The Early Singing Groups and Sängerfests
When New Braunfels was founded in 1845 by immigrants from Germany, it was only natural
that their love of the arts would come with them. This love was manifested in their early
establishment of singing groups .
According to Oscar Haas’ “A Chronological History of the Singers of German Songs in
Texas” that when New Braunfels was established, surveyed and laid out, even the rifle company
which was organized for protection of the settlers marched through the streets singing. A quartet met
regularly in a house at the corner of Garden and Comal streets, and when a piano became available,
the young unmarried settlers would get-together in the evenings for fellowship.
Oscar Haas tells a story that in 1845 a cable had been strung across the Guadalupe River and
the boat-like bed of an oxen-wagon was used to bring provisions to the New Braunfels side by
pulling the wagon bed along the cable. One day a barrel of wine that was being transported across
the river sprung a leak while it was rolling down the embankment. The men captured the wine, using
hats and other utensils and drank it until their singing rose above the rush of the waters.
In March of 1850, “Germania”, the first singing club in Texas, was organized. Within a
short time singing clubs were started at Sisterdale, Austin, San Antonio, and La Grange. These
groups became the center of social activities. In 1850 and 1851 Germania sponsored 4th of July
celebrations which included parades and dancing. In 1852 Germania participated in a benefit concert
for a fund to purchase a printing press. The purchase of the printing press was the start of Ferdinand
Lindheimer’s New Braunfelser Zeitung.
In 1853, Germania again held a 4th of July celebration which was such a success that it was
decided to hold an “After Celebration” in August. Invitations were sent to Austin and San Antonio
and singers came from both places for the celebration. At the August event it was decided to hold
the first Sängerfest in New Braunfels on October 15 - 16. Germania sent out invitations and
immediately proceeded to erect a Sängerhalle (Singers’ Hall). The 1853 Sängerfest was attended
by singers from San Antonio, Austin, and Sisterdale. It was at this Sängerfest that the concept of a
German Texas Sängerbund was formed.
The second Sängerfest in Texas was held in San Antonio in May of 1854. Groups from
Austin, La Grange, New Braunfels, Sisterdale and San Antonio participated in the event and steps
were taken for the forming of a State Singers’ League (Deutsch-Texanischen Sängerbundes). A
constitution and by-laws were drawn up and recommended to the different societies. Also, at the
festival it was decided that the third song festival would be held in New Braunfels. Societies joining
in 1854 included Boerne Gesängverein, Comfort Liedertafel, Fredericksburg Concordia, Sattler
Walhalla, and Smithson Valley Echo. In subsequent years the following societies joined the League.
• Ufnau, 1855
• Honey Creek Liedertafel, 1855
• Twin Sisters Gesängverein, 1855
• San Antonio Beethoven Maennerchor, 1867
• New Braunfels Maennerchor, 1885
• Sisterdale Gesängverein, 1890
• Luckenbach Froheinn, 1890
• Salitrillo Liederkranz, 1892
• San Antonio Liederkranz, 1892
• Kerrville Harmonie, 1893
• New Braunfels Gesängverein Echo, 1901
• Clear Springs Froheinn, 1916
• New Braunfels Concordia, 1927
• New Braunfels Harmonie, 1937
• San Antonio Damenchor, 1938
During this period other groups also
became members. They included: Comfort
Gemischter Chor, Boerne Choral Club, Geronimo
Maennerchor, Fredericksburg Hermannsohn
Gemischter Chor, San Antonio Hermannsohn
Gemischter Chor, Schumannsville Gemischter
Chor, Twin Sisters Gemischter Chor, Spring
Branch Gemuetlich, Fredericksburg Arlon,
Bulverde Forteschritt, Taylor Maennerchor,
Uhland Maennerchor, and Cibolo Gesängverein.
The third Sängerfest was held on October
12 & 13, 1855, and singing groups attended from
San Antonio, Austin, LaGrange, Columbus,
Indianola and Sisterdale.
Although the fourth Sängerfest was originally scheduled to be held in Austin, it was actually
held in New Braunfels in October 1856.
The fifth Sängerfest was held in New Braunfels in 1857, but only groups from New
Braunfels, San Antonio and Fredericksburg were represented.
In the ensuing years Sängerfests were held as far away as Houston, Galveston and Dallas.
There was a break during the Civil War years and the events were not held every year. The 24th
Sängerfest was held in Houston in 1902 and in 1903 the Golden Jubilee was observed in New
Braunfels. In 1953, the 100 anniversary was observed in Ne th w Braunfels. Sängerfests continue to
this day with our local organizations participating.
Gesängverein Echo - April 1953
Quoting from the October 24, 1948, edition of the San Antonio Express - “Through drouth
and war and pestilence, whenever it was possible at all, the singing societies have had their feasts
of song. Our children would be fortunate, indeed, if the German tradition of song would never die
out – if it would, some day, be shared by all of us and become a TEXAS TRADITION.”
Through the years the singing societies also presented plays and operettas and the Concordia
(mixed choir) presented a German play or operetta annually. Echo Hall (now known as Eagles Hall)
located on East South Street between Washington Avenue and Houston Avenue, was always filled
to capacity for the productions.
