Manila Germans and the German Club
Manila is certainly a city of diversity. Its population is comprised of Filipinos of different ethnic backgrounds, as well as Spanish, Chinese, East Indians, Japanese, Americans, Russians, Germans and many other nationalities. Many of these folks descended from immigrants that arrived many generations ago and now call Manila home.
These diverse ethnic groups brought their customs, foods, sports, and other preferences with them. They tended to gather together as a group, often times forming their own exclusive clubs – it was a comfort, a way of banding together, sharing similarities of culture.
The Germans had their German Club (Deutsche Klub), the Spaniards their Casino Español, the Brits had the Manila Club, there was the Swiss Club as well as the Nippon Club while the Americans had the University Club, Elks Club and the Army and Navy Club.
In the next series of articles, I will be writing about a few of these clubs; some of them are still in existence.
The German Club
History points to the first German immigrants arriving in Manila as Jesuits, invited by the Spanish government to help convert the Filipinos to Catholicism sometime in the middle 1600s. They also brought with them their extensive knowledge of pharmacy and medicine.
Interest in these islands may have started with Aldelbert von Chamisso, a botanist who sailed around the world on a Russian research ship which happened to dock in Manila in 1818, allowing him to venture ashore and explore Manila’s libraries and monasteries. Within a short time, he had amassed a distinguished library of Tagalog works and languages. His library came to the attention of two prominent gentlemen in Philippine history: Professor Ferdinand Blumentritt and his dear friend, Dr. José Rizal.
At about the same time, trade restrictions previously imposed by Spain were lifted and Manila was declared an open port to all nations; an important event in lifting Manila to world trade status.
Although the Spanish and American cultures have had a predominant effect on Filipinos, the German community was quite a substantial influence on Manila’s business community. At the time, Germans were almost exclusively the only pharmacists in the Philippines. The earliest successful German pioneers were the Zobels from Hamburg. Heinrich Zobel arrived in 1825 and started working for a merchant house, Kierulf & Company. Within a few years, Heinrich had ventured into a partnership of his own. In 1832, his father Johannes, mother and younger brother joined him in Manila establishing the drugstore Botica Zobel on No. 13 Calle Real, Intramuros. It would become the main supplier of pharmaceuticals for the colonial administration and army. This family of entrepreneurs soon opened a chemical laboratory, started a mining exploration company and got involved in sugar planting and processing.
Zobel’s Botica wasn’t the only German establishment in Manila. Friedrich Steek or Don Frederico, as he was locally known had purchased a previously established Botica located on the Escolta. He recruited his nephew Paul Satorius, and together started a large-scale production and export of ilang-ilang oil, which was in high demand as a base for fine perfumes in Europe.
Reinhold Boie initially worked for Satorius but then struck out on his own, obtaining a permit to open a drug store in Vigan. He is remembered for the very popular Botica Boie, which took his name and was successful through the 1960s.
Between 1850 and 1870, the number of German establishments and residents in Manila grew steadily. Behind the British, the Germans formed the largest non-Spanish foreign group in Manila. In the early 1880s, the Germans together with the Swiss joined together to establish a bowling alley and German Reading Club, bringing much appreciated reading material from home.
After two years, this loosely organized club was upgraded and renamed Casino Union, supported by Germany’s Manila consul, Otto Möllendorf. “…the Casino Union primarily has the task to be a social club, offering its members recreation and diversion and does not only accept subjects of the German Empire as members but is open to citizens of all German-speaking nations.”
The well-equipped club was located close to the Imperial German Consulate along the Pasig River at 209 General Solano in the San Miguel district where the wealthier European merchants and government officials resided.
Karl Tannert, consulate secretary described the club, “…our coach halts in the middle of a beautiful garden in front of a palatial building that our fellow countrymen had furnished in a cozy and most comfortable fashion. There is a dining hall with German, English and Spanish newspapers to choose from, a billiard table, piano, a well-sorted library, bowling alley, gymnasium and a shooting range.” The visitor could sit on the verandah entwined with bougainvilleas and enjoy views of the Pasig River with its barges, rafts and bancas.
Even before the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898, some German leaders wanted Imperial Germany to support Spain against the United States. During the Spanish-American War, Imperial Germany despatched a fleet to Manila Bay in order to strengthen German claims on the Philippines should the United States abandon the islands. The German fleet of eight warships was especially aggressive and menacing. These ships were active in Manila Bay during the American naval blockade of Manila from May to August 1898.
