LIVING FAR FROM HOME
Our November 2019 talk - reviewed by Mike Chitty
Prof. Michael Ziessler came to talk to us about the history of the German Church of Liverpool. He listed the 'push' and 'pull' factors that had led Germans to leave home. Economic depression, crop failures and political unrest made living in Germany less attractive, while England's industrialisation offered jobs. Liverpool had factories, and its port provided work for sailors and merchants. It was also the gateway to America; but many German emigrants found that they couldn't afford the fare. Liverpool became home to about 1,300 German people.
Sunday worship for German sailors had begun on a ship owned by the Liverpool Seamen's Friend Society in the 1820s, but it is David Jacob Hirsch, a young theologian at St Aidan's College in Birkenhead, who is regarded as the founder of the Church. The Bishop of Chester engaged him to act as Pastor to the German community (a role which he fulfilled from 1846-76) and he set up a chapel and school in the centre of Liverpool. In 1872 the congregation moved from Sir Thomas Street to the Newington Chapel in Renshaw Street. Hirsch's successor, Ferdinand Hartmann, only stayed 5 years but gave the church a new constitution, independent of the Anglican Church.
The peak decades for German emigration were the 1850s and the 1880s. An important group were the pork butchers of south Germany, who found a market for their cheap food and 'ready meals' in the working-class districts of northern cities. In Liverpool, they settled mainly in the Stanley Road/Scotland Road area, nicknamed 'Little Germany'. It was not easy to hold the congregation together. The sailors were transient, the merchants acted mainly as trustees, the pork butchers met separately in north Liverpool, and the sugar refineries (which employed many of the earlier migrants from north Germany) worked 7 days a week. However, the German Church became a centre of social life, with a choir, German classes for children, and a literature club.
After the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, all Germans came to be regarded as enemies. There was rioting in Liverpool, German shops were destroyed and businessmen were sent to camps on the Isle of Man. Church membership fell to 250 and some of the members changed their names: e.g. Koch to Cork, Karle to Carr, Reising to Roberts. The Renshaw Street church closed in 1930, when it was bought for the expansion of Central Station. The congregation moved to a former English Presbyterian building on the corner of Bedford Street South and Canning Street. However, the outbreak of WW2 brought renewed problems, with Pastor Hermann Garcke being imprisoned in Huyton and later the Isle of Man.
By the end of the war the congregation had dwindled further, but was supplemented by new members: German wives of British soldiers, and ex-POWs who decided not to return home. The Church building itself was in danger of collapse, having been shaken by the (German) bombs that had fallen nearby during the war. It was demolished in 1951, and services were held in the Baptist Church at Princes Gate. Then in 1959 a new, small church was built on the Bedford Street South site. It is still there today, with about 40 members, and a Pastor shared with other northern cities.
Prof. Ziessler concluded his interesting talk by inviting everyone to attend the Christmas Bazaar on 30th November - one of the Church's annual highlights.