seele’s Saengerhalle (on Seele St.) and at Weichold Halle (Eagles Hall in Comaltown). Eventually property was purchased on the corner of Coll and Hill Sts. and a hall was built sometime between 1871 and 1880. In the Sophienburg Museum, pictures and belts are part of the Vereine exhibit. They “float through the air with the greatest of ease; the daring young men on the flying trapeze” and take themselves very seriously I must say.

Oscar Haas’ translation of the Comal County deeds revealed that in 1880 the Turnverein donated (for $1) the lot which was their property to the International and Great Northern Railroad Company. They did this because the railroad had agreed to build its railroad through theCity of New Braunfels and to establish a depot for passengers and freight. The Turnverein property (lot 194) was in the boundary of the land on which the depot was to be located.

The second anniversary of this organization was described in the Neu Braunfelser Zeitung of September 29, 1871, translated by Haas:

The festivities started with a parade to Weichold Halle where the anniversary was to be observed. They began with a series of gymnastic exercises on horizontal and parallel bars. Superintendent of Gymnastics Wipprecht gave a speech about the value of gymnastic exercises. After that a home-talent theatrical presentation by members was followed by a dance.

The Turnverein movement has a very interesting background, if not at times somewhat scary. In Prussia (the largest German state) a man named Friedrich Ludwig Jahn in the 1840s bemoaned the contrast between the post-Napoleonic German and the ancient barbarian Tutons. The political atmosphere of the time sparked the flame of the Turnverein movement. Mental acuity had always been important to the German, but now this movement stressed the importance of physical superiority through discipline and conformity. Jahn believed that the way to build up Germany was to build up the physical fitness of its men through exercise. For his ideas he got himself arrested and charged with treason, but was released.

Many of the educated Germans who emigrated to America brought this Turnverein idea with them (as did our early settlers). The movement is responsible for physical education in private and public schools to this day.

In some large cities in the United States, the Turnverein groups became controversial when they organized against various political parties and became more militaristic in nature. That didn’t happen in New Braunfels.

Let’s form a Verein and give the Turnverein credit for our outstanding high school and college athletes. We take physical fitness so much for granted that it’s hard to imagine a time when it wasn’t important.

Members of the Turnverein with their winning belts.