Charles Bischoff sings in the Washington DC Sängerbund


1862 Sängerbund in Washington, D.C.
Early in 1851 a few young Germans, who had previously sung with the choir of the Concordia Church, 20th & G Sts., N.W. Washington, D.C. decided to organize a German Singing Society. They were planning to participate as a German chorus in the Second Song Festival of the Northeastern Sängerbund which was to be held in Baltimore, Maryland in June of 1851. Its first success in the then popular singing competitions came in July of 1869 in Baltimore when it won the first prize, a grand piano which it triumphantly brought home to Washington. During its first 50 years of existence, the Washington Sängerbund grew to be recognized as the stellar singing group in Washington, D.C. and along the entire Eastern seaboard. It performed at many notable occasions and before many dignitaries, including twice at the White House.

In the mid-1870s, Washington's German population stood at 5,000, a sizable number considering that all were crowded into the small business and residential districts in Northwest Washington. There were many German clubs at that time -- the Columbia Turnverein, the Arion Quartette, the Humbolt Lodge, a German Veterans' "Bund", the Prospect Hill Cemetery Society, the Concordia Evangaelish Society, a "German-American Club", the German Fishing Club, the mighty Schuetzwenverein, complete with its own park and hotel, as well as clubs devoted to poetry, theater, and literature. The Sängerbund seemed to attract a predominantly well-to-do and prosperous segment. Starting in 1874, and continuing for the next 19 years, the Sangesbruders met in rooms above Charles Dismer's restaurant at 708 K Street, NW, where the smaller functions were held. Larger functions were held at the Masonic Temple on Pennsylvania Avenue. Boat trips down the Potomac (including to Marshall Hall) and to the Bay became a regular form of recreation. During the 70s and 80s they delighted in sponsoring activities for the children as well. The Hall provided "Lebensgreude" or a "joy of living", done with a certain eye to propriety in the best German manner -- but the beer, the hearty laughter, the stories, the song were always there.

A part of Sängerbund life was purely intellectual. The Club attempted to fill the gaps in the formal education of its members, with large lectures on diverse subjects and philosophical discussions. These lectures also took place at Washington's All Souls Unitarian Church and the 8th Street Synagogue. Although the Sängerbund started with singers from the Lutheran Church, its membership was not religiously-restrictive; it sought to keep German tradition alive, not Christian. Washington contained a sizable jewish population, and "more than a handful" of German Jews were members, including Simon Wolf, an "elite member" and intellectual who conducted many of the lectures.

1901 Sängerbund in Washington, D.C.
It is not known when Charles joined the Sängerbund; the book "The Washington Saengerbund, A History of German Song and German Culture in the Nation's Capital" includes a membership list covering 78 years (1851-1929) which lists C. C. Bischoff. However, in April 1891 at a gala concert, Charles was not one of the 52 singers on the roster. The founder and first member of the club was Julius Viedt a cabinet-maker who immigrated from Braunschweig and who died in 1892. He lived at 121 D Street, NW, which was the address Charles gave for his business in the Washington DC directories in 1878 and 1882 -- clearly the Sängerbund and its membership was an important part of Charles' life. (According to the census data, in 1880 Charles and Justina lived at 922 D Street; in 1900 Charles and Elizabeth lived at 810 4th Street (at H Street). The 1890 directory also has Charles at 810 4th Street.) It is possible, perhaps likely, that looking into Julius Viedt may yield some clues into Charles Bischoff's heritage.

In 1894 the Sängerbund bought a property for the club at 314 C Street for $15,000, a 19-room home with wide marble steps, and elegant furnishings, including Bohemian crystal chandeliers, rare oil paintings, and a Steinway Grand piano. The Society contracted for additional space to include a large hall and bowling alley, a garden and summer theater. The entire building was lit with electric light, and every night the rooms were filled with members of the club and their friends and the "motto of the club seems to be sing, eat, drink, and be merry." There were lines of applicants for membership at every meeting, and membership was over 800. The Sängerbund Club House was open seven days a week, from ten in the morning until midnight. At least once a week some sort of social activity would be in progress -- a children's party, a banquet, an oyster roast, a Fashingsball. It was a family-oriented club, catering to the hundreds of German families who lived within walking distance of C Street.

By 1901, at its 50th Anniversary, the Sängerbund had a total of 3,179 members, including 398 active singers, 2,754 passive members and 27 honorary members. The gala festivities lasted for three nights, starting with a performance at National Theater. In conclusion was a banquet at Sängerbund Hall. It is assumed that the Bischoffs were among those who attended, probably with all their children.

The Sängerbund is still in existence today, having weathered severe financial problems during the 1920-1933 Prohibition.