A Visit to the German American Heritage Museum

The German American Heritage Museum may be one of the smaller museums in Washington DC. Still, their efforts to preserve the history of Germans in America make up for its tiny footprint. (Plus I firmly believe that small museums are the best.) Since 2010, the museum has occupied Hockemeyer Hall on 6th Street NW, in the Penn Quarter just a few blocks from the Portrait Gallery and the Mall. I finally got the opportunity to visit the museum in May, just after the opening of the newest exhibit about the Berlin Airlift.

German American Heritage Museum

It seemed odd to find Chinese Characters on a sign for a German Heritage Museum, but it all makes sense. When the Hockemeyer family lived there, the neighborhood around them was a thriving German American section of Washington DC. John Hockemeyer, a successful merchant specializing in groceries and coffee, who emigrated from Germany at age 15 in 1858, had Hockemeyer Hall built in 1888 by architect Samuel Turner. The 3 story Victorian row home became a center of society… and another 2 story building had to be constructed behind the house for all of the German Clubs after his wife banished them from her living quarters. (I can just imagine that conversation).  While the house hasn’t moved, the neighborhood, like German neighborhoods all across America, changed demographics.

German American Heritage Museum

Still, for the German American Heritage Foundation, the building was perfect.

In 1976, the German American Heritage Foundation was formed in Philadelphia intending to create a national museum to honor the many contributions, cultural, political, scientific, and more that German-speaking people made to America. After 30 years of hard work and dedication, the Hockemeyer Hall and the neighboring Clubhouse building were purchased in 2008. The walls between the two joined buildings were torn out, and in 2010 the space re-opened as the German American Heritage Museum.

German American Heritage Museum

When you arrive at the museum, you will see a street-level door and a staircase that takes you to the first level of the museum.  Here you pay admission… or do a little shopping. You also find the staircase to the exhibit space upstairs. (There is an elevator!)

German American Heritage museum

Exhibits fill the walls of the bright room on the 2nd floor. It’s the story of Germans in America… the early immigrants, how they lived and why they came. The timeline takes visitors through the early years of America and the soldiers who fought on both sides of the Revolutionary War (and the famous Muhlenberg legend). You’ll learn the importance of the 48ers, and what it was like to be a German in America during the World Wars.

German American heritage museum

A good portion of the exhibit space is dedicated to temporary exhibits that change a few times a year. Past exhibits at the German American Heritage Museum include such incredibly diverse topics as “100 Years of Hollywood – “The Laemmle Effect”, “Remember the Ladies: German-Americans and the Woman Suffrage Movement”, and “From the Black Forest to the California Desert: The Life and Work of Fritz Faiss”. Other exhibits include Toymaking, German Food, and German Clubs. The current exhibit “75th Anniversary of the Berlin Airlift – How the U.S. and Royal Air Forces Saved Berlin’s Blockaded Residents” tells the story of the Airlift, and includes some of the items carried by Operation Vittles.

german american heritage museum

And now that restrictions are lifted, the museum can host events again! You can attend Dances, Oktoberfest Bier tastings, Author Lectures and more My daughter really enjoyed the Oktoberfest party… and there is a Swing Dance evening coming up!  Be sure to sign up for the newsletter here so you are notified of upcoming events.

More than just an Exhibit Space

The German American Heritage Foundation supports programs and scholarships beyond what you see on the exhibit floor. On the website, you will find links to video presentations, information about Germanic traditions, and biographies of Germans in America.

Other projects include-

Oral History Project

Although the displays are educational and thought provoking, the most important work of the museum is not just what you see on the exhibit floor. I first became aware of the Museum years ago when I learned that they were collecting stories for an Oral History project. Stories about and by German immigrants are important. One in FIVE Americans can trace back to German speaking heritage. This makes us a vital part of the fabric of America.

And don’t think that your story isn’t important! The stories collected are not just from famous people or politicians… stories from everyday people hold essential information. Why did people come to America? What did they do? History is more than just a series of dates… the interesting stuff is the WHY!

Oral histories are collected in writing, audio, or video form. Please, take the time to contact the museum and share your story here-> Oral History Project
(and if you have questions, send them an email at [email protected]


Every year the German American Heritage Foundation awards two academic scholarships to students designed to defray the tuition, fees, or other costs of attending a U.S.-accredited college or university. Students do not have to major in German to qualify! You just have to show ancestry to someone who immigrated from a German Speaking land. (As a parent, I know how every dollar helps.) Click to learn more about the scholarships here-> GAHF Scholarship Program

Distinguished German-Americans

Every year the Foundation chooses a Distinguished German-American for recognition. The award recognizes outstanding leadership and achievements in business, the arts, education, science, politics and society by someone with German ancestry. A formal ceremony with dinner is the Event of the year!

Online Resources

Find videos, biographies and other useful scholarship tools on their website. 

Their German Connections website is a roundup of German landmarks, restaurants and more. Find it here-> German Connections

“How German Ingenuity Inspired America: More Fun, More Beauty, More Freedom”

A few years ago the German American Heritage Museum published a book by Lynne Breen. This “who’s who” and “what’s what” of Germans in America is a fun book to flip through (the “more fun” is spot on). Scientists, inventors, and authors… customs… architecture… breweries.. and more. Loads of illustrations fill the pages. I grab for it a lot as a reference, and it’s nice enough to keep on your coffee table for enjoyment. You can find a copy of the book in the Museum Online Shop, but they also sell it on Amazon.

“How German Ingenuity Inspired America: More Fun, More Beauty, More Freedom”“How German Ingenuity Inspired America: More Fun, More Beauty, More Freedom”German American Heritage Museum

Support & Join the Museum

The German American Heritage Museum needs your help to keep doing the hard work of preserving the history of Germans in America. Consider joining the Museum… even if you don’t live nearby. You’ll get newsletters, free and discounted admission to the museum, invitations to special events and more. Plus, and more importantly, you help to keep these important programs going for the next generation. Find out more about that here-> Museum Membership

Visit the German American Heritage Museum

The Museum is open to the public Tuesday through Friday from 11am- 5pm.

Address- 719 Sixth Street, NW • Washington, DC 20001





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