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German Turnverein Clubs - Their Positive Effect in Communities

Updated on January 12, 2018
Peggy W profile image

I live in Houston, and I have worked as a nurse. My interests include art, traveling, reading, gardening, cooking, and our wonderful pets.

My great-grandparents on either side with friends in the center of this photo
My great-grandparents on either side with friends in the center of this photo | Source

Turnverein Club

The Turnverein Club in which my great-grandparents were members many years ago in Milwaukee, Wisconsin had it's origins in Germany. Many people from Germany had emigrated and settled in Milwaukee during the 19th century.

When it was brought over to the United States it began as an athletic and gymnastic society but it also had social, intellectual and benevolent goals. The Turnverein clubs contributed much to the life of their communities creating parks, gymnasiums, bowling alleys, theaters, ballrooms and the like.

The people who joined these clubs really believed in combining sound minds with fit bodies and these German clubs offered places for like minded individuals to meet and play while accomplishing all of their goals. Good and long lasting friendships were forged.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
My great-grandfatherMy great-grandmotherMy great-grandparentsMy great-grandparents
My great-grandfather
My great-grandfather | Source
My great-grandmother
My great-grandmother | Source
My great-grandparents
My great-grandparents | Source
My great-grandparents
My great-grandparents | Source

There are still Turnverein clubs in existence today including ones in Milwaukee, Madison and other places in Wisconsin as well as around the nation but now they are mostly referred to as the Turners.

Location of Milwaukee and Okauchee in Wisconsin

Okauchee, Wisconsin:
Okauchee, WI 53069, USA

get directions

Milwaukee, Wisconsin:
Milwaukee, WI, USA

get directions

My great-grandparents were members and primarily did all of their exercising and socializing with the rest of their club members in Milwaukee those many years ago.

But at least once during each summer many of the men and a few of the women in their club would come out to my great-grandparents cottage on Okauchee Lake for a country outing.

My mother was a young child but still vividly remembered all of the jovial German songs being sung in harmony as the sounds reverberated across the lake. Some of the people would swim while others played horseshoes.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Playing horseshoesPlaying horseshoes
Playing horseshoes
Playing horseshoes | Source
Playing horseshoes
Playing horseshoes | Source

My great-grandparents had a couple of long wooden tables outside of their cottage. These tables held the picnic fare along with the glasses of beer and other libations. Much laughter ensued and many stories and songs were shared among the participants.

Some of the women sent food along with their menfolk and my grandmother who lived next door at their summer cottage always contributed by making a large bowl of her homemade potato salad to help feed the crowd.

This annual country outing was primarily for the men in the club. And what fun they had!

In the city the camaraderie continued all throughout the year. Fencing was an activity enjoyed by many of the club participants. Handball was another. Anything to keep people engaged and exercising while also doing things to improve themselves and the community in general was the objective.

There was always singing.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
My great-grandmother in Okauchee Lake with some of her grandchildrenOkauchee Lake viewOkauchee Lake viewMy great-grandmother water skiing on Okauchee LakeSmaller summer cottage of my grandparents next to my great-grandparents cottage on Okauchee Lake
My great-grandmother in Okauchee Lake with some of her grandchildren
My great-grandmother in Okauchee Lake with some of her grandchildren | Source
Okauchee Lake view
Okauchee Lake view | Source
Okauchee Lake view
Okauchee Lake view | Source
My great-grandmother water skiing on Okauchee Lake
My great-grandmother water skiing on Okauchee Lake | Source
Smaller summer cottage of my grandparents next to my great-grandparents cottage on Okauchee Lake
Smaller summer cottage of my grandparents next to my great-grandparents cottage on Okauchee Lake | Source

Although my grandparents were not members of the Turnverein club the active lifestyle was certainly imparted to the next generation and beyond. My grandparents and my mother and her siblings grew up doing fun and active things like the following:

  • Swimming
  • Sailing
  • Ice skating
  • Sledding and tobogganing
  • Bowling
  • Bicycling
  • Horseshoes
  • Croquet
  • Ping pong
  • Dancing

Some of the family members were better at some of these activities than others but they all participated to a greater or lesser extent. My grandfather did regularly play handball for additional exercise.

Balls used to play handball.
Balls used to play handball. | Source

Lasting Legacy of Good Accomplishments

  • The Turnverein club members not only believed in a sound mind and body for themselves but were a prime force in getting gymnastics and calisthenics introduced into schools for the lasting benefit of children.
  • Turnverein clubs across the nation contributed to many good causes.

They held numerous social gatherings collecting money and the members supported well founded crusades whether for crippled children in this country or also campaigns in countries an ocean away.

  • In the 19th century the clubs filled many a recreational need as well as helping to provide venues for social occasions in towns and cities all across our nation.

That is their lasting legacy.

During World War 1 with anti German sentiments running high plus the effects of the Great Depression membership in these clubs waned. While memberships may not be as large there are still clubs that exist today with third and even fourth generations from the same families involved in these Turner clubs.

Those summer lakeside outings still reverberated in my mother's mind as she watched the gaiety as a little girl. The many German songs were passed along to her parents and their friends and she and her siblings grew up hearing the robust singing of German songs at family gatherings.

Even though my great-grandparents have long since passed on to the next life their part in this interesting history of the Milwaukee Turnverein club is secured for posterity.

Looks Like Fun!

Have you ever heard of Turn Verein or Turner Clubs?

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Fun to Watch This Video!

© 2009 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed.

