This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

Musik im Norden

01 September 2017

It's a bit like
a floral decoration.
elaborate brassy candelabra of
gleaming horns and shiny tenor tubas
surround a centerpiece of glockenspiel,
interspersed with decorative sprigs of clarinets.
Flanking either side are two stout kettle drums
wearing frilled skirts embroidered
with a crossed anchor design.
Casually leaning against them
are two pairs of long bugles
embellished with colorful flags.

I have lots of band postcards
with similar arrangements
of musical instruments.
It's very German.


But none of them are displayed
beneath the long cannons
of a battleship.

Seventeen sailors dressed
in dark tunics and white caps
line up abaft their instruments.
Their bandleader wears an officer's hat
and sits in the center
just behind the glockenspiel's eagle crest.

They pose for the camera
on a naval ship's brightly scrubbed wooden deck.
Six imposing guns are visible
with barrels muted by rain caps.

In the distant background

a steep forested slope
can be seen.

The hatbands of seamen in the German navy
usefully identify the name of their ship.
The font is a Gothic script and reads:

Kreuzer Karlsruhe

The bugle banners have
typical German heraldry designs.
One shows a Prussian black cross
on a field of three colored bars,
the other has the motto FIDELITAS
diagonally across a shield symbol.

The Karlsruhe bandsmen are not dressed in uniforms
of Kaiser Wilhelm's Imperial Germany Navy.
Yet they do not wear swastikas of Hitler's Third Reich either.
If they are not sailors
of the Kaiserliche Marine (1871–1919)
or the Kriegsmarine (1935–45),
then they must be sailors of the Reichsmarine (1919–35)
Germany's navy during the interwar years
of the Weimar Republic.

They are most definitely German.
So why was their postcard printed in the USA?

Made in Juneau, Alaska
by Winter & Pond Co.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser
10 April 1932

In April 1932, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser announced that the German cruiser Karlsruhe would soon arrive at Hawaii's Pearl Harbor. There were 30 officers, 59 cadets, and 470 enlisted men aboard the ship. It was built in Kiel by the Deutsche Werft  (sic - Werke) and completed in 1928 with a length of 570 feet, a beam of 49 feet 10½ inches, a maximum draught (sic - draft) of 17 feet 9 inches, and a displacement of 6,500 tons. (Metric conversions are always complicated in America) It carried armament of nine 6-inch guns, four antiaircraft guns, 18 machine guns, and 12 torpedo tubes.

The newspaper got most of it right. The Kreuzer Karlsruhe was a light cruiser, a small battleship designed more for speed rather than armor and firepower. It was the second ship built between 1926 and 1930 in the Königsberg class, all named after German cities: Königsberg, Karlsruhe, and Köln. Its namesake Karlsruhe is the second-largest city in the southwest state of Baden-Württemberg, and is situated on the Rhine River.

The first service for the cruiser Karlsruhe was as a training ship. Beginning in 1930 it made five world tours to Africa, South America, Asia, and North America. On this its second major voyage, Kapitän zur See Erwin Wassner, took over command in September 1931. The cruise went first to Cuba, followed by visits to Texas, Mexico, Venezuela, and then through the Panama Canal to Hawaii.

* *

In the 1930s major world powers continued to use naval fleets as an extension of diplomacy. But a battleship represented more than just military power. A large navy ship demonstrated national prestige and its crew acted as goodwill ambassadors for their country. And in 1932 Germany still had a lot of goodwill to make up for. A few days after docking at Pearl Harbor, Captain Wassner volunteered his ship's band to play a concert at a baseball game in benefit for a Honolulu beautification fund.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser
30 April 1932

The visit of the cruiser Karlsruhe got a lot of notice in the Honolulu newspapers. "Doc" Adams, an editorial writer for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser was impressed by the number of German sailors who spoke English, a number he considered ten times greater than those American sailors who could speak German. He attributed this to the superiority of European educational systems and the useless effort to teach Latin in American schools.

The writer finished his criticism by recounting his visit to a school in Auckland, New Zealand where he was stumped by a student's question. "If your president dies and the vice president dies who becomes president?" He was embarrassed that he didn't know. Then the class stood up and sang the "Star Spangled Banner" in his honor. With ALL the verses!

Honolulu Star-Advertiser
1 May 1932

The Karlsruhe did have a few foreign civilian workers on the ship, five Chinese laundrymen who were reported by the newspaper's Chinese-Hawaiian photographer to talk terrible German.

