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Guten Tag and Aloha!

by Laura Vanessa Raase

When we talk about Germany, we think of beer, soccer, and Oktoberfest. But that is not all Germany has to offer. The Hawaiians knew that. Ever heard of Spreckelsville? Or of Isenberg Street? Or even Barber’s Point on O‘ahu?


Those places are named after Germans. Spreckelsville is a sugar plantation and community on Maui founded by Claus Spreckles, a German who made a fortune refining sugar in California. Isenberg Street is named after Paul Isenberg, of Dransfeld, Germany, another famous sugar planter. And Barber’s Point is named after a German ship captain whose ship was wrecked on a coral shore of Kalaloa, today’s Barber’s Point.

Germany is on the other side of the world (12 hours ahead of Hawai‘i in the summer, 11 hours ahead in the winter), so far away that some people here can’t imagine ever traveling there, yet many people in Germany have dreamed of visiting Hawai‘i.

Some Germans in the 18th and 19th centuries were adventurous and traveled the world. Karl Webber was a German aboard Captain Cook’s ships when he discovered the Sandwich Islands (Hawai‘i was originally named after Cook’s patron for the voyage). He is famous still for his drawing of the islands’ people and landmarks.

Many others Germans have come to the islands over the years. Some passed through, writing interesting books as they travelled about the islands. Some painted beautiful Hawaiian landscapes that are well known around the world today. And some came to stay and even built sugar plantations.

Claus Spreckles, the sugar baron, built Spreckelsville just east of Wailuku, Maui, and constructed a $4 million sugar mill, then the world’s most modern, efficient, and largest sugar factory. He also owned the Oceanic Steamship Company, whose ships he used to transport sugar to his sugar processing plant in California’s Carcinas Straits, on the north east side of San Francisco Bay.

Paul Isenberg was the son of a German Lutheran minister. He became manager of Kaua‘i’s Lihu‘e Plantation in 1862, and his brothers—Hans, Otto, and von Chamisso wrote for The Land Of Aloha, about “a kind of South Sea romanticism that in many forms still persists in German-speaking Europe to this day. Hawai‘i, in particular, has proven to be a magic word [drawing] ever-increasing numbers of German, Austrian, and Swiss tourists flocking to the islands.”

Von Chamisso was a German poet and botanist so interested in the Hawaiian language that after his visit he wrote one of the first Hawaiian grammar books. It was published in Leipzig, Germany, in 1837.

According to Schweizer, the Germans were also noteworthy because they were the only sugar planters to bring in laborers from their own nation. Dr. Wilhelm Hillebrand, for example, arrived here in 1850 and became the founding physician of Honolulu’s Queen’s Hospital in the 1860s. Hillebrand personally selected many of the workers who would immigrate to work on the sugar plantations. After an expedition to the Madeira Islands in 1871, he suggested that Hawai‘i planters bring in workers from the Madeira Islands where, at that time, the grape orchards were suffering from blight. And that’s how the Portuguese came to work on Hawai‘i’s sugar plantations.

Another well-known German is Johann Carl Pflueger, who came to the islands when he was only 16 years old. Pflueger became a close friend of the Hawaiian monarchy, and his family still lives and prospers here as owners of the Pflueger Automobile Agency in Honolulu.

Another important German in Hawai‘i was Heinrich Berger, who became the leader of the famous Royal Hawaiian Band. Queen Liliu‘okalani called him “the father of Hawaiian music,” but Schweizer tells us that the national anthem he created for the Hawaiian kingdom, “Hawai‘i Pono‘i,” now the state song, “was derived from the Prussian anthem “Heil Dir im Siegerkranz.” Berger earned a gold medal from German Emperor William II for his music in Hawai‘i.

The German heritage is still present today. Many Germans married Hawaiians and other Polynesian peoples, and although many people here look Polynesian, they have German last names such as Meyer, Brandt, Smith, and even Hannemann. Maybe Honolulu’s new major is part German as well. Only Mufi knows?

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