Ask G&G

Ask G&G: Derby Luck and Texas’s German Accent

Guy Martin on German Texans, racing prep, and dirty politicians

Illustration: Britt Spencer

If beef is king of the grill in Texas, what’s with all the bratwurst at their barbecue joints?

Willkommen nach Deutschland, baby! Those baffling brats have serious Central European roots in the Lone Star State. The early British, French, and Spanish colonizers of the South’s Atlantic and Gulf regions get more love in song and story than do the later, nineteenth-century waves of Texasdeutschen to Texas. But in the state’s south-central region lies the German belt, including Austin, Fredericksburg, and Weimar, extending down to Galveston. In 1990, some 17 percent of Texans claimed German descent; today they remain the state’s largest ethnic group with direct European ancestry. By the 1840s, the Texasdeutschen were bankers, cattlemen, lawyers, industrialists, and not least, brewers of that celebrated German beverage, beer. They brought their pastimes, which is why the accordion so brightly graces norteño, or Tex-Mex music. Flaco Jiménez and the Texas Tornados rule, but without the Germans, they wouldn’t be playing how they play. America owes its greatest debt to two German American Texans in World War II, Admiral Chester Nimitz, whose tactical genius brought the Japanese navy to its knees, and General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who smashed Hitler’s Western Front. So the next time you see a pile of bratwurst smoking up a grill in Austin, try one with sauerkraut—they’re delicious. While you’re at it, hoist a cold one to those super-gritty Texasdeutschen Ike and Chester.

How hard is it to get a horse ready for the Derby?

Horse races don’t begin at post time—racehorses and their trainers go about prepping for a contest months in advance. Let’s ask your question another way: In March 2021, did it matter to the Lakers that LeBron James had a monthslong ankle issue? You bet it did. With equine athletes, the risks are heightened because horses can’t chat about themselves. Their bodies do talk, though, and are intensely monitored. Add this: The Kentucky Derby’s fields are huge, up to twenty runners. All have raced, but Churchill Downs’ daunting mile and a quarter forms the first truly mad, long battle the three-year-olds have ever fought. Currently the hottest Thoroughbred in America is four-year-old Flightline, who missed his shot at last year’s Derby, having cut his right hindquarter while friskily rearing up in a barn. The injury took the entire 2021 season to heal. Now Flightline is posting dominant wins by Secretariat-esque margins of a dozen lengths. One Kentucky horseman puts it this way: “Had he been on the Derby trail or at Belmont, he would have brought home money. But stuff happens, right? To get a horse to the Derby, the timing has to be perfect.”

In Louisiana, when our top politicians get sent to prison, we say, “Thank God for Alabama.” So, do Alabamians thank God for Louisiana?

Manners are important in the South, and no etiquette question confounds like that of whom to thank on a race to the bottom. Our sainted region doesn’t have a lock on felonious officeholders, but much as Southern music infuses the nation’s songbook with funk, our politicians bring vigor to its roster of elected ne’er-do-wells. Alabama and Louisiana have forever run neck and neck in that dubious contest. The Long brothers, Huey and Earl, avoided the slammer but blazed an epic trail of back-scratching corruption as Louisiana governors. Alabama answered by electing hard-line segregationist George Wallace for four gubernatorial terms. By 2011, four-term Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards, who served eight years in prison for kick-back schemes, had put his state well ahead. On release, Edwards remained so beloved that he ran for Congress, which revived the excellent slogan, Vote for the Crook. Alabama battled back with former governor Don Siegelman, who was convicted on federal bribery charges and who, after doing time, was unanimously readmitted to the Alabama State Bar. So, yes, whenever the next Alabama politician relocates to a cell, the people will thank God for Louisiana. It’s just a way of acknowledging fellow travelers.