The food shortages across Germany led to bitterness and cynicism. Germany was extremely isolated after the end of the war, yet the anti-German hate machine was still grinding away and urging people not to do business with Germans, making trade hard to come by. She was suddenly the new pariah of the western world with its government turned on its head. It was a land of deprivation, mourning, hunger and mounting anger at the grave injustices she felt she had suffered.
Germans were still carving meat from dead horses, left, and eating pets and zoo animals to survive. In addition to the hunger, there had been massive loss of life in the war. Germany suffered the loss of almost 2 million young men with another 4.3 million wounded. After killing thousands of soldiers, the infamous Spanish flu virus reached Germany and took aim at over 400,000 civilians who died of the disease by 1918.
Even with peace, the propagandists stayed busy protecting Britain’s commercial interests by keeping the hate alive with calls to ‘Hang the Kaiser’ and ‘Make Germany Pay.’ The 1918 short film ‘The Leopard’s Spots,’ also called ‘Once a Hun, Always a Hun,’ depicted two German soldiers brutally attacking a woman and her baby in a French town then appearing after the war as commercial travellers trying to sell their wares in an English village. A brave English shopkeeper notices the words ‘made in Germany’ on the bottom of a pan they are selling and he throws them out of the shop. A caption appears warning: ‘There must be no trading with these people after the war.’
Hate songs about the Kaiser gushed forth after Armistice from publishers reluctant to give up their lucrative war business: ‘Hang the Kaiser to the Sour Apple Tree,’ ‘We’ve Turned His Moustache Down,’ ‘We Sure Got the Kaiser, We Did,’ and ‘The Kaiser Now is Wiser’ all came out after war’s end. Meanwhile, the German government was is chaos while the Communists, socialists, anarchists and others vied for control. Germany struggled with illness, grief, starvation, massive unrest, bitter resentment over the harshness of the Versailles treaty.Shall we Hang the Kaiser?
World War I had injured the once lucrative brewing industry in Germany severely. Only a small portion of raw materials was left for brewing purposes so that beer had to be diluted. Beer export almost ground to a halt. In the beginning of the twenties, inflation forced beer prices up. The record price for one litre of beer was documented at 275,000,000,000 Marks! Other nations were also being urged to continue to boycott German products, and imports were at a standstill. Even as late as 1923, their domestic sales only came to 50% of the sales of 1913.
Beer, that simple beverage, had already been crafted into a contentious issue by the propagandists, war hawks and politicians, an issue which would help drown out German recovery and further water down German culture at home and abroad. So we must back up and look at the part beer played.
... Everything in this country that is pro-German is Anti-American. Everything that is pro-German must go. The German press. The teaching of German in the elementary schools, at least. German Alliances and the whole German propaganda must be abolished. A great American patriotism is essential to national existence. Any alliance that weakens it, is an enemy and should be treated as such. The brewers and allied liquor trades that back such an alliance should suffer the same penalty. If Prohibition is so obnoxious to this class of Germans as statements indicate, they will either be compelled to change their habits and adjust themselves to the new environment, or else find some beer-soaked, Bacchus-dominated spot in the fatherland and go there. Americans are too patriotic to harbor an enemy of the public good within her borders, when by prohibiting it they can better carry out the purpose of government and promote the general welfare.... The Anti-Saloon League
The Anti-Saloon League (ASL) began as a state society in Ohio in 1893 and became the leading organization lobbying for Prohibition in the US, drawing heavily from religious groups for support. Attorney Wayne Bidwell Wheeler was the most notorious leader of the ASL and he wielded considerable political clout. Under his leadership, the League formed an extensive organizational web to achieve Prohibition by supporting or opposing candidates who were Prohibition friendly. Wheeler’s ‘pressure politics’ coined the term “Wheelerism.” To his good fortune, anti-German hysteria gave him a leg up which he used to further his agenda. The National German-American Alliance was Prohibition’s biggest foe and it supported the mostly German US Brewers Association.
Federal Grand Juries began fining breweries heavily for petty infractions in an attempt to drive them out of business, including $281,000 in fines for Texas brewers and $100,000 for the Brewers Association in New York. German-American owners of breweries throughout the U.S. suffered similar federal actions. Instigated by Wheeler, federal agents also seized the corporate and trust files of various breweries, then placed the titles in control of the federal government. Palmer eventually controlled $506 million of German-American owned trusts. The ASL called Milwaukee brewers “the worst of all our German enemies” and dubbed their beer “Kaiser brew.”
When it was disclosed that German-American brewers such as Joseph Uhlein, Gustave Pabst and members of the Miller family had supported Arthur Brisbane’s purchase of the Washington Times as a means of fighting Prohibition, the industry was accused of abetting German propaganda and obstructing the nation’s war effort. The sentiment was widespread. In August of 1918, even the small “Nashville Tennessean” editorialized that the “alliance between the brewers’ organization and German-American disloyalty has been the closest and the interests of the one are the interests of the other. Brewers of this country are almost all German or of German parentage.”
