The last installment of GMiPTH introduced modern Talossa to Henry “Ice-Bear” Kroeger, ice and beer purveyor in mid-19th century Milwaukee. This article recounts a particularly remarkable incident from Mr. Kroeger’s life.

In September 1867, an interesting account appeared in at least two German newspapers: Die Pfälzische Volkszeitung and the Augsburger Tagblatt (both published in what was then the Kingdom of Bavaria). The papers reported that Ice-Bear Kroeger of Milwaukee and his wife had recently had a baby boy, whom they named Bismarck after Otto von Bismarck. Von Bismarck was at that time prime minister of the Kingdom of Prussia, the most powerful of the then-disunited German states.

On a lark, Kroeger had decided to send a letter to von Bismarck asking him to be his son’s godfather. Several weeks later, Kroeger and a group of his friends were sitting in the back room of the Original Ice-Bear saloon around a bottle of Rhine wine when the postman entered with a package from Berlin!
According to Die Pfälzische Volkszeitung, the package contained a letter reading as follows:

Berlin, June 20, 1867
To Mr. Heinrich Kroeger
Milwaukee, State of Wisconsin
United States of North-America
Holding your esteemed [letter], in which you offer me so flatteringly the position of godfather to your recently born little son, I am taking the liberty of replying that I am accepting it with great pleasure.
Today I have sent through a local overseas commission house a silver spoon, which will hopefully arrive there. As the local American Consul told me, you are running a lager beer store. Go conquer America by means of lager beer; with the North of Germany I will try to conquer the South of Germany, not by means of lager beer, but by other means.
With greetings to my little godson,
Your well-affectionate v. Bismarck

(One might suppose that the “other means” von Bismarck had in mind were the Blud und Eisen—blood and iron—so famously mentioned in a speech he had given to the Prussian legislature a few years earlier. He actually accomplished the unification of Germany less than four years after the date of this letter, by orchestrating the Franco-Prussian War and forging an alliance of the German states to win it.)

Along with the letter, the package contained a silver spoon (a traditional christening gift from one’s godparents) engraved with little Bismarck Kroeger’s name. The senior Ice-Bear was ecstatic, and shared the news with everyone who would listen. The story surely would have been covered by the German-language papers in Milwaukee (which actually had more German than English newspapers until the early 20th century Milwaukee. This article recounts a particularly remarkable incident from  century), and presumably this is how it made its way to the Bavarian papers cited above.

More than sixty years later, the Milwaukee Sentinel ran a story (“Good Old Days Prank Won Beer Then and Salad Now”, 12 April 1933, p. 3) that may cast this incident in an entirely different light. John Manschot, an eighty-three-year-old Milwaukee resident, won fifth place in the Sentinel’s “Good Old Days” story contest by revealing his own recollections of Ice-Bear Kroeger’s proudest moment. According to Manschot, a friend of the Ice-Bear by the name of Fritz Koerner (better known as “Nasen Fritz” on account of his big nose) was an inveterate practical joker. It was Nasen Fritz who gave Kroeger the idea to write his letter, who accepted the letter from him to send off to Berlin, and who actually wrote the (pretended) reply from von Bismarck and arranged for its delivery to Kroeger. The forged reply was “written on a parchment with a large red seal and several red ribbons, and the whole business was encased in a box with plenty of sealing wax on the outside.” Manschot reported that “[t]he hoax worked out beautifully and successfully; until the truth became known, everything was free at the Ice Bear saloon.”

Manschot won two pounds of Kartoffelsalat (southern German potato salad) from the Sentinel for his
story, which would be more than 37 pounds in today's potato salad (considering inflation).
So what is the truth? Did Nasen Fritz really write a phony letter from von Bismarck, produce convincing fake wax seals, and have a silver spoon engraved just for free beer and a good laugh? Or did the legendary German statesman really send such a gracious response to an earnest request from a humble Milwaukee tavernkeeper? We may never know, but either way the story exemplifies the Talossan spirit.

* Reçáifarh sieux schpiuns (“to receive one’s spoons”), as reported in the Snert column in Beric’ht Talossan #6, is a Talossan-language idiom meaning to receive something long-awaited, similar to the English idiom “for one’s ship to come in”.


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