The Beginnings

The history of the Federation mirrors the course of German-American relations from occupying army and defeated foe to friendly relations between partner nations. 

“Democracies can only grow through friendship, understanding and free discussion and the military government agrees that leading American and German personalities should meet in unrestricted, social gatherings.”

These words from General Lucius D. Clay in 1947 marked a watershed moment in German-American relations and the end of the U.S. Non-Fraternization Law which prohibited social contact between Germans and Americans.  By 1948 the military government had approved the foundation of the Federation of German-American Clubs which took place in Bad Kissingen on the 25th and 26th of July  when 17 discussion clubs joined together.  As fate would have it, this coincided with the launch of the Airlift ordered by General Clay to break the blockade of West Berlin.

From a Federation of discussion clubs the organization evolved as friendship and cooperation between Germans and Americans became a reality. 

In 1954 the project “German-American Friendship Week” was launched.  The event was celebrated at various U.S. installations throughout West Germany and Berlin on a regional level.  Since 1965 “German-American Day” is observed on a national scale.  The venue is normally a city which is home to a Federation member club.  It takes place on a Saturday close to October 6th, the official U.S. German-American Day.  On that date in 1983, 300 years after the first German settlers arrived in what is now Pennsylvania President Ronald Reagan signed the proclaiming October 6th German-American Day.

Part of the celebration of German-American day, since 1980, is the awarding of the Federation’s highest honor, the General Lucius D. Clay Medal to individuals who have demonstrated exceptional contributions to German-American friendship and cooperation.

In the early 50s the Munich Women’s Club sponsored two American university students to study for one year at a German university.  By 1957 the program “A Bridge across the Ocean” expanded the number of American youth studying in Germany.  Eventually, American universities supporting the exchange program offered to support German students in their universities. Over the course of 50 years the Federation’s Student Exchange activity is now the largest such program by a private organization and has become the main focus of the Federation.

In 1958 the Federation turned its attention to bringing German and American youth between the ages of 14 to 18 together creating friendships between members of the future generation.  The events ranged from vacation seminars to youth trips and home stay programs for young Germans in the U.S. and Americans in Germany.

The first edition of the official magazine of the Federation, the “gazette” came out in 1954.  With its articles relating to events effecting German-American relations and news from the clubs, Student Exchange and Youth Work programs, it bring synergy and connectivity to the clubs and their members.

A detailed look back

The story begins in 1945, shortly after the end of the Second World War. Germany was divided into four zones of occupation with military governments. Non-Fraternization with the German population was the official policy of the American military governments.  At this time Captain Merle A. Potter was the first American military governor of Bad Kissingen.  Like most Americans at that time, he did not have a very good impression of the Germans.  However, through his contacts with the local populace and eventual friendship with Louis Ferdinand Prinz von Preussen and Kira Prinzessin von Preussen, his opinion began to change.  He became convinced it was time to improve the relationship between Germans and Americans.  He considered it necessary to get Americans and Germans together in an informal setting outside of the office to discuss issues of the day.  In the summer of 1946 he decided to found a German-American Club and asked Louis Ferdinand Prinz von Preussen to assist in the effort.  They called their club, “Bad Kissingen Cosmopolitan Club”. 

The club did not exist for very long.  A correspondent for the New York Times sent an article to the paper with details on the club.  Shortly thereafter Captain Potter was ordered to close the club as it was in violation of American occupation policies.

Captain Potter was relieved of his command and sent to work for the military government in Ansbach.  Captain Potter, however, was not ready to give up.  Convinced in the correctness of his idea he insisted on a Court Martial proceeding.  He sought the support of Minnesota Republican Senator Joseph Ball and other leading American personalities.  The affair eventually reached the desk of Lieutenant General Lucius D. Clay, then Deputy Military Governor of Germany.  By this time a change was taking place in the American position on the Germans.  In his “Speech of Hope”, in Stuttgart, U.S. Secretary of State James F. Byrnes on September 6th, 1946 declared,

“The American people will help the German people find the way back to an honorable place among the free and peace-loving nations of the world”.