Early directors of the New Braunfels Symphony which was established prior to 1900 were
H. Schimmelphennig and Stephen Haelbig. After 1900 directors were Ed Gruene, Carl Druebert,
Horace Kibedough, and Victor Kase.
New Braunfels also was home to a number of bands. They included Schultz’s Band and the
Waldschmidt Band. The Waldschmidt Band was also known as the Fireman’s Band. Additionally
there were Ed Gruene’s Military Band, the Eggling Band and the August Bartels Orchestra. In the
1940's and 1950's there were the Al Schnabel Band and the Lee Kohlenberg Band, playing that Big
Band Sound. There are any number of bands, many who play at the New Braunfels Wurstfest, who
continue to bring music to New Braunfels.
Artists and Artisans
Early New Braunfels also welcomed artists and artisans. Among them were Friedrich
Richard Petri and Hermann Lungkwitz who came to this Country in 1850. They were brothers-inlaw,
(Hermann Lungkwitz was married to Friedrich Richard Petri’s sister Elisabeth) so the families
came together, leaving Germany in a small boat, and landing in Hoboken, New Jersey. They
traveled from there to Virginia, where they sailed to Indianola, Texas, by way of New Orleans,
Louisiana. After landing in Indianola, they traveled by ox-cart to New Braunfels. Later they moved
to a farm near Fredericksburg, Texas. During their lifetimes Lungkwitz produced at least 219
paintings and drawings, and Petri produced nearly 400. Many of them depicted life on the frontier
of Texas, and the Native Americans who were here at the time.
Another New Braunfels artist was one of New Braunfels earliest citizens, Carl G. von
Iwonski, who was 15 years old when he and his family came to Texas in 1846. There is a book
about his life and career by James Patrick McQuire entitled - Iwonski in Texas: Painter and Citizen.
As early as 1845 German immigrant artisans such as Johann Michael Jahn and Franz
Stautzenberger expressed their creativity through the medium of woodworking and cabinetmaking.
Many of their works, as well as the works of other craftsman, are displayed at the Texas Museum
of Handmade Furniture at the Heritage Village, 9.5 acres located off Churchhill Drive.
The Seekatz Opera House
The Seekatz Opera House was built by Louis
and Otto Seekatz in 1901. Seekatz Opera House
played host to the many and varying forms of
traveling entertainment at the time, including opera.
Due to the popularity of these events Seekatz Opera
House quickly became the center of entertainment
and social activity in New Braunfels. For operas
and theater productions, and later motion pictures,
seating took on the main floor, while the balconies
were packed with spectators and food and beverages
were served from the dining room and kitchen
housed in the basement.
Due to its beauty and spaciousness, the Seekatz Opera House also thrived with local events
throughout the year including many Fourth of July Celebration Dances, New Year’s Eve Firemen’s
Balls, Kindermaskenballs and New Braunfels 75th Anniversary concerts in 1920. Later, the Candy
Kitchen, a popular place for young people to gather, was moved into the lobby bar of the Opera
House and was sold to the operator there in 1937. Seekatz Opera House remained the premier event,
meeting and production center in New Braunfels until it was tragically destroyed by fire on January
The building was rebuilt and used as a department store for many years. In 2004 the store
that was reconstructed in the remains of the Seekatz Opera House underwent full renovation and was
again named the Seekatz Opera House. Today, Seekatz Opera House is as beautiful as ever and once
again is ready to host gatherings of all kinds.
The restored Seekatz Opera House located on W. San
Bulverde’s first “Play Groupe” - Picture taken in the 1920s.
Drama and Music in Western Comal County in the Early 1920's
“St. Joseph’s Honey Creek Parish History 1876-2005" written by Barbara Wehe and
Brenda Lindemann, published by Omni Publishers is the basis for the below written information.
St. Joseph’s Honey Creek Church is now located 15 miles east of Boerne or 28 miles west
of New Braunfels on State Highway 46. Settlement of the area began as early as 1850 when German
immigrants began to locate near the streams and the hilly countryside. Father John Kossbiel was the
founding priest who encouraged the settlers to build themselves a church. Records list August 20,
1876 as the first date the community had a central location to attend Mass. The parish was later
reorganized and the site of the present church was selected in 1892. The present structure was built
in 1912 and the original church became St. Joseph’s Honey Creek School which served the
community until it was consolidated with the Bulverde School in 1950.
Plays were put on by some of the parents whose children attended St. Joseph’s Honey Creek
School to raise funds for the school. Mrs. Margaret Scheel-Stapper revealed her memories in a
telephone interview. She remembered her mother dressing in costumes when she was a child. She
also participated in plays while in school and remembers the titles of two plays; “Look Out Lizzie”
and “Good Gracious Grandma”. Each was a three act production. Margaret’s uncle, Alex Scheel,
Sr., participated in one act plays in German. Productions were usually presented at Christmas time
and at the end of the school year.
Alex Scheel, Jr. remembered the plays also - children would be in a skit and then the parents.
Alex spoke of his Father, Alex Scheel, Sr. and his uncles all being in the Church band. Again,
(giving credit to Barbara’s and Brenda’s published History), the Honey Creek Band began in 1926.