While the blockade was enforced and Filipino troops surrounded the city, German, British, French, and even Japanese ships were present as they evacuated some of their citizens and protected their properties at the same time. Dewey realized that the German contingent was far stronger than the force that he could muster. Being quite concerned about Germany’s motives, Dewey requested more ships, additional ammunition, and reinforcements in order to deter any potential German threat and Spanish relief.
American interests had reason to fear that leaving the Philippines to the designs of the imperial powers might exclude the United States from the Asia-Pacific trade altogether. The Treaty of Paris in 1898 however settled the issue by having Spain cede the Philippines over to the United States for $20 million.
In 1900, a geology professor, Dr. Friedrich Rinne of the Polytechnic Academy at Hannover arrived from Germany to evaluate La Candelaria’s gold mines in Paracale and iron mines in Angat, Bulacan. He published an account of his travel. He described his visit to the “German Club” , still officially known as Casino Union. “Last but not least, you will find that corner in the club where they have on draft fresh and cool beer, a beer like there is no other in East Asia. Brewed in Manila by our countryman Kiene, this beer would also bring him many honors in Germany.”
In the early 1900s, the German community grew to 264, many of them immigrated to the Philippines under the auspices of Germans who had already started businesses in Manila. Johannes Landahl came to Manila in 1890 to work for the Secker & Co., a dry goods and haberdashery. He married Dolores Suarez-Llanos and they had four children, all educated in Germany. His firm eventually became one of the leading import firms in the Philippines; handling textiles, hardware, machinery, railroad supplies and sundries, operating branch in Cebu, Aparri, New York and Hamburg. He was a founding member of the German Club and became a naturalized Filipino citizen in 1923.
Landahl’s daughter Elisa married Edgar Krohn Sr., who arrived in Manila in 1913 to work for a Hamburg company, Germann & Company. Edgar Krohn, Sr. was also one of the founding members of the German Club. His son, Edgar “Bubi” Krohn Jr. (a distant cousin of mine), remains a guiding force of the German Club.
Carlos Germann first came to the Philippines in 1858 and established one of the best known and oldest firms in the country. It was all-inclusive, being an export and import business, marine and fire insurance and significantly, an engineering department which operated the Santa Cruz Bridge and the Bridge of Spain; even building the electrically driven Lift Bridge over the Binondo Canal.
In 1912, German adventurer-entrepreneur Matias Kraut came to Manila, shopped around for business prospects, and eventually decided that stained-glass art would be a sound venture. Kraut started his foray into the production of glass windows in the Philippines by putting up a stained glass studio in Bilibid Viejo in Quiapo, Manila. This would lead to the birth of Kraut Art Glass, the country’s pioneer and leader in stained glass manufacturing.
Arriving in the archipelago a year earlier as representative of Moore Paints, Kraut distinguished himself as a house painter among ilustrados or middle class of central and southern Luzon through the prestigious Standard Paint Co. Soon enough, he was offering a novel design concept — interiors planned not just with paints, but with decorative windows as well, using his name as the brand for the art glass.
Before long, Kraut Art Glass had become a byword and an industry by itself because of its quality, custom-made windows which has adorned numerous churches, schools, residences and public landmarks in Manila and key cities across the country. Masterfully handcrafted and baked by artisans, its stained glass windows found their way in popular houses of worship such as Sto. Domingo Church, Baclaran’s Redemptorist Church and Ellinwood Malate Church, and historic edifices such as the Manila Metropolitan Theater (see below) and the Manila Hotel, whose main building is as old as Kraut itself. (The Philippine Star article 8/05/2013)
Kraut married a Spanish woman from Tarlac, Pilar Gonzalez, who bore him seven children. It is their grandchildren who continue his legacy through Kraut Art Glass today. The studio is on Dominga Street, Pasay.
The German, Swiss, and Dutch members of the Casino Union continued in harmony for twenty years until disputes regarding the board of directors arose in 1905. With no objections from the German government, the suggestion was made to change the Casino Club into an exclusively German club.
The Deutscher Klub or German Club was founded on January 16, 1906. The Club continued the lease contract of the Casino Union for the clubhouse at 209 General Solano St. in San Miguel.
