The Deutsches Haus has stood on South Galvez Street in New Orleans, for just shy of a century, and has been a center for German Culture in the Crescent City for over 80 years.
Originally incorporated in 1928 the Deutsches Haus evolved from Deutsche Gesellschaft von New Orleans, an organization whose origins date back to the mid 1800's. The Haus provided practical support for the great numbers of German immigrants who, alongside immigrants from all over the world, moved the New Orleans over the centuries in search of a different life.
Gradually the Deutsches Haus' mission expanded to support and celebrate German Culture in all its forms including, as most New Orleanians know, the German love of tasty libations - who here in New Orleans doesn't have fond, if somewhat blurred, memories of the Haus' yearly Oktoberfest?
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in the early hours of Monday, August 29 2005, the Deutsches Haus was one of the many properties severely damaged by the rising floodwaters. After the waters finally receded, the Haus members, like so many others, set to work rebuilding, the water devastated building, and reclaiming an almost lost part of their lives.
After re-opening, the Deutsches Haus widened its support of ethnic diversity within the Crescent City to include the NOLA Irish community. Over the last five years, the ‘forty shades of green' have met the black, red and yellow of Deutschland, and the results have been friendly, with the Haus hosting a number of concerts starring Irish musicians such as the Fuchsia Band, Danny O'Flaherty, Avoca, Legacy and Gerry O'Beirne, as well as monthly music and dancing ceilis.
However, time has finally run out for the Haus, and what Katrina couldn't do is about be accomplished by the wrecking ball. The Deutsches Haus will soon be gone, razed to make way for a state teaching hospital complex.
Deutsches Haus President, Keith Oldendorf, who, after comparing his acceptance of the upcoming closure as one of the five classic stages of grief, talked of his anticipation of a future bigger and better Deutsches Haus.
"We are looking for a temporary location which could be anywhere," he said.
The original date for vacating the premises was previously mid-August, but it now looks like the Haus might be allowed one last Oktoberfest hurrah. Oldendorf also told WWOZ that the members of the Deutsches Haus are working with the History Department of Loyola University to safeguard the history of the original Deutsches Haus, through the oral accounts of their memories of the Haus, as well as small museum which will be built in the new property once it is found.
"Everybody is sad," said Oldendorf. "And that is why we are trying to get everybody's memories, and recording oral histories, as well as photographs and personal histories. There is a lot of the members who actually met their wives here, and so we want to get those stories documented. We are going to try and preserve as much of the history of this building as we can. After Katrina we were determined to be back open again, no matter what. We wanted to prove to ourselves that we could do it, and that is kinda the same attitude that we have now, as we move forward."
The impact the loss of the Deutsches Haus will have on the New Orleans Irish Scene is something very much on the minds of many people here in the Crescent City.
Noel Reid, Chairman of the Basin Street Branch of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, who hosts a monthly Ceili was concerned but sanguine when interviewed in connection with the closure.
"It's going to impact us because we won't be able to have the dances, like we have them now, he said. " I'd like to have more events, rather than less. ..it has been a very good venue."
Many of the Irish musicians, who had found a new venue in the Deutsches Haus a new venue post-Katrina, are now wondering where they can play.
"I think it is a shame," said Danny O'Flaherty, former owner of the now defunct O'Flaherty's Irish Channel Pub. He has played at the Deutsches Haus once a month for the last three years.
"New Orleans definitely needs a place. In Chicago and Boston they all got their places and community centers, and here it is lacking, you know? I don't know what the medical center wants to do - I don't have the blueprints in front of me - but I think that there should be a consideration of places like the Deutsches Haus in their plans."
Tony Davoren from the Lafayette-based Irish band Avoca, (who played their first gig at the Deutsches Haus just a few months ago) is saddened by the loss. Tony first visited the Haus after ‘stalwarts of the New Orleans Irish music scene', insisted the Haus was the best place in New Orleans to hear Irish music.
"They weren't wrong," Tony said. "The music and the hospitality were exceptional. I was more than sad to learn that it would be torn down. With that said, after spending a couple nights in the company of her staff and the many people proud of all she stood for I have no doubt that the new building will be as delightful, and as culturally significant as her predecessor. She was a delight to perform in, and I will raise a Warsteiner in her honor! - Danke!"