What is it like to live in Tennessee

Hohenwald in TennesseeSwiss emigrants in the USA

When you see a place called "Hohenwald" on the map of Tennessee, your curiosity is already aroused. Hohenwald is just 80 miles southwest of Nashville, the so-called "Music City USA". "Hohenwald" sounds German. We asked the mayor of Hohenwald, based on the somewhat modified proverb "He who asks, wins" and were invited to the old, historic train station in a very friendly manner. The station of the former Nashville Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway no longer has a track connection, but it is in a wonderfully restored condition. As we soon learn, it is exactly the place where most of the immigrants arrived, a focal point of fate, so to speak. We have taken a seat around a cozy table in the old waiting room and Kenneth Kistler begins to tell:

"Hohenwald was founded in 1895 as 'New Switzerland'. The New Switzerland was touted in the Midwest and praised for its pleasant climate. Hundreds of them came. This promotion was then run by the Swiss Society Pioneer Union, Milwaukee, Wisconsin."

The grandmother immigrated to Minnesota from Switzerland

Kenneth Kistler is a really sprightly 90-year-old whose ancestors, as we suspect, come from Switzerland. With wide-awake eyes he introduces us to his nephew Tommy Haskins, who seamlessly continues the story of the immigration of Hohenwald:

"It was probably more like the 'Wild West'. Quite a few of the settlers who arrived here by train got back on immediately. For the houses and fields, the forest had to be cleared first, the soil was very stony and containing silicate. That made plowing very sweaty and that was one of the reasons why farming wasn't easy here. "

Kenneth Kistler's grandmother first immigrated to Minnesota from Switzerland. She was one of the families that followed the Swiss Society Pioneer Union's promotion.

"She sewed the money into the hem of her petticoat. Then she got on the train in Brownsvalley, Minnesota. The train then went via Milwaukee, Chicago, Louisville, Nashville here to Hohenwald. When she got off the train, a cold wind blew and." Snow covered the ground. She shook her head and said spontaneously, 'Oh my god, what have we done?' My mother always said that was the first thing her mother said when she got off the train. "

Tommy Haskins:

"My grandmother said that the first night the snow blew through the cracks into the bedroom and landed under her bed. The people who advertised the Swiss Colony in Hohenwald claimed: the roses bloom here all year round". And when they got here, there was eight inches of snow. "

At the old oak table of the train station

Danny McKnight has joined us at the old oak table in the train station. He is the mayor of Hohenwald and he tells us what role Kenneth Kistler played in Hohenwald and what consequences that had for everyone:

"Mr. Kistler was the director of our school. He had a very positive influence on me, probably more than he ever thought. Here in Hohenwald there are and have been many remarkable personalities who have shaped our place a lot, perhaps more than you guessed it yourself. It was the same with me with Mr. Kistler. You have to reach a certain age before you realize how much these people have influenced us. "

One of these remarkable personalities, who were known far beyond the Hohenwald area, was Rod Brassfield, for example. He appeared regularly in the legendary Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, of which there is even a historical recording. Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley stood on this stage of the Grand Ole Opry alongside many other stars. Another personality that Danny McKnight talks about was the well-known writer William Gay. In 1999 he won the renowned James A. Michener Memorial Prize with his first novel "The long Home".

William Gay:

"My name is William Gay, we are in Hohewald, Tennessee. I am born here and graduated from highschool here, than I left and going to Navi for four years."

Kenneth Kistler remembers William Gay well, who went to school with him.

Annette Peery from the Lewis County Museum, which is right next to the old train station, picks up the thread at our table:

"The Swiss and Germans are very talented when it comes to art and music. They put on the William Tell play every year. It was a kind of open-air theater with many actors. Back then they had a brass band, an orchestra and a choir, the they called 'Alpenrösli'. The Alpenrösli Choir still existed today in a modern version and they sing for us on various occasions ".

Old historical train station in Hohenwald, where most of the immigrants arrived by train. (Rudi and Rita Schneider / Deutschlandradio)

"The Alpenrösli choir only recorded a Christmas concert," says Tommy Haskins. We think that at least one song from this concert, maybe even now this summer, fits the immigration stories we heard. It's the song with the "snow". Kenneth and Tommy are Alpenrösli choir members and have dedicated themselves to maintaining old German-language songs. That sounds like Oktoberfest, a festival that Americans across the 49 states are now celebrating with great enthusiasm. Not so in Hohenwald, says Debbie Landers, the director of the Convention & Visitor Bureau:

"We have the October Heritage Festival here every year, yes! People come from all over the area. Most people think it's an Oktoberfest with beer and pretzels, but it's not. Our festival revolves around the different Celebrations that take place all over the place, all about our cultural heritage. "

With 3,000 inhabitants a manageable place

Hohenwald is a manageable place with its 3,000 inhabitants and a hike through the historic city center is definitely worthwhile. A generous round pavilion adorns the Wilhem Tell square. A visit to the Lewis County Library is also recommended. Chrystal Nash is the director and her pride is a room in this library that is very different from what you usually find in libraries.

