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PBS program reaches out to UC German American experts

Date: Feb. 28, 2001
By: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Archive: Campus News
Photo by: Marianne Kunnen-Jones

Related story: Tolzmann book details German American history

Logo for The German AmericansCincinnati is every bit as German as sauerkraut, pretzels and beer. So when a New York production company decided to make a documentary about German Americans, they made sure to stop in Cincinnati -- and at UC.

Four UC faces are part of the Cincinnati contingent featured in the documentary, The German Americans, to be broadcast nationally on PBS in March.

Made by WLIW New York Productions, the program will be broadcast locally on Cincinnati's Channel 48 at 8-9:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 7. (In Kentucky, Channel 54 has no plans to show it at present). Cleveland public station WVIZ will air the program at 7 p.m. Monday, March 19. Featured prominently will be these UC faces:

  • Don Heinrich Tolzmann, curator of the German Americana Collection in University Libraries and director of UC's German American studies program. Tolzmann, a fourth-generation German American, also served as an adviser for the 60-minute special and is slated to appear live in the WCET studio during membership breaks in the broadcast.

  • Frances Ott Allen, German cataloger in University Libraries and the survivor of a WWII internment camp that held German Americans until the war ended.

  • Rogar and Regina Schneider, UC students from the western Cincinnati community of Mack. The brother and sister Schneiders are interviewed about their German family heritage and upbringing. Regina is a pre-junior majoring in marketing, while her brother, Rogar, is a senior majoring in biochemistry.
Don Tolzmann interviewed

Other Cincinnati faces featured in the program are Erich Kunzel, conductor of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, and Trudie and Kurt Seybold, owners of Forest View Gardens.

Given that Americans of German ancestry make up the largest ethnic group in the United States, the program should appeal to a lot of viewers. About one-fifth of the nation has German heritage. In Cincinnati, the proportion is even higher. According to Tolzmann, Greater Cincinnati is almost 50 percent German American.

As the program points out, German culture has made an indelible impact on American life, influencing the culture in ways ranging from the Christmas tree and Santa Klaus to freedom of the press. The influence was greatly diminished by prohibition and the onset of two World Wars in which Germany was the enemy. As a result, German Americans were forced to deny many of their customs and traditions. Street names were changed to more Anglo-Saxon ones, German books were banned, German teachers were fired and German Americans were detained in U.S. prison camps. Erich Kunzel recalls being sent to the principal's office on his first day of kindergarten in the late 1930s because he recited his name in German.

The anti-German sentiment also led to German American Day falling out of favor from 1917 until its resurrection in 1987 under President Ronald Reagan. The broadcast will include a photo of Reagan signing the proclamation for the new German American Day. Look for Tolzmann standing right behind Reagan's shoulder.

The German Americans is the 14th program in WLIW's series of cultural documentaries on American diversity. Previous shows include The Polish Americans, A Laugh, A Year, A Mitzvah and The Mexican Americans. Repeat broadcasts of The German Americans will be aired on WCET atnoon Saturday, March 17, and 9:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday March 18.

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