Augusta has an exceptionally large German population.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Richmond County has more than 800 German-born residents. Currently, the largest number of foreign-born residents in the county come from Germany.
Anneliese Neises, the owner of Villa Europa on Deans Bridge Road, said many of the German natives she meets in Augusta came here, like herself, on the arm of an American soldier.
“That’s why you had so many German brides,” said Glenn Swan, who was stationed in Germany in the 1960s. “American soldiers went over there and fell in love.”
Fort Gordon brought the soldiers to Augusta, which already had a large German community because of the area’s German manufacturing plants.
Neises said the biggest adjustment after her move to Augusta in 1972 was food.
In the small country village where she lived, most residents raised their own fruits and vegetables. In America, Neises, who had spent most of her life in the food industry, had to adjust to a life where produce was found in supermarkets, not gardens, and for the first time a vehicle was a requirement.
Since then, the Germany native has made adjustments but remains close to her roots by serving up German cuisine for Richmond County at her German/Italian restaurant in south Augusta.
“My life now has become the United States,” she said.
The German Friendship Club has about 200 members. President Pat Estep, who married a German native while stationed in Germany, said the size of the club fluctuates as soldiers and their families transfer in and out of Fort Gordon.
Estep said one of the club’s concerns is that its members will eventually die out. Many of the members are in their 60s and older.
“It seems like the club missed a whole generation,” he said.
Estep hopes that Germany being the host nation for this year’s Arts in the Heart Festival will draw in a younger generation. Although he estimates 90 percent of the club’s members are of German descent or lived in Germany at one time, the club is open to anyone interested in German culture.
“We like to have a good time, and everything isn’t just about drinking beer,” he said. “We do like to do that, but we do other things too.”
The members occasionally meet for dinner at the area’s German eateries and enjoy dancing and singing traditional German songs.