General Clay came to the conclusion that the “non-fraternization policy” was no longer relevant.  He brought Captain Potter into his personal staff and charged him with founding German-American clubs throughout the American Occupation Zone.

And so at the beginning of our history it was the courage and determination of occupation officer Captain Potter and the wise vision of General Clay which opened the way to reconciliation and friendship between Americans and Germans.

Before long 12 German-American clubs, men’s clubs, were operating thanks to the tireless efforts of now Major Potter and advisor for German-American affairs at the Office of Military Government, United States in Berlin.  Thanks, also to the support of many open-minded Germans.  Major Potter invited representatives of these clubs to their first conference in Heidelberg from September 23rd to the 25th, 1947.  The discussion was centered on issues encountered in founding the new clubs.  A telegram from General Clay was read which described the goal and position for the clubs with the following words, “Democracy can only grow through friendship, understanding and open discussion and the military government supports the coming together of American and German leaders in informal, social gatherings”.  The foundation of these clubs required the approval of the military government.  The delegates discussed the creation of work plans, various club activities, finance issues, and “if it is advisable to open the clubs to women”, which was agreed to.  There were several German-American women clubs founded already.

The delegates strongly supported the creation of a Federation and voted to hold regular conferences.  Captain Chester S. Wright, from the Bamberg Military Government, was elected Chairman for the next meeting.  17 clubs were represented at the second conference, including two women’s clubs.  It was held in Bad Kissingen June 25th and 26th, 1948.  Major Potter, speaking for General Clay supported the creation of the Federation and advised that in club affairs they should be independent from higher authority but follow the regulations of the Military Government and laws of their states.

After a long period of preparation it was agreed to create a Federation in which the clubs would maintain their independence.  A constitution was approved and a five person board, consisting of three Americans and two Germans, was elected.  President of the newly founded “Federation of German-American Social Discussion Clubs” was Mr. Chester S. Wright of the Munich Men’s Club.

That was the actual birth of our Federation.  As fate would have it, it was also exactly the same day when General Clay ordered the Airlift which would eventually break the Soviet blockade of West Berlin.

Five months later, on November 1948, the first assembly of the Federation was called to order in the city of Coburg.  The delegates reported on the activities of their clubs.  Most of them complained about the difficulty recruiting American members.  Nurnberg offered the other clubs a film to help solicit new members.  A new board was elected and a woman, Mrs. Fullmer, the President of the German-American Women’s Club became the second President of the Federation.

The next convention, on the 23rd and 24th of May, 1949 in Munich was a significant event.  It was decided to change the somewhat cumbersome title of the organization to the “Federation of German-American Clubs. “  Regulations for the Federation were approved to allow the clubs to draw up their own constitutions.  Extensive plans for the Federation’s future activities were set, among them a traffic safety program for the American Occupation Zone.  In an effort to attract more American members, it was agreed that a brochure should be prepared for potential members.  In addition, a newsletter would also be created.  In order to pay for these projects dues would be collected from the clubs.  The first club to pay its dues was the Wiesbaden Men’s Club.

The then one year old Federation thus began its activities across the regions and in all the following years continued to improve and expand them.  This Convention also was held on an important day affecting the status and future of the Federation.  On the 23rd of May, 1949 the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany took effect, the first step in the road to national sovereignty.

Therefore, at the next Convention in November of 1949 in Wiesbaden, the Constitution was altered to change the highest authority from “Regulations of the Military Government” to “Regulations of the Office of the High Commissioner for Germany”.    It was also decided to increase the dues for the member clubs.  The newsletter should be in English and German.  The club delegates reported on an increasing number of activities designed to alleviate the harsh conditions which prevailed at the time.

The Convention in 1951 brought the Constitution up date by eliminating regulations which required the approval of the Military Government for membership in the Federation and the requirement to follow the regulations of the Office of the High Commissioner.  The Federation had become an independent, private organization; the requirement for membership was simply support for German-American friendship and cooperation.

The Convention also elected the first German President, Ms. Tilly Grimminger, of the Stuttgart club.  She was the third women President of the Federation.  This was not surprising because since 1950 the Federation was made up primarily of women’s clubs.  Toward the end of the 70s that changed as more and more family clubs were joining the Federation.