If you’ve ever done any traveling in Central Texas, roughly from the coastal plains near Houston over to San Antonio and Austin and up through the Hill Country, chances are you’ve at least seen a sign for a German bakery. Texas might seem an odd place to find so many German bakeries, but there’s a historical reason for their existence.
German migration to Stephen Austin’s colony of Texas began in the 1830s, following in the footsteps of Friedrich Dierks, who became known in Texas as Johanna Friedrich Ernst. He’d come to America planning to settle in Missouri but changed his mind when he heard about large land grants in Texas. He applied for and received a grant of some 4,000 acres in what is now Austin County, west of Houston. This became the heart of the German Belt in the years to come. Ernst wrote back to friends about Texas, and his letters became widely publicized. In the years following Ernst’s arrival, thousands more Germans immigrated to Texas. During the 1850s, the population of German-born Texans reached then passed 20,000. After the Civil War — and thus the Union blockade of Confederate ports — ended, ships loaded with Germans started arriving again.
German culture in Texas took a hit because of anti-German sentiment brought about by the World Wars and continued to decline afterward from its peak in the 1890s. However, the rich history of German immigration can still be seen throughout Central Texas in particular. Towns with names such as Fredericksburg, Gruene (pronounced “Green”), New Braunfels and Weimar; the King William Historic District in San Antonio, named after Wilhelm I, King of Prussia; enthusiastic celebrations of Oktoberfest; and the aforementioned German bakeries all stand as testament to the rich German heritage that has German still identified as the third-largest national-origin group in the state behind Hispanic per the 1990 Census.
It’s because of this German history and the fact that my fictional Hill Country town of Blue Falls, Texas needed a bakery that I created the Mehlerhaus Bakery, operated by Keri Mehler Teague. Characters in every book seem to end up at the bakery for delicious treats such as cookies, cakes and German sweets such as strudel. I even throw in some kolaches, Czech pastries, since Central Texas has a history of immigration from what is now the Czech Republic as well. The Mehlerhaus Bakery is part of the Main Street shopping district that is popular with locals and the growing tourist business as well. Keri and the bakery really came on the scene in The Cowboy Sheriff, the third book in my Teagues of Texas trilogy, which introduced the town of Blue Falls. But her business is so integral to the town that she and her sweet treats have continued to appear in the 12 Blue Falls stories that have come out since then and will continue to appear in the books to come.