Honolulu Star-Bulletin
7 May 1932

Honolulu Star-Advertiser
10 May 1932

On May 9, 1932 the cruiser Karlsruhe departed for its next port of call in Alaska. As it cast off from the pier at sunset, its decks were lined with its officers and crewmen wearing traditional Hawaiian leis over their white uniforms. Even the bow of the ship was decorated with flowers. As the Karlsruhe pulled away the band played Hawaiian music to the crowd of people on the pier who had come to say farewell.

* *

Newspapers in Alaska probably reported the arrival of the cruiser Karlsruhe with the same enthusiasm as the Hawaiian papers, but unfortunately the internet archives have yet to digitize many Alaskan newspapers. But I did find one brief mention of the ship''s visit in a Bellingham, Washington paper that noted the appearance of Captain Wassner and his men at an American Legion Memorial Day parade in Juneau, AK. The report left out a crucial prefix by describing Wassner as a captain of marine during the World War. In fact he commanded 6 submarines or German U-boats in the war, sinking or disabling 90 allied ships.

Bellingham WA Herald
30 May 1932
Alaska only became an official territory of the United States in 1912 and would not gain statehood until 1959. According to the 1930 census its total population was just 59,278. Alaska's first capital was Sitka, a town located on the Pacific side of Baranof Island in the Alaska Panhandle. The capital was moved to Juneau in 1912, but the Alaska Territorial Federal Building was not completed until 1929. Juneau's citizens numbered only 4,043 in 1930, so the entire city probably turned out to see the Kreuzer Karlsruhe when it dropped anchor in Juneau's harbor. Alaska's Digital Archives provide a photo of the ship.

Kreuzer Karlsruhe Juneau, AK May 25, 1932
Source: Alaska's Digital Archives

The same photo was used by several newspapers across the country to promote the harmonious relations between Germany and the United States, but they cropped the photo leaving out dramatic Mount Juneau rising 3,576-foot (1,090 m) from the sea. The photo of the band was taken from the aft deck where there are two gun turrets. 

Reno NV Gazette-Journal
7 June 1932

After a few days in Juneau, the Karlsruhe moved south with stops in Seattle and Portland. The Portland newspaper reported that the Karlsruhe band played for the Pacific Northwest German Saengerfest. The band numbered 28 musician and became an orchestra for dances at the fest. The concert program began with a performance of Wagner's Renzi Overture. Throughout its tour of American ports from Galveston, TX to Honolulu, Juneau, Seattle, and Portland the cruiser Karlsruhe hosted many German-American organizations. Perhaps the biggest enticement for the public was the German beer available on board the ship which was otherwise illegal according to America's new Prohibition laws.

Portland OR Oregonian
19 June 1932

The Karlsruhe had to cut short its tour of the Pacific Northwest when it was ordered to Chile to monitor an unstable political scene. It then took the long way around Cape Horn and South America and arrived in Philadelphia in early November 1932. Captain Wassner along with a contingent of officers and men of the Karlsruhe traveled down to Washington, DC to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery. Later he and his crew also attended a football game at the Annapolis Naval Academy.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a photo of Captain Wassner's visit. One either side are two reports ironically foreshadowing the terrible events to come in the next decade. On the left is a report from Russia on the 15th anniversary of the Communist Revolution. Standing atop Lenin's Mausoleum, Joseph Stalin watched a parade in Moscow's Red Square of 1,000,000 people. On the right is a report on the Socialist Party's nominee for President of the United States, Norman Thomas. He was quoted at a rally at Brooklyn's Academy of Music, "Do not throw away your vote by voting your fears rather than your faith, by trying to choose the lesser of two evils when both are equally bad."

The next day, American voters went to the polls to cast their ballots in the presidential election of 1932. With over 57% of the popular vote Franklin Delano Roosevelt won the election, beating incumbent President Herbert Hoover by a landslide. The Socialist Party candidate Norman Thomas came in third with 2.2%.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
7 November 1932

The cruiser Karlsruhe returned to its home port Kiel on December 8, 1932. A month later on 30 January 1933, President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany. Just a few weeks after that came the tragic fire in Berlin that led to the passing of the infamous Reichstag Fire Decree, which rescinded most German civil liberties, including rights of assembly and freedom of the press. The decree also allowed the police to detain people indefinitely without charges or a court order. On the death of Hindenburg in August 1934, Hitler assumed complete power as Führer und Reichskanzler.

Between  October 1934 and June 1936 the Karlsruhe made three more world tours but with new German flags hanging from the band's trumpets. It never returned to Juneau but it did stop once more at Honolulu. In February 1934 the local newspaper ran a photo of the new commander, Captain Freiherr Harsdorf von Endendorf bedecked with several rings of Hawaiian leis. Next to him is a picture of the Karlsruhe band playing "Aloha Oe" in reply to a musical salute from the Royal Hawaiian Band on the pier.