Wheeler once stated: “No patriot can defend the brewers and allied trades in this unpatriotic act. How can any loyal citizen, be he wet or dry, help or vote for a trade that is aiding a pro-German alliance? The time is here for a division between unquestioned and undiluted American patriots, and slackers and enemy sympathizers. A German Alliance that carries on a propaganda for Germany or a brewers’ association that backs it, has no claim on a patriot. The challenge to every 100 per cent American is to strike the hyphen from the German-American Alliance and make it an American alliance or destroy it. That task cannot be completed as long as its partners in disloyalty, the pro-German brewers and their allies, are allowed to gather money from the people to betray the government. The most patriotic act that the Congress or any Legislature or the people can do... is to abolish the un-American, pro-German, crime-producing, food-wasting, youth-corrupting, home-wrecking, treasonable liquor traffic.”
The brewers’ “disloyal behavior” was the subject of a Senate investigation in September, 1918, and a month later President Wilson, ever eager to demolish anything resembling a traditional German-American institution, signed a bill prohibiting the manufacture of intoxicating beverages after May 1, 1919 and their sale after the first of the following July. In 1919, another Government report surfaced titled “Relating to charges made against The United States Brewer’s Association and Allied Interests” which attempted to show that German-American brewers had been more loyal to Germany than to the U.S., and that they in fact supported Bolshevism! The 1920s were thus ushered in with a final assault on that last remaining vestige of German-American culture: beer.
Before Prohibition, there were 1,700 German taverns in Chicago, and there was one bar per every 30 households in Milwaukee. Detroit had 105,000 residents in 1870..and 29 breweries! From 1919 to 1933, Prohibition’s ban on selling alcohol gave rise to massive criminal activity. Shortly before Prohibition, Detroit had 1,500 bars, but by 1925 officials estimated the number of “blind pigs” in the city anywhere from 5,000 to a low estimate of 25,000. By 1927, liquor distribution, manufacturing and selling had become Detroit’s second largest industry, exceeded only by the production of cars. The Purple Gang and other mobsters ran rum back and forth from Canada to Detroit so frequently that the Windsor Tunnel connecting Canada and Detroit was dubbed the “Windsor Funnel.”
During Prohibition, US German “strongholds” were especially vulnerable to the long, dry arm of the law and under constant suspicion. The Germans descended from early settlers in the Frankenmuth, Michigan area were no exception. Not quite able part with the amber nectar, they simply made it themselves. Zehnder’s hotel in Frankenmuth was owned and operated by descendants of the first settlers, and they had poured their hearts and souls into maintaining a clean, well-run establishment. Sometimes, they would secretly serve some of their home brew to a few local families and friends. It all came to a fiendish end when, on July 30, 1930, near the last chapter of Prohibition, both the Zehnder’s and Fischer’s Hotel across the street were surprised by a raid of ten armed federal agents.
The proprietors were both well-respected town fathers and community leaders with no other offenses of any kind, but when these small town boys went to trial on August 4, 1930, the Judge fined Zehnder an extraordinarily harsh $5,000 fine and Fischer with the absolute maximum of $10,000, although in a spurt of “kindness,” he offered to deduct $1,200 from the fines if the offenders were willing to have their beautifully hand-crafted oak bars smashed into schmidtereens, which they were. Fischer’s fine was the highest personal fine paid in the history of Prohibition in the US.
On October 17, 1929, one of the most prosperous eras in American history came to a crashing halt. Black Tuesday had struck with unbelievable force, and the nation was plunged into economic depression. The crusade to repeal Prohibition took on new zeal and “Beer For Prosperity” became the anti-Prohibition battle cry. Illegal profits from beer had totaled $3.5 million per week in Chicago alone where there were also between 350 and 400 gangland murders per year directly stemming from the illegal booze business. With a bleak economy and record unemployment, it was obvious that legalizing beer would create new jobs virtually overnight and bring in desperately needed new government revenue in the form of beer taxes, but for a while these arguments fell on deaf ears.
An estimated 100,000 people turned out to cheer for the legalization of beer in New York City during a day-long Beer Parade on May 14, 1932. Some 40,000 Detroiters held a similar event in the Motor City on the same day. Marchers in the parade chanted “Who wants a bottle of beer?” and spectators called back, “I do!” At 12:01 a.m. on April 7, 1933, brewery whistles around the country heralded the return of beer. Throughout the night before (dubbed “New Beer’s Eve”) excited beer drinkers lined up outside breweries for their first taste of legal beer. In Milwaukee, crowds were said to have been 50,000-strong at the breweries. There was activity again in German beer halls as well. World War One was ended but not over. It had just been the breeding ground for World War Two.
Did this racial stereotyping disappear in modern times? Former Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher had concluded that the “German character” was marked by “aggressiveness, bullying, assertiveness, egotism, excessive exaggerations, inferiority complex, self-pity, sentimentality” according to a minute drawn up by aide Charles Powell of a seminar at Chequers in 1990. The previous summer, Thatcher begged Poland’s Soviet-backed military dictator General Jaruzelski: “We cannot allow German reunification, and you have to protest against it very loudly!”