The Scheel family was quite gifted with musical talents and played several instruments. Eugene
Scheel played S Cornet; Alfred Scheel, B Cornet; Alex Scheel, Alto; Albert Scheel and John Scheel,
Bass; Bernard Scheel, Trumpet; Rudolph Engel, Bass; Emil Laubach, Drums; Alfons Schwartz,
Trumpet; Gus Kanz, Trumpet and Fritz Grosser, Alto. When interviewed, Alex was asked if the
band played for other entertainment and his answer was “I think only church”.
Theatrical productions were spoken
in German and probably performed at the
Ufnau School in western Comal County.
Picture submitted by Zada Bremer Jahnsen
who can only identify her Grandfather,
Benno Bremer (hidden in the picture) and
Marvin Uecker, Sr. (wearing hat, left of
The Peninsula Playhouse
On March 4, 1963, the City Commission of New Braunfels received the below written
proposal from the Durett Corporation of Seguin, Texas.
The Durett Corporation is interested in developing an outdoor legitimate theatre
operation in Landa Park, New Braunfels, Texas. I believe your city to be an excellent
location for such a development.
A theatre of this type in Landa Park would undoubtedly stimulate interest in cultural
activities by providing an opportunity for local citizens to see and participate in first
line Broadway-type productions. There will also be some national advertising
connected with the theatre which would, of course, include information about New
Braunfels and Landa Park. The presence of a legitimate theatre will create an
additional tourist attraction and help to establish New Braunfels as a leading resort
area for the Southwest.
The Durett Corporation therefore solicits a contract from the City of New Braunfels
to operate such a theatre in Landa Park - The corporation is prepared to:
(1) Build a stage in the park at the site of the existing dance pavilion and band
(2) Utilize the dance pavilion as a rehearsal hall, storage area for sets and
properties, and as a construction area for the sets.
(3) Operate the concession stand located between the band shell and the dance
(4) Pay the City of New Braunfels fifteen percent (15%) of the gross income
realized from ticket sales and the concession stand as payment in full for
rentals and for utilities, which are to be furnished by the city.
(5) Provide a watchman or guard for the area during theatre performances to help
discourage theft and vandalism.
I believe this can and will be a worthwhile venture for all concerned and that such
will come for all parties should you see fit to accept our bid.
James L. Duderstadt, President
After discussions between Mr. Duderstadt and the City Commission, the Commission voted
unanimously in favor of the proposal.
After the contract was signed a 42 by 90-foot state of the art stage and dressing room building
was built on the site, a roof was erected over the entire dance floor and elevated theatre type seating
was built on risers on the dance slab.
Productions in the summer of 1963 included, The Pajama Game, South Pacific, The King
& I, Mr. Roberts and Three Men on a Horse. Because of financial difficulties the theatre was dark
in 1964, and in 1965 a group of local people tried to revive it with a production of My Fair Lady and
a group from San Antonio produced Little Mary Sunshine and Wildcat..
The theatre eventually fell into disrepair and despite the protests of a number of local
individuals, was torn down some time in the 1970's.
There was another local theatre in New Braunfels in the late 1970's or early 1980's which
operated in the Village of Gruene. It was called Texas Playwrights’ Theatre. It offered plays for one
season and ran into insurmountable difficulties and closed. We were unable to find additional
information about this theatre.
Different Dance Groups
The New Braunfels German Folkdancers, celebrating New Braunfels’ German heritage,
perforrmed for a number of years at Wurstfest and at other festivals and events in Texas.
The Ballet Folklorico Infantil performed Mexican folk dances at various festivals.
The Kinder Tanzer is a group of children who perform German folkdances at Wurstfest and
The Hummel Museum
The Hummel Museum was a world-class museum that featured the most extensive collection
of works by Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel, a nun in World War II Germany whose paintings of
innocent-faced children were later interpreted into the figurines and plates that are now collected
around the world. There were over 350 drawings and paintings on display at the Museum which was
located on East San Antonio Street where it intersected the Main Plaza in a renovated bank building.
The Hummel Museum opened in October 1993, and later became the New Braunfels Museum of Art
& Music when the paintings which were on loan from the owner in Europe, were returned.
The New Braunfels Museum of Art & Music
The New Braunfels Museum of Art & Music
started out in the facilities of the Hummel Museum,
when the drawings and painting which were on
display there were returned to their owner in Europe.
The Museum Property on East San Antonio Street at
the Main Plaza was sold to the County of Comal and
the Museum of Art & Music purchased property at
1259 Gruene Road which included a restaurant. The
Museum of Art & Music opened its new 10,000 sq.
ft. building in May of 2003, after several years of
legal maneuvering regarding required parking
spaces and other problems. Its first exhibit was
“Dance Halls and Last Calls” which contained
archival photos, memorabilia, historical critical analysis, and audiovisual interactive media. The
Museum focused on folk art, visual arts, crafts, music and the decorative arts of the South and West.
Despite the best efforts of its director, Charles Gallagher, and its Board of Directors the Museum
closed on August 8, 2005, at the conclusion of their “Austin City Limits” exhibit.