M. Beckman of the German consulate wrote, “The official language of the club is German, and only members with German citizenship have the right to vote and can be elected to official positions in the club. Those members of other nationalities, who were entitled to vote and to hold official positions prior to the enactment of this amendment, will continue to enjoy this privileges. The name Casino Union will be changed to Deutscher Klub.”
The years following saw a rise in young Germans arriving in the Philippines, adding to the membership of the club. A building committee was appointed and a plan to construct a new clubhouse was prepared.
New property was purchased at 520 San Marcelino Street and with the help of donations from the members; George B. Asp was awarded the construction contract. The cornerstone of the new building was laid March 1914. The new clubhouse was completed and opened on January 1st, 1915. It was an impressive two-story concrete building with a large hall, function and guest rooms, bowling alleys and a tennis court.
From the beginning the members felt quite comfortable in their new home, especially with a new German cook from one of the vessels laid up in port. The new clubhouse was a well-attended gathering place for the German community as well as for the many captains, officers and engineers of German vessels lying idle in Manila Bay.
However, on February 1, 1917, diplomatic relations between Germany and the United States broke off. German ships were disabled and the crews were interned at a German camp located in Baguio, then later shipped to an internment camp in Hot Springs, North Carolina. The Manila Times wrote of the internment of German civilians, “Thirty-four Austrian and German aliens, comprised of men, women and children who had been deported from the islands, will leave tomorrow aboard the Army transporter “Sherman”. Upon arrival in the United States, they will be placed in detention camps…”
German consul Zitelmann left Manila in April 1917 and protection of German interests were handed over to the Swiss Consul. The Club continued to operate and some members moved into the guest rooms.
With the advent of WWI – the American government, under the auspices of the Alien Property Custodian, proceeded to seize German and Austrian firms in Manila including their branches in the provinces; among them was the Manila Drug Co. (Botica Boie). The founder of Botica Cruz and terminated employees of Botica Boie were among those that were deported. Botica Boie itself was sold for P1,250,000 in February 1918.
In 1918, Manila’s population numbered 283,313 – 500 of whom were German nationals. Regardless of the war, relations between the American occupational government and the Germans remained friendly. The Germans who were permitted to remain in their previous positions continued to work under the supervision of the receivers appointed by the Governor General managing the seized businesses. The list at the Germann and Co. included Edgar Krohn, Sr. – then the youngest man on the force. Governor-General Harrison mentioned in his memoirs that, “Germans who had lived in the Philippines for years, and had assisted in a spirit of personal friendship and consideration in the building up of the country, were among the most popular of the foreigners.”
However, the German Club was not spared. The government officially notified the Club that on June 14, 1918, the premises would be closed and all residents required to vacate the building. The clubhouse was temporarily rented to the Army-Navy YMCA and eventually sold by the Alien Property Custodian to a Masonic lodge who renamed it the Plaridel Temple. The Temple was later occupied by Japanese soldiers during World War II and burned down during the battle for the liberation of Manila in 1945. A new Temple was rebuilt by 1948.
Over six hundred German and Austrians were deported to the United States for internment in detention camps. By the end of the war, November 1918, only 67 members remained at the German Club. After war ended, past residents started returning back to the Philippines. On March 1920, former members gathered at a private residence and decided to formally incorporate the Club, buy new furniture and rent a house that would temporarily serve its purpose.
After more than a year, the Club opened its new premises at 1067 Calle Arlegui in Quiapo. Perhaps due to swelling membership, a new, larger building was selected at 1032 Isaac Peral in June 1922. The following year, German residents had firmly re-established themselves. New immigrants were landing on Philippine shores, perhaps leaving their homeland from the deploring situation experienced after the end of WWI.
The Club members decided to organize a welfare bazaar which was not only attended by the German community but many other nationalities as well. The club premises were beautifully illuminated, there was a beer garden, shooting gallery, wine and champagne restaurants, and some of the members and their wives even performed a cabaret show. Soon after, the members decided to forego leasing their premises and agreed to construct their own clubhouse. A 4,000 square meter lot was purchased from the Casino Español on San Luis Street for P60,000. Plans by club member John Ohaus were submitted and approved unanimously. The transfer from Isaac Peral to San Luis Street took place on April 1925. By 1931, membership had surged to 220, proof of the excellent standing enjoyed not only by the club but also by the entire German community in the Philippines.
