In her memoir “Barefoot in the Rubble”, author Elizabeth Walter explains how this group of ethnic Germans came to be:
“In the late 17th century, the Austro-Hungarian Empire recovered its Hungarian domains by defeating the Ottoman Turks. The Ottoman Empire had occupied the region for 150 years. Fearful that the Ottoman Turks would regain control of the area, the Austrian Imperial Council launched a great colonization scheme to settle the recovered lands with loyal subjects. Promising land in exchange for hard work, the Austrian Empire encouraged German-speaking people from southwestern Germany, northeastern France, and Switzerland to cultivate the region.
Since no roads linked Central Europe to Eastern Europe, the new settlers traveled down the Danube River by barge. More than 1000 farming communities and numerous homesteads were settled in the Danubian Plain in what later became Hungary, Romania, and Yugoslavia. The two largest areas they settled became known as Banat and Batschka (map of Banat below). The German-speaking settlers there became known as the Danube Swabians. Danube, because they had traveled the Danube and settled its plain, and Swabians because their port of departure had been in Ulm, Swabia.”
For many, that life eventually included moving to the United States of America. One of the thriving communities of Danube Swabians was based in Chicago, so in the years after the war, a large number of these immigrants arrived here.
These immigrants had a few things in common. They shared a common heritage. They shared amazingly similar life experiences. But many of the young people also shared a common love.
A love of soccer.
According to original member Fritz Becker, he did more than just organize it: “Martin Schneider really was the father of this team. It was his idea. He was the boss. He ran the show.”
Nearly all of them were part of the Donauschwaben Jugendgruppe (or the Society of Danube Swabians Youth Group), a club dedicated to maintaining the German language and traditions of their Danube-Swabian homeland. The club’s membership had grown by leaps and bounds during that first decade after the war, so they asked the Donauschwaben if they could form a Danube Swabian soccer team.
And that’s exactly what they did on August 26, 1956.
Hans Metzinger joined the following year, but he knew his fellow Danube Swabians well. “Every single guy on that team was a Donauschwaben,” he says. “Every single one.”
Adam Harjung remembers there was a bit of a pecking order at first, and it was more or less based on their ages. “Martin Schneider, Hans Neidenbach, Paul Kuhn; they were the older ones at the time. Fritz Becker was the first president, because he was a little older than us too. Then there were a few in college like Eckhard Kaempfer, Horst Melcher, and Franz Stadler—they were at the University of Illinois. They played on that original team, and were involved from the beginning. And so was I.”
President Fritz Becker even sported a fitting name for a German soccer club. A man with the same name (but no relation) had scored the first ever goal for Germany in an international soccer match. But Fritz didn't see his own role as fate: "I just happened to know Martin and he said ‘We need a president’ and since the other guys were a little younger, and I had just been married, I was the guy that was chosen."
The idea of the soccer team was grudgingly accepted at first by the old guard of Donauschwaben, but a few of them did become enthusiastic supporters. Hans Bittenbinder, a member since 1956 remembers, “I always felt we were supported by the older Donauschwaben generation. Michael Melcher (father of Horst and Walter) was even our president a few years later.”
They now had a sponsor, a team, a league, and a logo.
Although the first official game wouldn’t be played until the following spring, a soccer club had been born.
Green White Babies
*On November 29, 1956, the first Green White baby was born; Hildegard Schneider, the oldest child of club co-founder Martin Schneider.
Elsewhere in Chicago, 1956
Those young Danube Swabians arriving in Chicago in the 1950s encountered a city much different than today's.
~Chicago also had a brand new mayor. Richard J. Daley, a man that would rule the city with an iron fist for the next twenty years.
~A new radio star arrived at WGN in Chicago that same year. His name was Wally Phillips. Phillips arrived in Chicago from Cincinnati on October 1, 1956 along with his friend Bob Bell (who later became Bozo the Clown on WGN Television). At the height of his popularity, Phillips attracted nearly 1.5 million listeners, an incredible 50% of the market's listening audience.
~Only a small percentage of Chicago households owned a television in 1956, but those Chicagoans lucky enough to own one probably watched the #1 show in the country: "I Love Lucy".
~And if you somehow still didn't know the name "Elvis Presley" you probably didn't have a radio or record player. Elvis' record "Don't Be Cruel" with the flipside "Hound Dog" was one of the biggest selling records in history.
Coming next month: 1957. The National Soccer League. Instant soccer success. A new clubhouse. A soccer mentor. The first Green White baby. And Sputnik starts a space race.