Germans believed a balance of hard work, fun and healthy living produced
good citizens, and they didn't leave such things to chance. They organized
clubs, like the Turn Verein, to develop skills for a robust and patriotic
Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, a Prussian educator, patriot and gym junkie,
encouraged schools to teach classes in physical education. He even
devised new exercises and gym equipment (parallel bars, side horse,
balance beam) while teaching school in Berlin.
Jahn was a persuasive man, and his program gained momentum. In 1811
he expanded his agenda and initiated mass outdoor exercises in the
first public Turnplatz (outdoor gym). After that gym clubs called
Turn Vereins spread all across the German states.
Turn Verein comes from the German "turnen" - to practice gymnastics
and "verein" - which means club or organization.
But the Turn Verein was more than a gym. It had a political component.
In addition to promoting physical fitness, the clubs instilled patriotism
in German youth and fortified young German men to defend their homeland
against the forces of Napoleon.
Then in 1848 a group of democratic-minded Germans, including some
members of the Turn Verein, revolted against the monarchy. When the
revolution failed, many of the rebels became political refugees. They
fled Europe and brought the Turn Verein model to Milwaukee, Cincinnati,
St. Louis, San Antonio
and the Texas Hill
San Antonio and New
Braunfels had Turn Vereins by 1855. The Comfort
Turn Verein started in 1860.
On March 16, 1871 Charles Jung, Charles Nauwald, Wilhelm Luckenbach,
Carl Weirich, Sylvester Kleck, August Nagel and Henry Langerhans founded
the Fredericksburg Turn Verein.
The stated purpose of the organization was "to help make its members
physically strong and spiritually clean; men without prejudice and
filled with understanding and good will towards their fellow man."
The Turn Verein also promoted "understanding of social, political
and religious reforms."
The Fredericksburg Turn Verein was originally a men's only club. At
first the group met downtown but soon traded that location for property
on the 100 block of West Travis Street, across from the public school,
in a space then known as Central Park.
| Fredericksburg Turn Verein
Photo courtesy Michael
Barr, Nov. 2015
Fredericksburg Social Turn Verein sign
Photo courtesy Michael
Barr, Nov. 2016
| The club scheduled
weekly exercise sessions. Each session began with calisthenics. Then
the men went about building muscles and stamina using the swings,
horizontal bars, trapezes and other equipment that filled the exercise
The Turn Verein emphasized commitment. If a member missed 3 meetings
in a row without a proper excuse he lost his voting privilege from
6 weeks to 3 months. Continued absences could mean expulsion from
Many of us remember the building the housed the local Turn Verein.
The Turner Hall at 103 W. Travis Street, across from the Middle School,
had a large room for banquets and dances, billiard tables, a card
room, a kitchen and 4 bowling lanes. The dance floor was the best
The Turner Hall was a community social center. It hosted wedding receptions,
anniversaries, reunions, quinceañeras, private parties, Skat tournaments,
saengerfests and bowling leagues.
For much of the 20th century members gathered at the Turner Hall to
hear the results of the November presidential elections. They made
a party of it, with music, dancing, chili and beer.
Even today evidence of the Turn Verein's emphasis on physical fitness
and community spirit is all around us, from the public swimming pools
to the Hill Country Wild Flower Run. In 1883 the Turn Verein organized
a hook and ladder company to fight fires in the community. That hook
and ladder company evolved into the Fredericksburg Volunteer Fire
By the 21st century the Fredericksburg Turn Verein still had over
200 members. It may have been the oldest active social organization
Then in June 2016 the Turner Hall burned. I hoped the Turn Verein
would rebuild it, but it looks like that's not going to happen.
The Turner Hall was once essential to community life, but changing
times and competition from other venues reduced its importance as
a social center and gathering place. I am sad that it is gone but
happy when I remember the good times I had there.
""Turner Hall Organized in 1871 as Athletic Club in Fredericksburg,"
Fredericksburg Standard, July 5, 1950.
New York Almanack, "Gymnastics History: The Legacy of Friedrich
Ludwig Jahn's Turnerism," December 27, 2021.