Honolulu Star-Bulletin
24 February 1934

Honolulu Star-Bulletin
28 February 1934

The band of the Kreuzer Karlsruhe played a concert on February 29, 1934 that was broadcast over radio station KGMB.  The bandleader Max Joas was the same director who posed with the band in 1932. The band concert concluded with Unter dem Sternenbanner, Marsch also known as The Stars and Stripes Forever march by John Philip Sousa. As history unfolded over the next few years, it would be a long time before a German Navy Band played this march in Pearl Harbor.

* * *

In 1936 the cruiser Karlsruhe was seriously damaged by a tropical storm in the Pacific and forced to put into San Diego for repairs at the US Navy Shipyard. Two years later it underwent a major modification in Kiel shipyards that included replacing the 8.8 cm guns with heavier 10.5 cm guns.

At the start of WW2  it joined the German naval forces invading Denmark and Norway. After engaging in a successful combat operation to capture Kristiansand, the Karlsruhe set off from the fjord with three torpedo boat escorts. It was spotted by the British submarine HMS Truant which fired a spread of torpedoes. Despite taking evasive action the Karlsruhe was struck in the bow and amidships. With flooding disabling both engines and generators, the commander was compelled to order the crew to abandon ship. They were taken off by one of the torpedo boats which then fired torpedoes into the Karlsruhe to sink her.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link for more useful stories
with practical illustrations.


Just over a week ago, 
I too was standing on a ship
that overlooked the magnificent mountains of Alaska.
As this was a peaceful expedition
there were no great guns over my head.

The fjords and islands
of Alaska's southeast panhandle
contain some of the most stunning landscapes
that I've ever seen.
Words and music,
or even photographs and video,
can not fully describe
the awesome grandeur
of this wild place.
Especially when it is cold and very wet.

The South Sawyer Glacier
of the Tracy Arm Fjord
as photographed on August 23, 2017.
In the center
is a boat about 60 feet in length.
The water here is over 600 feet deep.
The mountains are over 5,500 feet tall.


Little Nell said...

Lots to enjoy in this; the ‘floral arrangement' of the instruments, the anecdote about being shamed by students, the inclusion of the witty cartoon, a glimpse of the real Mr Mike and of course, the detailed research which makes your posts so interesting.

Postcardy said...

Very interesting. I was aware of the U. s. Great White Fleet, but I didn't know that other navy ships were involved in goodwill tours.

Mollys Canopy said...

Amazing amount of research for this post, including the old photos and news clips of a crucial time in history.

ScotSue said...

As ever a fascinating tale based on impressive research. I had never seen anything before like that candelabra of instruments.

Lorraine Phelan said...

I really enjoyed reading all of this. Something else I was completely ignorant about.

Alan Burnett said...

Wonderful. You mix words and images so well to create real history. And the band music is such a central theme, I swear that I can hear the band playing in the background as I read your piece.
Mike, when you have stopped enjoying yourself by sailing around Iceland, put a selection of your Sepia Saturday posts together for publication - and put me down for a copy. As Carly once sang - "Nobody does it better"

La Nightingail said...

Oh for heaven's sake - on the 23rd of August I was aboard the Island Princess sailing for the Hubbard Glacier, followed by seeing glaciers in Glacier Bay the following day. Gorgeous blocks of blue ice hundreds of feet tall, and the air is so pure! And cold!! And I wish I was back there in that pure cold air instead of back in smoky overheated California at the moment!!!

Barbara Rogers said...

As I enjoyed this wonderful compilation of photos and chronological news clippings, in the back of my mind I thought, "how many hours does Mike put into his posts?" I am in awe. And now your smiling face is here too. Glad you had some time off to enjoy those glaciers! Thanks for doing such a thorough job. I also just realized I need to study more in depth the history of Germany. It has kind of centered on the world wars in my mind, but I've not a good grasp of the rest of it.

Jo Featherston said...

Fascinating historical writing, as always. Amazing that the Auckland school children could sing the Star Spangled Banner like that! My parents would have been 8 and 6 year old school children in 1932, but they went to school in and around Christchurch on the South Island, not Auckland in the North.

tony said...

A Great Photo Of You & Alaska!
The Germans Seem To Like to mix+ combine their Music & Battle compared with , say, the Brits who prefer their bands for the Parade afterwards!

Unknown said...

Thank you for collecting such wonderful items and presenting the pre-war journey of the Kreuzer Karlsruhe. Thanks again.


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