The new club at San Luis had a large verandah fronting the entrance, restaurant facilities, a spacious bar, billiard hall and in-house bowling alley. The second floor offered 9 rooms rented out as bachelor units to male members. A tennis court was situated at the corner of a spacious garden which was used for outdoor festivities.
The German Club was in its heyday in the Thirties, as with the rest of Manila. Many called it the Golden Period. Manila was a cosmopolitan city on par with European and American cities and enjoyed being in the center of trade and business in the Far East.
But trouble brewed in Europe when Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) took control of Germany. Nazi party activities were evidenced in Manila at the end of 1933 where a certain member of the NSDAP working for Botica Boie was believed to be spying on his fellow countrymen.
The German Consul however reported that Manila Germans maintained friendly relations with the local community as well as prominent foreign Jews and had no intentions of severing these relationships. During 1937 and 1938, severe disagreements between the Club’s directors and German Consul Sakowsky regarding cooperation with Club members and the NSDAP Party led to Sakowsky’s resignation and his condemnation that the Club would be considered an enemy of the Third Reich and expected members to resign. The following was a UP article dated August 18, 1938.“German Consul G.A. Sakowsky tonight ordered that all Reich nationals immediately resign from membership in the German Club here because of the club’s failure to expel 3 members of German-Jewish descent. The ultimatum threw the small German colony into an uproar.”
Incensed, the members brought the matter to Paul McNutt, U.S. High Commissioner and reported that only a small minority supported Sakowsky. Commissioner Paul V. McNutt took the action to sternly warn Sakowsky of the rights of German Manila residents. “It is understood Herr Sakowsky threatened to cancel German passports unless German members of the club resigned. Although all versions of the trouble are unofficial, Herr Sakowsky is said to have objected to “non-Aryan” membership in the club and extended Nazi policy in such matters to German nationals living abroad, whereupon Germans in the club, many of them long-time Manila residents, strenuously objected.” New York Times article, August 30, 1938
Sakowsky left the Philippines in May, 1938 to the delight of many Manila Germans. The Club’s Board of Directors permitted those members who had resigned to rejoin the Club.
September, 1939 marked the beginning of WWII in Europe. In the Spring of 1940, Philippine President Manuel Quezon, and U.S. High Commissioner Paul McNutt and Colonel Dwight Eisenhower — hatched an intricate international plan of rescue and re-settlement, saving 1,300 Jews from certain death in Nazi concentration camps.
Most of Manila’s German residents remained unsympathetic to Hitler’s cause. Some chose to return home while others remained, fearful of voicing their disapproval of Hitler, and fearing reprisal on their relatives still living in Germany. Membership in the Club dwindled and in order to compensate for reduced income, the Club organized several sport tournaments but it was clear the Club’s best moments were behind it.
The German Consulate was ordered closed on July 9, 1941, as more members departed for their homeland and others chose to resign. The German community was filled with anxiety and great concern over their future as Radio Berlin announced Hitler’s declaration of war against the United States.
At midnight on December 11, 1941, Hitler declared war against the United States. On the following morning, Martin Ohaus was among 72 German nationals including Edgar Krohn, Sr., Otto Koehlmoos, Walter Kuehne, Ulrich von Prittwitz, Karl Severien, and Kurt Wegner (all fathers of classmates I later knew at the American School), who were arrested by American and Filipino soldiers and transported for internment to the National Penitentiary at Muntinlupa, where approximately 300 Japanese civilians had been confined since the outbreak of the war. Italian citizens were likewise interned. One internee, German Club member Wolfgang Druecke, noted that in addition to Germans, two Britons and two Swiss nationals had been picked up as enemy aliens.
They were all brought to barracks formerly used by prisoners with no cots, no beds, only double-deck wooden bunks without mattresses, pillows or blankets. After much complaint, they were finally each given a blanket and pillow. They had to sleep in the office attire they were wearing when arrested as they were not allowed to bring along any personal belongings. Their food, cooked by the Japanese interned next door, was “just plain lousy” – half-cooked rice, some vegetables, and water to drink. It was noted that the American officers were “overbearing”, but the Filipino officers did everything within their means to make life more pleasant for the internees.
Through the grapevine they heard that the Japanese had landed and were advancing toward Manila, while the Americans and Filipinos were withdrawing everywhere. On December 28, when they went outside their barracks, they found the that the American and Filipino soldiers were no longer there. They were informed by a few Constabulary soldiers that they were free to leave. On January 2, 1942, Manila was occupied by the Japanese. Manila was declared an “Open City” on Christmas Day, 1941. Three days later, the alien prisoners were allowed to go home after their 16 day internment. The released Germans and their families gathered at the German Club for a thanksgiving and fellowship lunch.
