Susan Scherman, an amateur filmmaker and historian and the great-great-niece of Daniel Bermes, stood before the building that once held the offices of her uncle’s business, The Daniel Bermes Boulevard Brewery. She told the gathered audience at a ceremony unveiling a historic marker honoring her uncle to “drink beer, because it’s loaded with beer.”
Scherman meant to say that beer is full of B vitamins and antioxidants that are proven to prevent heart disease and several types of cancer, but her point was all the same.
“There is no beer in heaven; that’s why we drink it here,” she said, quoting the famous German folk song.
“There is no beer in heaven; that’s why we drink it here.” -Susan Scherman
Eventually they both moved to Union Hill, known today as Union City, and opened the Bermes Brewery on Park Avenue.
As inseparable friends, Bermes owned the brewery while Schimper served as president. They lived next to each other at the corner of Fulton Street and Columbia Street.
The brewery flourished, winning a gold medal from the American Brewers Association, and the two men became giants of industry. Their two families became one over the generations, making Scherman truly a product of Hudson County greatness.
“I never liked history as a child. I don’t think many young girls do. There’s dates and wars,” she said. “I think history should be taught differently, in a family context.”
This is what Scherman tried to accomplish with a documentary film 30 years in the making. “The Daniel Bermes Boulevard Brewery,” which was a finalist in last month’s North Hudson (NoHu) Film Festival, tells the story of the two brewers and their business. Scherman and videographer Mauro DeTrizio worked with Union City historian Gerard Karabin and archivists and scholars in Germany to research Scherman’s family history and chronicle the story piece by piece.
“When I started this back in the ’80s it was a very slow process. Lots of international calling and waiting for information from people going through century-old archives,” she said. “If not for computers and online databases, none of this could have been possible.”
Markers around the city
After viewing Scherman’s film in last month’s festival, Karabin and Commissioner for Public Affairs Lucio Fernandez decided that the brewery’s office building, the only remaining building on the once 42-acre property, was a perfect candidate for one of the historic markers they have been placing around the city over the past year.
“This is very important for people who are aware of Union City’s history, but most importantly it’s for the people who aren’t aware,” said Karabin. “Someday they may just walk down the street and see the marker and say ‘Wow there used to be a brewery here?’ ”
Union City experienced a huge influx of German and Scots-Irish immigrants during the late 1800s, and still is a destination for immigrants today, said Karabin.
“We’ve got a lot of newer residents here, and one way to make the place you’re living your home is to experience its history, and Union City has a very rich history,” he said.
Fernandez and his fellow commissioner Tilo Rivas presented the honor to Scherman following a poetry reading by Union City’s poet laureate, Ben “Broken English” Figueroa.
“It was the Daniel Bermes Brewery that kept the beer flowing,” he read, “and kept countless shindigs and hootenannies going. We are here to honor the past, so that we may inspire the future.”
Scherman said that her decades-long quest was inspired by her own father’s cultural stubbornness, which piqued her curiosity about her past.
“I remember when I was 16 I wanted to go to Germany, because I knew that was where our family was from,” she said. “But this wasn’t long after World War II and my father would hear none of it. ‘We’re American,’ he said.”
But Scherman persisted, and called the day when she found living relatives in Germany one of the happiest of her life.
The other, she said, was probably the day her hometown honored her for her dedication to its history.
“I feel like I’ve come full circle as a human being,” she said.
Scherman’s film, “The Daniel Bermes Boulevard Brewery” is available for viewing on Youtube.com, and artifacts from the brewery are on display at the William V. Musto Cultural Center located at 420 15th St. in Union City.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org