Sunday, June 18, 2000

Herald of heritage


UC professor wants all of Cincinnati to know about city's German roots

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        Yes, he works in the rarified air of a major university. And, yes, he's a scholar with more than 40 books bearing his name as author or editor.

        But Don Heinrich Tolzmann stiffens at the mention of ivory towers. “With all of Cincinnati my field of study, I can't hide out in a tower. Wouldn't want to. I get out there and walk the community, poking into things.”

        What he pokes into is the city's German heritage. As senior librarian and curator of University of Cincinnati's German-American collection, director of its German-American Studies program and a professor teaching courses in German heritage, he has already poked a'plenty.

[photo] DON HEINRICH TOLZMANN
(Enquirer photo)
| ZOOM |
        And found: “Every other person on the street has some German heritage — more than 50 percent. It makes Cincinnati, along with Milwaukee and St. Louis, one of three major centers of German heritage.”

        Dr. Tolzmann, a fiftysomething west-sider and married father of three, has been at UC since 1974 when he moved here from New Ulm, Minn., a town founded by Cincinnati Germans in the 1850s. He's been studying ever since.

        “It's crucial to understand (our past) because it influences everything. We take things for granted and don't understand that they come from the German heritage.

        “But understanding it tells us who we are. It explains our passion for culture, arts, even outdoor festivals. More important, understanding our past tells us where we might be going.”

        His latest attempt at understanding through history is The German-American Experience (Humanity Books; $34.95), a look at 400 years of German existence in America.

        But Cincinnati, that's his home and his passion. Reason enough to join him on a tour of 12 German-American things you just have to see. Beginning with ...

        The Taft-Baum House, today the Taft Art Museum: “It was built by Martin Baum, an early industrialist and the first truly wealthy man in the West. He sent agents to German port cities to recruit German craftsmen to move here and work for him. That makes him the father of German-American heritage.” (He lost the home in an early 19th-century bank panic.)

        MainStrasse Village, Covington: “It's unique because what you see is an old German-American district, refurbished and preserved to showcase the influence and architecture . . . it's a model of what can be done with an urban district.”

        Over-the-Rhine: “It was the center of the German community. From there, all other German institutions derived — religious, secular, cultural. Most every church in the city has some connection to a church in OTR, either as a daughter or sister church.”

        Anti-German Hysteria Historical Marker in Fairview Park: “It was established on the 75th anniversary of World War I. The text tells what happened — German street names were changed, German was pulled out of schools, German books were pulled out of libraries. . . . after you read it, you can stand and look over OTR and see where the heritage was born.”

        The German-American Collection, UC: “It's the largest collection of its kind in the country, full of books, periodicals, newspapers. Students and scholars use it, but so does the casual browser. It has an index to German-language newspapers full of obituaries and marriages, and an index to Hamilton County naturalization records. People interested in family history (not genealogy) use it to find biographies of ancestors.”

        Fountain Square: “It's the symbol of the city and it speaks of our German heritage. Not many people know it was poured in Munich, or that staging festivals around fountains at the city's center the way we do here is a tradition dating to medieval Germany.”

        Roebling Suspension Bridge: “It's the second major symbol of our city and the first piece of the city that immigrants would see coming down river. To them, it symbolized the promise the city held. And something else a lot of people don't know, Amos Shinkle, son of a German immigrant and a wealthy Covington banker, came up with the funds.”

        Spring Grove Cemetery: “It was laid out by a German landscaper named Adolph Strauch. It was his concept that a cemetery shouldn't be a place of sorrow and grief, but rather a place where you can be consoled by the beauty of nature. From a historical point of view, it's an archive of Cincinnati history. You go there and see the monuments like the mini-chapels and the prominent names of brewers, publishers and industrialists.”

        German Heritage Museum: “It will be dedicated and open Sept. 23 on West Fork Road in Green Township. It's a 19th-century log cabin that belonged to a German farmer in Delhi.”

        The Germania Building (12th and Walnut streets): “It's on the National Register and it personifies the German culture. It's also the foremost example of German-American architecture in the U.S. Look at the feet of Germania (the statue above the door) and you'll see books, a palette and a globe, meant to signify dedication to arts, culture and learning.”

        John Hauck House, (812 Dayton St.): “It's an index of how a well-to-do German American family lived in the Victorian era, very much not an average home, like you see in Over-the-Rhine. This was the home of the very important family that brewed the finest beer in Cincinnati before Prohibition.”

        Murals at Union Terminal and the airport: “They were done by Winold Reiss, a German immigrant, to tell the story of settlement and growth of the region. It's a panorama of how one German immigrant viewed our past.”

       



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