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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Zinzinnati's German heritage

Cincinnati has a one of the richest German histories in all of America. The German history dates back even to the inception of the city in 1788. German immigrants came to America in large numbers due to a variety of reasons from religious freedom to the availability of mechanized manufacturing of goods. As a result they were attracted to America's heartland and formed what is now called the "German Triangle." The triangle was formed by St. Louis, Milwaukee and Cincinnati...with Cincinnati being the largest of those cities and also the city containing the largest German influence. So, who cares?

Well what would Cincinnati be like today without the strong German influence of the past? We can attribute that strong influence to the current day butchers, bakeries and ice cream shops that still exist in nearly every neighborhood in the region. Over-the-Rhine was built by those German immigrants and thus the creation of the largest collection of Italianate architecture in America. Cincinnati's built environment was greatly influenced by those same immigrants. They built a dense urban core with streetcars and all, not to mention they helped build what is considered to be America's first major boomtown.

Oktoberfest Zinzinnati 2006: Photo from Cincy Images

It is also by no mistake that the largest Oktoberfest celebration exists in Cincinnati (outside of the Munich event). We also have the only Hofbrauhaus outside of Munich, Germany. In addition to that Cincinnati boasts the Fairview German Language School and one of the largest German-American book collections at the University of Cincinnati. In addition to that, roughly 50% of all people in the Cincinnati claim German as their ancestry...again, one of the largest percentages in the nation. A few other notable Cincinnati landmarks created or inspired by German immigrants are: Fountain Square, Roebling Suspension Bridge, Cincinnati Zoo, Spring Grove Cemetery, Music Hall, Findlay Market and the Cincinnati Park System.


Cincinnati's German heritage has surely shaped the physical environment of our city, and has also shaped the social environment over the years as well. I just don't think that Cincinnati would be the family-friendly place it is today without those unique Cincinnati features of being able to go to Humbert's Meats or Servatii's pastry shop. What do you think and how does Cincinnati's heritage affect your day to day life? How would Cincinnati be different without this German influence...or is it even relevant today?


I have done a photo thread on Over-the-Rhine over at UrbanOhio, entitled Über-der-Rhein.

12 comments:

Mike said...

German immigrants may have built much of OTR, but their descendants left it to rot. Look at the Kolping Society, whose old building sits dilapidated on Republic Street, while the society lives on in some unincorporated portion of the County off Hamilton Avenue.

I think it is a big mistake to keep remembering OTR as German. That is too backwards looking to me. It is much much more. What are the current new immigrants, and what could they do here? I would love to see a Taqueria, like the one in Newport here for example.

UncleRando said...

The point of this post was not to look at what OTR may eventually be or even what it should be. I'm just looking back on the history of this city and its strong German heritage. I don't think anyone would question the influence German immigrants had on building OTR. The decline of OTR has a lot of different issues to it, tied to much more than just the inhabitants that came after the Germans left the neighborhood.

As for the Hispanic immigrants...look to Lower Price Hill in Cincinnati and then also Hamilton, Ohio (in Butler County). These are the two hotspots for Hispanic immigration in the region...you'll find yourself some good Taquerias there (by the way...ever been to Javier's).

But once again, a brief narrative on a historical topic is "backwards" I guess by design. This is not a proposal for anything...I would like to hear whether or not the German heritage of Cincinnait affects your life in any way. Please share that...like do you say "please" instead of "excuse me"...do you say "gesundheit" instead of "bless you"...do you patronize a local bakery or butcher shop...do you live in a neighborhood that was built by Germans? That is the kind of stuff I'm curious about.

Mark said...

btw, there is now a Hofbrahaus in Las Vegas.

UncleRando said...

Thanks for the clarification, but so far there have been two comments and still no one has discussed the actual discussion topic. The goal of this blog is to be more than the typical blog that consists mainly of cock fights. I highly encourage thoughtful discussion/dialog. Thanks for reading.

ekalb said...

I have always wondered if the German influence determined the narrow street grid for the city. When ever I travel to other cities I always take note the broad streets compared to CIncinnati's downtown.

Also, I had heard that many Cincinnati's German named streets were changed during/after the war. I often wondered what streets those were.

Sean F. said...

Basically, any OTR street that sounds overly patriotic used to have a German name. Republic and Liberty come to mind.

UncleRando said...

I believe that there was a statue that was renamed as well...the name/location doesn't come to mind right now though.

Jimmy_James said...

Speaking of which, do you think reverting back to the original streetnames would be worth considering? It might be a nice way of restoring some of the local style and history that was wiped out during the mid 20th century. We can't get the original Fountain Square and other landmarks back, but we could go back to more colorful and unique streetnames. Or do you think that would be more trouble than it's worth?

Kevin LeMaster said...

I think Liberty Street was so named because it was the border between the incorporated City and the unincorporated Northern Liberties. I believe its original name was Northern Row.

Republic Street was formerly Bremen Street. Stonewall was Hamburg and Yukon was Hanover. English Street in Lower Price Hill was called German Street.

Reverting to the former names might be cool but I would imagine it would be a nightmare for the businesses and residents of those streets.

To the topic at hand...the German nature of the City has not shaped me in any way, other than enjoying some of the businesses that Randy mentioned. My family mostly came from the UK. There is some German in my aunt's family, but they are centered around Dayton.

Mike said...

OK, then on a more positive note:

Many of the things I take for granted, I find they don't have in other cities. For example the wide choice in sausages and meats.

I think the whole of the US has a pretty strong teutonic influence, which makes it difficult to detect as distinct here from other places.

The bier heritage is also cool. If it hadn't been destroyed during prohibition, and then by corporate consolidation. I also like german surnames and polka music (at least in small doses).

Anonymous said...

My family is strongly rooted in Cincinnati's German heritage. When I pick up meet or sausages at Avril's on Court St., I am stepping into the same butcher shop that my grandparents went to buy all of their special occasion meats for their grillouts and parties decades ago.

When I stop by Dutch's Pony Keg on Erie (whether it has German heritage or not) to pick up a six pack of quality beer, they know me by name and I know that I am standing in front of the exact same ice house that my dad would stop by when he was growing up.

Servati's has been a fixture in our family for breads and birthday cakes well before my time...

I think by living in Cincinnati it is hard to not have some type of German tradition effect you in one way or the other.

Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful topic. The German influence is so strong in so many different aspects of our American culture only most people don't know it. When WW1 broke out, America foolishly went to war against it's own patriotic German-American citizens and cleansed itself of all German names where ever possible. Now when you are eating or doing something this is very typically German, it has no German name to make a German connection with in the average persons mind.

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