It all started as a practical joke. The Prince of Wales was visiting New York, and a great ball was given in his honor. German-American musicians, who were at the time victims of anti-immigrant feelings, were not asked to perform at the ball. Shunned, a group of German musicians, led by August Asche, put on their own alternative ball. This was a great success and prompted Asche to establish a club for German-American musicians.
And so it was public sentiment against German Americans that prompted the establishment of Aschenbroedel Hall.
The dominant Anglo-Protestant culture of the time was suspicious of Germans and Irish Catholics often accusing them of anti-Americanism. The “Know-Nothing” movement, an anti-immigrant political organization that was established in the mid 1800’s was in part what drove the German-American musicians to form their own club.
Aschenbroedel Hall. This musical society was home to German-American musicians of the time. If the name feels like a mouthful, you can refer to it as Cinderella’s castle, since the name is a play on the German Cinderella, Aschenputtel, and the Hall’s first president, August Asche. Asche was often wiling to take on musical roles that were shunned by other musicians, earing him the nickname Aschenputtel, Cinderella. Asche good will and determination eventually made him a successful president to this musical society, and among the German-American cultural institutions of the time, it was considered a successful and prosperous organization.
This musical society founded in 1860, promoted and supported German-American musicians and was one of the leading cultural organizations in Kleindeutschland. German-Americans dominated the New York musical scene and nearly all members of the New York Philharmonic were of German birth or parentage.
Among it members it counts Carl Bergmann, who conducted Wagner’s Ring cycle for the New York Philharmonic, Theodore Thomas, a violinist with the New York Philharmonic, and Walter Damrosch, a conductor and composer of modest skills, who excelled in the all-American practices and fundraising and promotion and thus forever changed the fate of the New York Philharmonic.
Members had to meet two requirements: they had to be musicians and to speak German since all meeting were conducted in German.
While the club eventually moved to Yorkville on the upper East Side, another hub of German Americans in NY, the 4th st. building continues to serve the arts, and today is home to La Mama Experimental Theatre Club.