On Wednesday, we ventured out to visit the Over the Rhine historic district near downtown Cincinnati. According to wikipedia, it is “the largest, most intact urban historic district in the United States.” Over the Rhine, or OTR, as many people call it, was established by German immigrants in the 1800s. A bridge over the Miami and Erie River Canal was used by the immigrants to get to work each day. They nicknamed the canal the Rhine in reference to Germany’s Rhine River. The canal was eventually drained and was at one time used as a subway tunnel for Cincinnati’s failed subway project.
By the 1900s, most of the German residents had moved out of Over the Rhine and into the suburbs. This was due to the decline of industrial jobs. Over the Rhine became a poor inner-city neighborhood. Wikipedia cited a 2001 article in Reason magazine that dubbed OTR as “ground-zero in inner-city decline.” Michael read somewhere that, by the 1970s, it was known as one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the U.S.
In the 2000s, the city, along with private organizations, began a massive revitalization effort in OTR. As the mural below demonstrates, redeveloping an impoverished area without displacing its residents always poses a challenge.
We walked around the neighborhood and could clearly see that the redevelopment of Over the Rhine has been a success. However, if you wander a few blocks away from the main streets, you can see what the entire area used to be like. The restored sections are still surrounded by inner-city poverty. It is definitely not a place to wander around in the middle of the night. Some of the buildings on the main streets are still awaiting restoration as well.
The streets in Over the Rhine are lined with multi-story brick buildings that house apartments, lofts, bars, restaurants, and boutique shops. Many of the buildings are painted in bright colors. The area has a very artsy vibe and is home to several art schools and studios. More of Cincinnati’s incredible murals can be found decorating the building walls in Over the Rhine. We visited OTR in the afternoon and found the streets filled with people eating, drinking, and shopping.
Michael found a restaurant for us to eat a late lunch at called The Eagle. It’s a a beer and food hall, and I could tell The Eagle turns into a pretty happening place at night.What a delectable menu! They had the best fried chicken sandwich I’ve ever eaten, homemade artichoke and spinach dip, rich mac and cheese, sweet and buttery cornbread with a maple and honey glaze, and an upbeat dining atmosphere with a unique urban vibe.
We strolled along the streets for a little while after we ate. The shops were very eclectic. They even had a dog store with a dog biscuit and treat bakery.
It was interesting to see a reminder of Over the Rhine’s past when we gazed up at an old advertisement on the side of this building. The large brick wall is a perfect example of what is used for many of the murals. It looks like they chose to leave the ad, and I’m glad many of these older elements remain.
The Cincinnati Strongman mural is currently Michael’s favorite. It is a particularly large mural that spans the entire side of a building, from the ground to the roof.
The artwork provides a brief but interesting biography of Henry Holtgrewe, the Cincinnati Strongman. He was born in Hanover, Germany, in 1872, but emigrated to the U.S. at a young age. He made his home in Over the Rhine and also ran a business there. The Cincinnati Strongman nickname honors his superhuman strength. The mural explains that in 1904, he lifted the entire Cincinnati Reds baseball team, weighing over 4,000 pounds, on his back!
Holtgrewe also enjoyed entertaining the people of Over the Rhine by lifting weights and objects in theaters, bars, and on the street. You can visit this mural on 1215 Vine Street. If you want to learn more about Holtgrewe, John Wood’s website and blog contain pictures and a wealth of information on the Cincinnati Strongman. You can access it here.
Directly across the street from the Cincinnati Strongman, Energy and Grace, ArtWork’s first abstract mural, lends a whimsical vibe to the neighborhood.
This dynamic mural was produced through a partnership between ArtWorks and the Art Academy of Cincinnati. The Academy relocated to OTR in 2005, and continues to play a powerful role in the revitalization of the neighborhood. The bright colors and comical illustrations represent the rebirth of Over the Rhine. The zany mural reminds me of Alice and Wonderland; all that’s missing is the Cheshire Cat! Energy and Grace can be found at 16 East 12th Street.
In addition to the “official” ArtWorks and city-sponsored murals, we have also stumbled upon numerous examples of what I like to call “independent mini-murals” all over the city. We spotted a Bengals tiger outside a bar, and, despite the day’s mild temperatures, he was ready for winter.
Michael caught a glimpse of this guy peaking out from behind a generator across the street from where we parked. At first, we thought it had to be Dennis Rodman, but it’s not. We don’t know who it depicts, but here it is.
I loved exploring Over the Rhine, and I will definitely return soon. Every building is a unique example of the 19th century, and the restoration efforts completed thus far honor the history of the neighborhood.