The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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June 23, 2013

D.C. museum to honor town’s German origins

JOHNSTOWN — Berlin, Germany’s capital city, sits more than 4,000 miles away from western Pennsylvania, but within 150 miles of Johnstown, three areas bear the same name.

So, when historians at the German-American Heritage Museum along 6th Street in Washington, D.C., decided to honor the 44 United States communities named after the German capital, these local Berlins were not forgotten.

An exhibit is to be added to the museum Thursday, museum spokeswoman Marietta Greene said, adding that the exhibit is to highlight the contributions German-Americans made to the United States’ development.

Information from all 44 American Berlins, including Berlin in Somerset County, New Berlin in Union County and East Berlin in Adams County, is to be featured.

The exhibit is being added in honor of the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s historic speech at the Berlin Wall on June 26, 1963, she said.

“On the June 26, we are having a gathering at 6 p.m. to honor his speech,” she said.

The following day, the new exhibit, “Berlins – Made in the U.S.A.,” is to be revealed.

A press conference is to be held at 3:30, and mayors and civic leaders from the American Berlins are to be able to meet with Berlin, Germany’s mayor and minister of the interior, Frank Henkel, Greene said.

Berlin, Pa., residents and historians are delighted that the museum is honoring the borough’s German origins, Berlin Area Historical Society President Jim Suder said.

“I always say we are a whole town of hard-headed old Germans,” Suder said, jokingly. “I’m allowed to say that because I’m one of them.”

Camera crews and interviewers have been visiting the Somerset County area for almost four years in order to gather information for the exhibit, Suder said, adding that arrangements have been made to gather additional information after the unveiling.

Though no arrangements to attend have been made, Suder said he hopes at least one member of the historical society will be in attendance.

However, if a member is able to attend, Suder said it won’t be the first time Berlin, Pa., residents have interacted with a German mayor.

“In 1937, we had been given, by the mayor of Berlin, a few etchings of prominent buildings in Berlin, (Germany),” he said, explaining that these artifacts were almost destroyed.

“During (World War II), they called for a public burning,” Suder said. “Luckily, cooler heads prevailed, and they just disappeared for a while.”

He said the etchings reappeared sometime in the late ’70s.

After returning, a group of German exchange students saw the etchings, and they wanted to contribute to the historical society, too, Suder said.

“A group of youngsters, who were part of an exchange program, went back to Germany and photographed the buildings as they stand today,” he said. “We have those hanging next to the etchings.”

Members of the historical society have not yet seen the exhibit in Washington, D.C., and Suder said they are anticipating its unveiling.

“We’re anxious to see what they’ve put together.”

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