The Japanese occupation took its toll on trade between Manila and the outside world and the incomes of many business owners, including those within the German community, were severely reduced. During that time, the German Club became the center of interest and activities, serving low-cost lunches, offering recreation and even short wave broadcasts of news events from Germany.
Although Germany and Japan were considered allies, relations between the two communities in Manila were never harmonious. Food supplies and medicine dwindled as the occupation entered its third year. W. Kuehne reported, “Our office and store, the Botica de Santa Cruz, located on Plaza Goiti at the foot of Sta. Cruz Bridge, was kept open on a limited schedule right up to the entry of the American forces. Our pharmacy was the only major drugstore still in operation and even as our own stock diminished, we were still able to dispense medical supplies to the ailing public.” The worst was yet to come as the American forces landed in Lingayen in January 1945, driving towards the city of Manila.
On the morning of Feb. 10, 1945, about 800 people including Filipinos, Spanish and five German nationals, went to the German Club on San Luis Street in Ermita to find shelter in a dugout located on the tennis court and in the garden,” recalls Edgar “Bubi” Krohn Jr., a Philippine-born German who survived the destruction and the massacre during the World War II battle for the liberation of Manila from the Japanese imperial forces.
“At about noon, a platoon of Japanese Marines who had cordoned off the 4,000 square meters of the club premises, started killing everyone in sight,” he says, continuing his painful remembrances of things past. “Martin and Margaret Ohaus, Gustav Vierich, Heinrich Bischoff and Conrad Clausen were the first Germans murdered on the first floor of the club building. The Japanese Marines then systematically fired their weapons into the area beneath the club building which had been converted into an emergency air raid shelter. Gasoline was poured into the shelter as well as the tennis court; these were torched right after.”
Those who attempted to escape the inferno were gunned down. The killing continued all day and into the night. When Martin Ohaus’ bloated body was found several days later by American soldiers, he was still clutching his German passport, “apparently to convince the Japanese that he was a German citizen” and an ally. His body bore several bayonet wounds.
“Over 100,000 Filipino civilians and a total of 25 Germans (five at the German Club) were killed in the battle for Manila,” Krohn continues. “The German-Japanese relationship during the occupation had never been very good from the start. We considered ourselves neutral rather than allies.” Bubi, about 16 at the time, moved from building to building trying to avoid the fires that were deliberately being set by the Japanese, as well as the bullets and bombs that were flying all over the place.
Interestingly, Bubi , his parents and other Germans were interned by the Americans at Bilibid, the Manila City Jail, for several months after the liberation. They were finally released in September, more than a month after the war was over. Shown below is Bubi, his father, Edgar Sr. and mother, Elisa.
All Manila lay in ruins, especially the city districts south of the Pasig. The Alien Property Custodian still maintained custody of the German Club on San Luis Street. Not until 1948 did W. Kleinen, club president, negotiated to have the property returned. On November 25th of that year, the first postwar regular general membership meeting was held at the Selecta Restaurant at the corner of Lepanto and Azcarraga streets. It was decided to sell the property at San Luis in 1950 to Senator C.M. Recto.
The next several years found club activities being held at various restaurants and clubs around Manila: at the New Europe Restaurant, Casino Español and even bowling evenings at the Elks Club. During the years of 1966-1967, the club moved to the Patio Flamenco on Roxas Boulevard in Pasay City where it rented two rooms, a large garden and a swimming pool but a sudden influx of members forced a move to a large venue. At that time, Emil Landert of the Swiss Inn decided to relocate to a location close to the Paco Cemetery so it was decided to lease a space of approximately 200 sq.meters on the third floor of the new building on 1394 General Luna Street.
In 1977 – 1978, increasing membership demanded yet another move. The Board of Directors felt a location in the new business center of Makati quite desirable and in August 1979 the penthouse of Eurovilla II Condominium in Legaspi Village was purchased. The new club was opened in time for the Christmas Party on December 19, 1980.
I wish to acknowledge the information and photos from “The German Club Story – Centennial Edition” ©2008 by the German Club with permission from Edgar Krohn, Jr. and photos and stories from Paul Severien, and Gunter Prittwitz.