Hawaii and Germany – a long history of friendship

Germans stayed

Germany is almost exactly on the other side of the globe. So why is a German Baumkuchen more Hawaiian than you might think?
The relationship between Germany, the Germans, and Hawaii, the Hawaiians, is many and varied. It began in 1778 when Captain Cook arrived with three German sailors on his sailing ship.
From then on, more and more Germans visited Hawaii and many stayed. Some had great influence in Hawaii and good relations with the kingdom. Some people from Germany played key roles in Hawaiian history. Many Germans came not as explorers but to stay.

The island of Kauai, in particular, once had a large German population. The island’s main town, Lihue, was nicknamed “German Town.” There were German Lutheran churches and schools in Lihue and Honolulu (Oahu).

German names that one comes across when studying Hawaii’s past are: Hackfeld, Hillebrand, Isenberg, von Chamisso, Lemke, Pflueger, Scheffer, Spreckels and Zimmermann.

Now here are a few stories to the names.


In 1815, the German scholar Chamisso came to Hawaii and wrote the first Hawaiian grammar, laying the groundwork for future Hawaiian language studies.


Farmer Paul Isenberg was hired as a foreman at the Lihu’e Sugar Plantation in Kaua’i in the late 1850s. He married Hannah Maria Rice, daughter of plantation owner William Harrison Rice, and became the manager of the Lihu’e Plantation in 1862. Along with his brothers Hans, Otto, and Carl, Isenberg played an important role in the development of sugar plantations on the west side of Kaua’i.

West of the sugar mill in Lihue, there is German Hill to this day, where Hawaii’s first Lutheran church was built in the 1880s. A German school also stood on this hill.


In 1881, Isenberg and Captain Heinrich Hackfeld became partners and founded “American Factors”, one of Hawaii’s “Big Five” companies, which owned sugar plantations, shipping companies and other businesses, including the Hawaii department stores now called Liberty House.


Dr. Wilhelm Hillebrand was a German scientist. He played an important role in public health. He was the founding physician of Queen’s Hospital in Honolulu in the 1860s.

He also played an important role in selecting workers to be brought to the sugar plantations of Hawaii. And it came about this way: Hillebrand traveled with a German expedition to the Madeira Islands in 1871. In letters to Hawaii, he suggested importing workers from the rocky Atlantic islands, where the vineyards were infested with blight and thus there was great need and unemployment. By the end of the decade, thousands of people, now known as the Portuguese of Hawaii, had come to work on the sugar plantations. And this thanks to the tip of this German scientist.


In 1872, Berlin-born Heinrich August Wilhelm Berger became director of the Royal Hawaiian Band. He was instrumental in composing the Hawaiian National Anthem, as follows:

In 1874, King Kalakaua asked Berger to compose music in honor of the former King Kamehameha. The German composer adapted the melody of the Prussian hymn “Heil dir im Siegerkranz” for the “Hymn of Kamehameha I.” King David Kalakaua had written a text in honor of Kamehameha, and these Hawaiian words, with music by Berger, became the royal anthem for Hawaii. The royal anthem later became the Hawaiian national anthem. “Hawai’i Pono’i” was declared the official state song by the Hawaiian Legislature in 1967.

The treaty was signed and exchanged about the time King Kalakaua visited Germany. He stayed in Berlin and other cities for a week, and there is a good chance that he was the first Hawaiian to eat a Baumkuchen.

All these contacts and relations between Germany and the Kingdom of Hawaii in the 19th century were recorded in the Treaty of Friendship, Trade and Navigation between the German Empire and the Kingdom of Hawaii.

Article 1 states:

Article 1

There shall be perpetual friendship and peace between the German Empire and the Kingdom of the Hawaiian Islands and between the subjects and citizens of the two countries.

Nowadays, Hawaii is a dream for Germans. There is a 12 hour time difference (in summer) and it takes almost a full day to fly to Hawaii. This faraway paradise has surprisingly made it into several products and product names. One of them, for example, was a radio from 19xx. It was called “Radio Hawaii.” Another famous German dish is the “Hawaii toast”. This is a white bread with a slice of ham, then a piece of pineapple and then a slice of cheese. Grill the whole thing and you have a Hawaii toast, which was very popular in Germany between the 70s and 80s.

Also in the 80s, the weekly broadcast of Magnum P.I. brought the Hawaiian paradise to cold German winter nights, while Tom Selleck raced through beautiful Hawaiian landscapes in his red Ferrari.
And over the past 26 years, the Ironman on the Big Island has regularly made it into German live TV broadcasts. With about a third of the medals in the men’s competition (about 30 out of a possible 78), this annual sporting event is very popular in Germany and brings a lot of airtime into German autumn living rooms.

Just recently, the German Hawaiian friendship received a new milestone with the award of the German Order of Merit to Aaron Mahi, who was bandmaster of the Royal Hawaiian Band from 1981 to 2005.





Wikipedia contributors. (2021, May 15). Freundschafts-, Handels-, Schiffahrts- und Konsularvertrag zwischen dem Deutschen Reich und dem Königreich der Hawaiischen Inseln. Wikipedia. https://de.wikisource.org/wiki/Freundschafts-,_Handels-,_Schiffahrts-_und_Konsularvertrag_zwischen_dem_Deutschen_Reich_und_dem_K%C3%B6nigreich_der_Hawaiischen_Inseln