Archives and Rare Books, University of Cincinnati

The Sacred Spaces of Cincinnati and the German Influence
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Alphabetical List By Denomination By Location Chronological Order
Rockwern Organ
The Rockwern Organ at the Plum Street Temple was originally built by German American Johann Heinrich Koehnken in 1866. It was restored in 2005 by the Noack Organ Co., founded by Fritz Noack who immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1959.
Photo by Laura Laugle

One has to be in the Cincinnati area for only a short while to know that German cuisine, language and culture make up an extraordinary facet of the history of the city and its surrounding areas. Cincinnati's German heritage dates back to 1802 when Major David Ziegler, a revolutionary war veteran originally from Heidelberg Germany, was elected the first mayor of Cincinnati, 14 years after the city's founding in 1788.

Five years later, the city's first German language publication was produced and distributed in the form of an almanac entitled Teutscher Calender auf 1808. Today, all around the city the German influence is evident. The streets are full of half-timber framed houses, fieldstone buildings and businesses featuring names like Schneller, Gruber and Kauffman.

There is one part of the city in particular in which architectural distinction is owed almost entirely to early German settlers: Over-the-Rhine. The neighborhood is so named because it was once said that when one crossed the bridges over the Maimi-Erie canal into the area, one was crossing "over the Rhine" and into the German district. The canal has since been drained and is now Central Parkway, but the name has stuck with the neighborhood. Over-the-Rhine was once home to thousands of German immigrants, many of whom fled Germany in the 1830s and 1840s due to increasing political instability in Europe.

These immigrants built the small, multi-storied row houses of brick and stone indicative of the area, and breweries and Biergärten in which to work and play. Over-the-Rhine was home to a number of breweries, including Lion Brewery, Jackson Brewery, J. G. John & Sons Brewery, Christian Moerlein Brewing Company, John Kauffman Brewing Company, Hudepohl Brewing Company, Windisch-Muhlhauser Brewery, Burger Brewing Company, Bellvue Brewing Company, Schaller-Schiff Eagle Brewery which later became the Gerke Brewing Company, and more.

Though many of these institutions were unable to survive the ban on alcoholic beverages during Prohibition, the influence of German cuisine can still be seen in several area restaurants such as Mecklenburg Gardens, established in 1865, and now boasting over 95 different types of beer as well as such classic German dishes as sauerkraut balls and schnitzel; and the Hofbräuhaus of Newport, Kentucky, a recreation of its namesake in Munich. Featuring bier cheese and hausfrauen wearing dirndl, the Hofbräuhaus Newport is a vivid reminder of the area's strong German ethnic heritage.

Perhaps the most famous and widely known aspect of German-American life in Cincinnati are the Oktoberfest celebrations held every September and October in and around the city. There are many festive celebrations featuring dancing, music, food and lederhosen, but the largest and most popular is Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati. It is the largest Oktoberfest celebration in North America with over 500,00 people in attendance each year, consuming untold amounts of beer and sausage and participating in a chicken dance so large that it once held the world record with 48,000 dancers.

Indeed the very symbol of the city, Fountain Square’s Tyler Davidson Fountain, was made by German sculptor Ferdinand von Miller. It is, however, important to know that all of this fancy statuary, delicious food, invigorating music and energetic dancing might not have been possible were it not for the German immigrants who throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries put down roots in the form of religious traditions. The establishment of German religious institutions served as an anchor for German–Americans in Cincinnati, tying them to the area and connecting them to one another during the harsh years of anti-German sentiment in the first half of the 20th century.

Written and Designed by Laura Laugle