Tuesday, June 04, 2002

German identity lower in census


Region's still No. 3 nationally at almost 30 percent

By Tom O'Neill and John Byczkowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Greater Cincinnati is still the third most German metropolitan area in America, although it's far less German than a decade ago, Census figures released Monday show.

        The percentage of Census respondents who identified themselves — primarily or secondarily — of German heritage dropped in every Tristate county from 1990 to 2000. The decreases ranged from a low of 10.3 percent in Warren County to as much as 17.5 percent in Campbell County.

        Still, of the Tristate's 1.9 million residents, 592,203 identified themselves as German. That's 29.9 percent, trailing only the Milwaukee-Racine, Wis., and Minneapolis-St. Paul regions, and slightly ahead of St. Louis.

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        The German influence in Cincinnati goes back nearly to the city's origins. Waves of German settlers, fleeing religious persecution in Europe, migrated in waves in the 1830s. By 1890 there were 2.8 million German immigrants in the United States, most of them living in the “German Triangle” bounded by Cincinnati, Milwaukee and St. Louis.

        These immigrants shaped Cincinnati's foundation of churches, culture, architecture and politics, from downtown's Over-the-Rhine to the May Festival to labor unions.

        One local German-heritage leader said the primary reason Cincinnati is less German is simple math: Local Germans are an aging population.

        “I think that's definitely true,” said Mark Geers of Colerain Township, president of the Germania Society. “The last wave of German immigration was in the 1950s, mostly people from Yugoslavia, Hungary, southeast Europe” who identified themselves as of German descent. “And over the generations, they came to identify themselves more as American.”

        That's not a distinctly German-American trend, Census figures show.

        The number of Greater Cincinnatians identifying themselves simply as “American” rose 80 percent since 1990, to 54,057, leaping ahead of Italians for fourth most-common ethnicity behind German, Irish and English.

        Don Tolzmann, a professor of German-American studies at the University of Cincinnati and president of the German-American Citizens League of Greater Cincinnati, remains skeptical of the census, in which only one in six people were asked about ethnic background.

        “In '80, the first time they asked about ethnicity, everyone was asked for it,” he said. “I have a feeling that since the statistical sample is so small, it's not that accurate.”

        He also noted that because some people don't think ethnicity is relevant — or the government's business — some leave it blank.

        “Germans have influenced so many things” in Greater Cincinnati, he said, “the architecture, the foods, the park system, the arts, the culture.”

        The most heavily German communities remain on Hamilton County's west side, many with roots that go back to German-named Over-the-Rhine.

        But the west side is also where the biggest drops were recorded: 23 percent in Cheviot, 22 percent in White Oak, 17 percent in Harrison and 16 percent in Green Township. Green Township, however, remains the most German place in the region, with 55 percent of its residents claiming German heritage.

        Despite the overall decline, interest in German cultural events remains high, but that cuts both ways, too.

        In February, the German-American Citizens League of Greater Cincinnati withdrew its sponsorship of the fall's Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, in part because the league's leaders think it's become less German.

        “We felt it declined in quality and authenticity,” Mr. Tolzmann said. “It's become more of a street festival.”

       



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