Wednesday, November 17, 1999

'Zinzinnati' shows city's German roots

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        With a name like Kiesewetter, you'd expect me to watch a show called Zinzinnati Reflections. But you should watch it, too, even if your name isn't Bedinghaus, Schottelkotte, Horstmeyer or Hudepohl.

        Then watch your step, because you may be craning your neck to see traces of Zinzinnati all around us.

  • What: Zinzinnati Reflections.
  • Debut: 8 p.m. Saturday, Channel 48.
  • Repeats: 6 p.m. Sunday (after the 1997 Cincinnati Reflections) and 3 p.m. Nov. 28.
        The one-hour documentary premiering 8 p.m. Saturday on WCET-TV, explains how we in Cincinnati became who we are.

        We take so much for granted, seldom thinking of the German heritage that smothers us like sauerkraut on a bratwurst. Everything from City Hall to Music Hall, Maifest to Oktoberfest, pastries to pretzels, and banks to beer, can be traced to German immigrants in the 19th century.

        Although Nick Clooney hosts the show, our Zinzinnati tour guide is Donald Heinrich Tolzmann, director of German-American Studies at the University of Cincinnati and president of the Tristate's German-American Citizens League.

        Consider Zinzinnati Relfections as the CliffsNotes version of Mr. Tolzmann's UC course in “Cincinnati's German Heritage.” @subhed:Over-the-Rhine @body:

        Cincinnati's German population, according to Mr. Tolzmann, grew from 5 percent in 1800 to 33 percent by the Civil War in 1861, and to 60 percent by 1900. Most lived just north of the Miami-Erie Canal (now Central Parkway), in the neighborhood still called Over-the-Rhine a century later.

        “Germans not only influenced society in Cincinnati, they changed it completely,” Mr. Tolzmann says.

        For 75 years, from the 1840s until World War I, Cincinnati public schools were bilingual. Before World War I, court cases were conducted in German and most telephone operators here spoke both languages, he says.

        The TV show — written, produced and directed by former TV-radio personality Joyce Wise — provides a visual tour of Zinzinnati, too. Architecture historian Walter Langsam describes the history of Music Hall, Dayton Street row houses, Taft Museum (home of German industrialist Martin Baum), Old St. Mary's Catholic Church and Covington's Mother of God Church, with the inscription Mutter Gottes Kirche above the front door.

        My favorite is the musical lairs in the wrought iron balcony at Grammer's Restaurant, 1440 Walnut St. German singing societies practiced upstairs at the Over-the-Rhine restaurant.

        Curiously, the distinctive Zinzinnati City Hall isn't shown. “It ended up on the cutting room floor, because Walter Langsam didn't talk about it,” explains Ms. Wise, who also produced Channel 48's Cincinnati Reflections in 1997. (Cincinnati Reflection repeats at 4 p.m. Sunday, before the Zinzinnati repeat.)

        After watching the preview, I found myself gazing at downtown buildings searching for signs of our German roots. There, above the side door of the Enquirer newsroom's favorite Starbucks, at 403 Vine St., are the words: “German National Bank.”

        Mr. Tolzmann also talks about the Zinzinnati erased from history from anti-German sentiment during World War I. Humboldt Street became William Howard Taft Road; German Street in Lower Price Hill was renamed English Street; and Bremen Street in Over-the-Rhine was changed to Republic Street.

        More than a dozen German descendants who were interviewed for the film share family photographs. You won't believe the picture of Warren Heist's great-uncle, a wooden shoe carver, holding the wooden shoe violin he made.

        A few have shared their recipes, which will be offered as a “thank you gift” booklet to people who contribute to Channel 48 this weekend, says Grace Hill, Channel 48 program director.

        Pledge breaks are scheduled today through Friday during daytime children's programming, and throughout the weekend. No pledging is planned for the Cincinnati Pops Holiday: A Family Thanksgiving concert premering 8 p.m. Thursday, and repeating 9 p.m. Friday and twice on Thanksgiving, at 1 and 8 p.m.

        Already, Ms. Wise and Channel 48 are talking about more Relfections in the new millennium.

        Station manager Scott Elliott “tells me he wants a boxed set of these, which would mean making at least two more,” Ms. Hill says. “We just have to find the money for them.”

        John Kiesewetter is Enquirer TV/radio critic. His column appears Monday and Wednesday. Write: 312 Elm St., Cincinnati OH 45202; fax: 768-8330.