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Celebrating Culture & Community is putting together interviews of 25 El Cerrito residents, a project aimed at showing the diverse communities that have contributed to the city's history.

The interviews have been made possible largely through support from the California Council for the Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

For more information about Celebrating Culture & Community , contact Eve Ma at 236-3255 or ccandc_97@yahoo.com

Following is one of the interviews:

El Cerrito History Project 1999

Marie Hoffmann Interview 11/17/99

By Robin DeLugan

Marie Hoffmann is President of the German American Cultural Center of the Greater Bay Area, an organization that includes 36 local member groups that support and celebrate German Culture. Many of the members of the German American Cultural Center live in El Cerrito and the surrounding area. One of the member groups is the Hermannsons Lodge. This group has been meeting at St. John's Hall in El Cerrito for over 30 years. The group is named after a German named Hermann who helped promote German culture in the United States as well as assisted German's with immigration to the United States. Because of shrinking membership in recent years, members from Berkeley and Richmond lodges now meet together in El Cerrito at the Hermannsons Lodge.

The German American Cultural Center is in the process of constructing a new facility for the organization which will house a heritage museum and a library to be located in Oakland adjacent to the Altenheim Senior Living Complex, an important local German social institution. When German immigrants came to the Bay area most were young. As a community, they not only wanted to preserve their language and culture, but they wanted to be able to provide for each other in their old age and to provide funds for funeral costs. The Altenheim Senior Living Complex was built so that German seniors would have a place to go in their golden years. This tradition of taking care of members of the community still underpins much of the activities of the various German groups in the Bay Area. Preserving language and culture remains one of the principal goals. There are Saturday German language schools for those as young as Kindergarten up to adult. Marie strongly believes that when a person of German heritage learns the German language, personal inner self-strength is complete. When you know where you come from, you have strong skills for self-preservation.

This is particularly important for German Americans. After WWII, the political climate in America turned against Germans. New German immigrants who came to the United States to start a new life and German Americans had to suffer discrimination. This caused some Germans to drop their language and even change their names so as not to be identified with Germany. Marie reminds me that these were good people, who came to the make a better life for their future, to preserve strong family ties. The German American Cultural Center is being established so that we all can learn about German history and culture and have a greater understanding, one that will foster tolerance and respect. Also, through the cultural center, Germans can further their cultural heritage.

Also, the goal is for history not to repeat itself. This may be prevented if education about the past is made available for future generations

But German immigration to the United States has been integral to American cultural history. Although there has been a suppression of German culture in the past few decades, In 1990 German Americans celebrated 300 years of immigration to the United States. An immigration that began in 1683 when the sailing ship "Concord" dropped off the first German immigrants to US soil. In 1990 there was a 3-day celebration of German culture in San Francisco, the biggest since WWII. With the support of the city of San Francisco, Market Street was closed off for a parade. One of the guests of honor was the actor Eric Braden (best known for his role as Victor Neuman in the soap opera 'TheYoung and the Restless").

The German American Cultural Center had originally hoped to make the El Cerrito City Club property the site of their new Cultural Center, however, this real estate transaction did not work out.

Marie is also an officer of the Richmond Chor which was founded in 1911 by German immigrants. This choir was originally a man's choir. In 1977 it became a mixed choir with men and women joining from Richmond and the surrounding area. Marie has been an officer of the Choir for over 20 years. Germans love to sing, says Marie. The choir performs regularly in El Cerrito at the Veteran's Hall and have also used the Community Center.

Marie immigrated to the Bay Area in 1955. She has lived in San Pablo, Richmond and Martinez, and is very familiar with El Cerrito. When she first arrived to the area, she remembers that she did a lot of walking around El Cerrito and that it was a wonderful town. El Cerrito was the gathering place where she met friends at Kirby's, MacFarlane's Ice Cream parlor. Highway 80 was not yet built. San Pablo was the main road and many more business exist now than before. El Cerrito looked like a small town particularly because buildings were constructed on a lower scale.



1900 International MarketPlace, San Pablo, CA., 94806

(510) 236-3255; fax (510) 236-3068

e-mail: CCandC_97@yahoo.com

Run dates: 2000-01-01 - 2000-02-01

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