"This room has a unique history. It is the living room of the Franz Weinhappel House. Franz Weinhappel came from Austria and he was a gifted craftsman who built carriages, among other things. After he died and his house was about to be torn down, Lewis County was able to do so Historical Society save the house and living room. We are very likely the only library in Tennessee, or even the nation, that has an entire room in its premises as an example of local craftsmanship. "

Another, and we believe, equally important craftsmanship is that of the man at the printing press of the local newspaper. The role such newspapers play in history can be seen from some of the well-known papers. No less than Mark Twain was a journalist on the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City. The Lewis County Herald is printed in Hohenwald. Becky Jane Newbold is the head of the local newspaper and she accompanies our visit.

"I don't think much has changed over the years for a small-town newspaper. We report on current events, about birth and death, what happens and of course also about historical things. There is so much social warmth in this place. That we notice again and again when we have to report on tragedies and accidents. We are of course on the Internet, but our paper edition is still there. My brother runs the old printing press that our father bought in 1978. The newspaper has been a family business for us since 1957 and we're continuing the business that was founded sometime in late 1800. It's a lot of fun and it's an honor. "

During our walk in Hohenwald we learn that not only Swiss, Austrians and Germans have found their new home here. No, Hohenwald also offers these gentlemen a home forever. If you couldn't believe your ears when hearing this noise, they are indeed elephants. They live here in Hohenwald in the Elephant Sanctuary. This is an eleven square kilometer habitat run by a "non-profit organization" and the largest of its kind in North America. After their, if you may say so, working life in a circus, zoo or even private property, the elephants are offered a home for the rest of their lives with all care, explains Todd Montgomery and tells us how the elephants live in this habitat :

"You have the opportunity to be with the other elephants, to sunbathe and to frolic. In our area we have a lake, large pools and rivers in which they like to splash around in the water. They have clay and mud pits, which we and they made themselves. We simply created an environment for them that comes as close as possible to their natural habitat. "

Everything about the Hohenwalder elephant paradise

In East Main Street, visitors can find out more about everything to do with the Hohenwalder Elephant Paradise in a very interesting exhibition in the Elephant Sanctuary. In his youth on Main Street, says Kenneth, only German was spoken. Helen Ozier knows what life was like here for young people:

"Being a teenager here in Hohenwald was terrible because everyone knew exactly what you were doing. If you did something wrong, your mother would know before you were at home. It was absolutely impossible to be unobserved. It was horrible for a 16 or 17 year old. You had hundreds of parents who had their eyes all over the place. From today's perspective that means Hohenwald is a terrible place to be a teenager and it's a wonderful place to raise children. "

That was certainly also the work of Principal Kenneth Kistler and his faculty at the school, whom everyone here calls "Papa Kistler", by the way. Incidentally, his family's roots reach back to Reichenburg on Lake Zurich, and anyone who has met Kenneth will already suspect that he has not only studied his family's roots from a distance in Tennessee.

"In 1969 I visited Reichenburg. I found the house, it had a 'K' on the door. I knocked and a little girl opened it. The girl shouted" Mamma, Mamma "and ran into the house. We later found out that she was probably thought I was a box maker who possibly makes coffins. We were then invited into the living room, which was on the first floor. We talked for a long time about the history of our families. The mountains behind the house are even called 'Kistler Alps' called."

We end our walk through Hohenwald and go back to the old train station, where it all began for most families in the so-called New Switzerland, and pack the microphone again. And then we experience some of the southern hospitality. Debbie Landers invited us all to a self-prepared supper, that's what dinner is called here, and Susan Christian rounds off our visit with a dessert that is very well known to us:

"Black Forest Gates. This is one of the cakes I bake in my bakery. I use all the typical ingredients that Germans use in this cake, of course cherries and fresh whipped cream. It is wonderful."

From Hohenwald via Cologne to Basel: visit to the Dlf studio

While enjoying the Black Forest cake, Kenneth Kistler and Tommy Haskins came up with a surprise. They said that they would come to Germany and even Cologne two weeks later. You would have booked a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel in your old homeland. Then Rudi and Rita Schneider spontaneously invited them to a visit to our broadcasting house, which Kenneth and Tommy accepted with pleasure. On June 13th the time had come. Your ship docked at Cologne Cathedral in Deutz. Rudi Schneider picked up the gentlemen from the ship and then the two of them got to know our broadcasting house and of course the exact studio we are broadcasting from. And these are their impressions:

Kenneth Kistler:

"The excursion through the studios was an 'eye opener' for me. I've listened to the radio all my life. I had no idea how highly specialized radio is produced. We heard the DLF news in the car while we were out and just here in the car The broadcast studio experiences how everyone here works hand in hand to the second, that's amazing. "

Tommy Haskins:

"The size of the studio is unbelievable and the sound and broadcast technicians who we were allowed to look over the back during the broadcast are working very focused. We could watch Reinhard Pede, who we had previously heard on the car radio, through the glass read the news, that was wonderful. "