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    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi vertualit,

      Nice to know that you enjoyed reading this enough to read it again. I did some much needed editing, so do hope you will come back. It is interesting learning about the influence that the Turnverein clubs have had in this country. Thanks for your comment.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Indian Chef,

      Yes...many Germans immigrated to the U.S. even prior to World War I. Glad that you found this article enlightening. Thanks for your comment and the share.

    • vertualit profile image

      Abdus Salam 

      5 years ago from Bangladesh

      Very interesting hub. Going to read again.. Thanks for sharing..

    • Indian Chef profile image

      Indian Chef 

      5 years ago from New Delhi India

      Wow I didn't know about that Germans were there much before WW2 in USA. Also it was wonderful that your grand parents had nice circle and would have fun in the club. Sharing, voting up , awesome and interesting.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi alocsin,

      From what I know quite a few Germans settled in Texas. From the days of your great grandparents, do you still have family members living in Texas? Did any of them belong to Turn verein clubs? Thanks for your comment and votes.

    • alocsin profile image

      Aurelio Locsin 

      7 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Peggy, my great grandparents were also German, but they were from Giddings, Texas, which is not too far out of Austin. Voting this Up and Interesting.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello German Wisconsin,

      Sorry for the late response. This went into the spam folder because of the link you left in the comment section and I just now found it. I am allowing it for those who may be interested. Thanks!

    • profile image

      German Wisconsin 

      8 years ago

      Wie Gehts German-American Facebook users!

      I would like to take this opportunity to tell you about a great new page titled

      “German Wisconsin” Please find the link below and if you like it, please click “Like” and learn about the wonderful German-American cultural activities going on in our beautiful state.

      Please pass this on to your friends on facebook by clicking "Suggest to Friends" Let's keep German-American Heritage Alive. Vielen Dank für Ihre Unterstützung.


    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello Zollstock,

      Good for you raising your children bi-lingual. My mother only knows some words but cannot converse, so we did not learn German. Good luck in finding some German dancing and singing partners! LOL Thanks for your comment.

    • Zollstock profile image


      9 years ago from Germany originally, now loving the Pacific NW

      I remember my father taking me to a Friedrich Jahn memorial when I was little. My dad, being a German PE teacher, was in awe of the man who started a wave of national exercise and body consciousness. While this "Turnvater" and his followers may have meddled with history at the time, I look at these clubs as a way to perpetuate German culture abroad. Living in WA State now, I am raising my kids bilingually and am always on the look-out for bits and pieces of German culture. I just might have to dust off my gymnastics suit and find some elderly German immigrants to waltz and sing drinking songs with ;-). Thanks for sharing.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello Candie,

      Yes, I am fortunate to know as much as I do about my grand-parents and even some about my great-grandparents. I wish I knew more, but there are no longer many people around that have the answers to my questions. My mother is my remaining source of information and for that, I am grateful. Thanks for commenting.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Kiran, I'll take that as a "unusual and interesting" hubs. LOL I'm waiting for a new one from you!

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Melody,

      My mother is my main source of information as she actually experienced seeing the fun the club members had at the cottage each summer.

      She also told me that the singing of German songs halted during the World least openly. In fact, she remembers arguments among her relatives (during World War 2) relating to ones that ABSOLUTELY did not BELIEVE that the good German people could have had a hand in anything so atrocious as the killing of so many people in concentration camps.

      Of course it was the biggest shock for them to find out that it HAD in fact happened. They undoubtedly went to their graves shaking their heads in sorrow and bewilderment.

      There are some people today that would like to erase this history. Hopefully they will never succeed because such inhumanity to man must be shown and kept alive so that it is never repeated.

    • Candie V profile image

      Candie V 

      9 years ago from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure!

      What an amazing legacy! You are so lucky to know these things about your family. Many don't know beyond their parents! Thanks for sharing them with us!

    • kiran8 profile image


      9 years ago from Mangalore, India

      You come up with the most unusual and interesting articles , thanks a lot :)

    • Melody Lagrimas profile image

      Melody Lagrimas 

      9 years ago from Philippines

      It must have been fun and cool.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Mighty Mom,

      Yes, dancing is good exercise! Sounds like you have had some fun with this. Thanks for the great comment.

    • Mighty Mom profile image

      Susan Reid 

      9 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      It's fascinating to read about the original purpose and practices of these social clubs. My only exposure to a Turn Verein here in Sacramento is the annual Oktoberfest. It is a 2-night festival of all things German -- giant tables are set up in the main auditorium, a polka band plays, the beer flows, and people have a grand old time. I love watching the people in their traditional German costumes (leiderhosen, dirndls). Had a delightful experience one year when my boyfriend went to the men's room I was approached by a little old German gentleman. He waltzed me around the floor so expertly I swear my feet didn't even touch the ground!

      That's where I learned to dance The Chicken Dance, too.

      Good times at the Turn Verein! I guess you could call all the dancing good exercise:-)! Thanks for the fun hub, Peggy! MM

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Ethel,

      You are correct, in that people are people. Circumstances change and some people have inherited more from which to experience and expand upon, but the underlying jobs of raising (hopefully) healthy and happy families are universal.

    • ethel smith profile image

      Ethel Smith 

      9 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Its great remembering past generations. Times were so different but people much the same I guess.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Pete,

      Many people were in the "same boat." What brought them to America? Did they achieve their dreams after surviving the depression? Would be interesting to hear about it from your perspective.

    • Pete Maida profile image

      Pete Maida 

      9 years ago

      My grandparents came from Italy and their main activity was keeping their kids fed during the depression.


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