Sunday, February 28, 1999

BockFest is a reminder of what we are




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Now and then, it's healthy to spit in the eye of progress. In fact, it might be good for our community soul to improve on what we have, instead of trying to buy something that belongs to somebody else.

        I am having these thoughts while riding down Main Street in Over-the-Rhine.

        Probably I should mention that I am not riding in the Pulfer carriage, which has anti-lock brakes, seats with lumbar support and an air freshener. I am riding Magic, a splendid horse who has none of these things. He has attitude. And, at that very moment, so do I.

        No wonder. I was Queen for a Day — sort of — riding in the BockFest '99 parade. (My official title was Grand High Magistrate of Sausages, but my friends just call me Your Porkiness.) Friday evening we marched down Main Street and over to the Emery Theater to officially start this year's celebration of bock beer, sausage, spring and goats.

        Goats?

Beer with a kick
        Bock is the German word for goat, a man dressed in a brown monk's robe told me. The beer first brewed by monks during the Middle Ages was called that, he said, because of its kick. This explained the goat hauling a cart.

        But not the bagpipers.

        I guess they were there just because they sound great. Ditto for the kids beating on upturned buckets. Magic must have thought I was riding him through the Gates of Hell.

        Pier 'n Port Travel's Pat Cronenberg, who owns the big black horse, has fearlessly led tourists through countries all over the world. She insisted that getting me through a 20-minute parade without breaking my neck would be “a piece of cake.” Dressed as a page, she skittered around Magic and me on a little gray paso fino gelding.

        The buildings we passed were meant to be seen from the back of a horse, and we noticed details on their facades that we had missed as pedestrians and motorists.

Full of ourselves
        “Old Vine Street sparkled like a huge Brazilian yellow diamond by night,” wrote Cincinnati Times-Star reporter Frank Grayson in 1924. “Sumptuous beer gardens were as plentiful as freckles on a small boy's face. There would be congenial and cheery companionship everywhere about you, and at your right hand, would be a tall flagon of the best beer that was ever brewed in America.”

        Cincinnati, in the words of the Hillel Center's Rabbi Abie Ingber, “was full of itself, a city that believed that it had something to give America.”

        Of course, everything old isn't wonderful (plumbing), and everything new isn't awful (computers). But if it is unique, if it has character, if it's a touchstone to our history, we shouldn't shuffle it aside while we chase something that works for Indianapolis or Cleveland or Columbus.

        Over-the-Rhine once was the entertainment capital of the Midwest. There's a movement afoot right now, led by Cincinnati Pops Orchestra conductor Erich Kunzel, to build a $220 million public arts campus here that would be home to the Symphony, the Opera and the School for the Creative and Performing Arts.

        Culture. Music. Schools. That's us, isn't it? That is part of our real civic fabric, not just something we saw in another city that we thought might bring a few bucks here. Good beer and a fine brat. That's us, too. Right?

        Back at Arnold's Bar & Grill, est. 1861, new owners Ronda Roell and Sue Brooker were serving up Moerlein Bock and venison bratwurst. The well-known former owner, Cincinnati City Councilman Jim Tarbell, was leading the parade in a dazzling purple robe.

        As for me, I was bouncing blissfully down the middle of Main Street past 150-year-old brick buildings, giving what I imagined to be a majestic wave to BockFest revelers.

        And progress was the last thing on my mind.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393. She can be heard Mondays on WVXU radio and is a commentator on NPR's Morning Edition and InterMedia's Northern Kentucky Magazine.