The German Tartans
by Todd Wilkinson (c) 2010
While tartan has traditionally been associated with Scotland, today you can find tartans for US states, Canadian provinces, Irish counties and even other countries — a search of the Scottish Tartan Authority’s International Tartan Index will turn up a plethora of tartans representing different nations and ethnicities around the globe. Germany is no exception to this recent trend and in fact, there are a number of tartans available today for those who wish to display their German heritage and pride via the Scottish national dress.
Das Erste: the Coburg tartan
Until recently, the only tartan for those of German heritage to wear was the Coburg tartan [see STA record], a variant of Graham of Menteith. The tartan was created by Wilson’s of Bannockburn to honour Queen Victoria’s Prince Consort, Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. “It is still a valid choice for those wishing to wear a traditional tartan to honour their German roots,” said noted tartan scholar Matthew Newsome.
Ikelman’s German National Tartan
This tartan was designed by Mr. Douglas Ikelman of Atlanta, Georgia. Ikelman had originally designed a tartan for his family name in 1994 (named “Ikelman No. 5”) but eventually decided to create a tartan that anyone of German heritage could wear. By replacing a grey field with red, Ikelman incorporated the colours of the German National Flag. “Ikelman No. 5” was renamed the German National Tartan (ITI #1095) in 1997 [see STA record]. Ikelman registered his tartan with the Scottish Tartan Society in 1996, and then with the STA in 1998. He has also designed another tartan, “Ikleman No. 6” (ITI #2183) for his family. Ikelman is active in the Atlanta Scottish community, and said the tartan has been well received – he wears a kilt in the tartan to games and other functions. “People look and say ‘wow’ when they see it,” Ikelman said. Germans are also generally favorable of the tartan, although the German government would not approve or recommend the tartan officially, for fear of “favoritism”. “The German Consul in Atlanta said, ‘You Americans always recognize everything, but we Germans do not do that”, stated Ikelman with a chuckle.
Even though it is not “officially” recognized by the German government, the German National Tartan has become a de factotartan for anyone from Germany or with German heritage.
The German MacLeod Tartan
Organized in 2003, the Clan MacLeod Society of Germany was founded for MacLeods in Central Europe. Albrecht Kurbjuhn, President of the society, notes that there were more MacLeods in the area than first expected, since Central Europe was not a traditional destination for Scottish immigrants like North America. “Over the centuries, the name has, however, adapted to the local languages,” said Kurbjuhn, noting variations of the name in Germany including Machleidht, Cloidt andKloeden. German MacLeods also settled in Poland, where the name became Machejd. The German MacLeods had as one of their goals from their formation, a design of a tartan specifically for German MacLeods as a way to “enhance the identity” of the society. Using the MacLeod of Harris tartan as their “base”, designer Uwe Frank added the colors of the German flag, black red and yellow to the tartan. The society received support on the project from a major German kiltmaker, Kilts & More, and its owner, Scottish expatriate Donald McPhee, who paid for the swatches and offered discounts for society members. Mr. McPhee also has outfitted and equipped a number of German pipe bands, and the German MacLeods hope to organize their own band someday, which would wear the German MacLeod tartan. The tartan was registered with the STA on January 5, 2006. (ITI #6816) [see STA record]
The German Heritage & German American Tartans
In the fall of 2006, William “Rocky” Roeger, an American kilt maker and owner of USA Kilts in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, decided to design a tartan for German heritage. Roeger, who is of “mostly German” heritage himself, but he does admit to having some “Celtic blood”, polled his customers, many of whom liked the idea of a tartan for German heritage. Roeger was aware of Douglas Ikelman’s German National tartan. “While I like and respect the tartan created by Mr. Ikelman” said Roeger, “I wanted tartans with a deeper red color and a ‘simpler’ design.” Roeger noted that since there are many “universal” Scottish tartans, why not more than one “universal” German one?
The German American tartan combines the colors of the German Heritage Tartan with another tartan Roeger designed, the American Heritage Tartan to represent the flags of both countries.
In the course of about two weeks, Roeger designed two tartans; the German Heritage (ITI #7016) [see STA record] and the German American Tartan (ITT 7017) [see STA record]. Roeger said that he would “tweak” different designs & thread counts while taking a break from sewing kilts until he came up with the final designs.
Roeger discussed the project with STA Director Brian Wilton, who offered suggestions and advice about names and designs. Eventually Roeger had the tartan woven, sent a swatch to the Authority, and the designed were officially registered in December, 2006.
Since he began to offer the two German tartans, Roeger has noted that the majority of interest and orders have come from Americans of German heritage, especially since his shop is located in Pennsylvania, where there is a high percentage of German heritage. He has sold about a dozen German heritage tartan kilts to customers in the USA, three to customers in Germany, and one to a Canadian since January, 2006.
Response to the tartans has been overwhelmingly positive, with many people of German heritage delighted that they now have a number of tartans they can wear – “a product (kilts) and an industry (tartans) that they didn’t connect with suddenly seems like a valid option to them,” said Roeger.
A Kilted Yank in Germany
One of Roeger’s customers is Tom Hays, a civilian employee of the American Department of the Army. Hays works at the American military base in Grafenwoehr, Germany, and wears a kilt from Roeger in the German Heritage tartan, as well as several other clan and district tartans.
“In my two years of wearing a kilt in Germany, at many official and unofficial functions, the reaction from the Germans is positive almost without exception, “said Hays, although he is quick to note that most Germans don’t show any particular interest in wearing a kilt themselves.
“The fact that this [the German Heritage] tartan was designed with the German flag colors seems to make little impression on them, “noted Hays. “Their ties are to their town, region, state and then nation, mostly in that order. You see more blue and white Bavarian flags than you do German flags [here].”
Hays noted that there are a number of pipe bands in the west-central part of Germany, and at least six Highland Games. “Germans love any excuse for a community party,” said Hays.
Other German Tartans
The Franconian tartan (ITI #2305) [see STA record] was designed in 1996 by the Highland Circle, a malt whisky club in Franconia, Germany. According to an article on the club’s web site, the tartan symbolizes the ties between Scotland and Franconia, including shared natural resources (forests); colors common to both the Scottish & Franconian flags (Blue, red and white); and most appropriately, an amber stripe to represent the “amber bead”, whisky. The club’s web site claims that the Franconian tartan was the first German tartan.
The Landshut tartan [see STA record] was designed to symbolize the twinning of Elgin, Morayhire, with Landshut, a town in Bavaria.
The aforementioned Matthew Newsome stated in a July, 2007 article in The Scottish Banner that “the Highlanders of old would consider it an honour when visitors to their country adopted the Highland dress”, and that the new “non-Scottish” tartans of the present-day were created in the same spirit as many of the original clan and district tartans were in the late 18th-early 19th century. While these tartans may or may not become popular among German nationals in the future remains to be seen, but they certainly do offer an alternative for those of mixed heritage to celebrate their ancestors, no matter their nationality.
PHOTO CAPTION: Tom Hays wearing his German Heritage tartan kilt in front of the Forsthaus, which serves as the quarters for the Commanding General of the US Army Training area at Grafenwoehr, in the Oberpfalz region of Northern Bavaria. (photo courtesy of Tom Hays)