When German immigrants settled in Cincinnati in big numbers during the 19th century, they helped create one of America’s first boomtowns, and at the time, one of the nation’s largest cities. With them, the new inhabitants also brought new perspectives and attitudes towards the arts, culture and architecture, which ultimately shaped what is known today as German Cincinnati.
Many settled in neighbourhoods north of downtown, dubbed Over-the-Rhine (OTR) after the Rhine River in Germany because they had to cross the Miami-Erie Canal to get there. Join a German Heritage Tour to explore the extraordinary German-built urban historical district, the largest of its kind in the US. Be sure to look up while you walk because you can still see German signs such as the one on Germania Building, where until recently artistic lettering was covered due to pre-World War I anti-German attitudes.
On Sunday mornings, there’s still a German service at the oldest standing Church in the Over-the-Rhine area, Old St. Mary’s, organised in 1840 by German immigrants who baked the bricks in their own ovens. Wander a few blocks to see Music Hall, built by a third-generation German merchant in 1878, home to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Opera productions, and the May Festival – an annual tradition dating back to 1873. Even earlier, around 1849, Cincinnati was the first city in the U.S. to hold a municipal song festival, named Saengerfest. We recommend going on a Music Hall ghost tour, which has become a popular stop off for paranormal enthusiasts keen to experience the eerie beauty of this National Historic Landmark.
Take a walk over the Ohio River on the Suspension Bridge built by German-born John Roebling, the prototype for his other endeavour, the Brooklyn Bridge. On the Kentucky side, taste the beer brewed at the first HofbrÃ¤uhaus in America, modeled after the legendary 400 year-old beer-garden in Munich. Or sample traditional German fare at Katharina’s Café-Konditorei close by. For food and fun visit Mainstrasse Village where you’ll see the Goose Girl Fountain inspired by the Grimm’s Fairy Tale, or visit Wunderbar for homemade sausages and beer.
Back on the Ohio side, celebrate German Cincinnati with Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, when over 500,000 people attend the biggest Oktoberfest outside Munich. German clubs host their own events on other weekends, like Donauschwaben Oktoberfest, Germania Society, and SchÃ¼tzenfest in July. Winter holidays bring Christkindlmarkets, and in March, the eclectic springtime Bockfest celebrates beer, spring, and Over-the-Rhine.
Cincinnati was once nicknamed Beer Capital of the World, making the contemporary German Cincinnati experience incomplete without a visit to a beer hall. Tour original 19th century brewery buildings and underground tunnels with the Brewery District, visiting historical spaces like Rhinegeist and Mecklenburg Gardens. Stop off at the Christian Moerlein Tap Room, which also houses clothing boutique, Wiesnkoenig, selling adorable dirndls for those nights when you need a traditional German outfit. Hungry? Take a trip to Brezel for a Bavarian pretzel snack, or the President’s Room for modern American dining with a hint of German culinary flair.
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Written by Margy Waller