Historic Photos

Art & Sculpture Inventory

Essay by Steve Couch

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Introduction


Bernhard Kehrig focused his eyes on the water. He was standing on the rail as the boat pulled into the English Channel toward its destination at Southampton in England. Most of the passengers intended to continue on to the United States. Of all the Germans on board, Bernhard’s eyes were the only ones averted away from the shoreline as they pulled away from the Fatherland for perhaps the last time. His young daughter, Gertrude, looked up to him and asked, “Don’t you want to look upon Germany and say your last goodbye?” Bernhard, the German Catholic and master painter, sniffed and muttered, “What did Germany ever do for me?” The year was 1927, the very same year the City of Cleveland passed an ordinance setting aside areas of Rockefeller Park for what would become the German Cultural Gardens, a celebration of ethnic pride in the heritage of German-Americans.

The Cleveland Cultural Gardens, of which the German gardens are a part, are certainly a jewel in the Emerald Necklace of Cleveland, encircling the city with green space. Running in a generally north-south direction between the meandering Martin Luther King Boulevard to the west and East Boulevard on the opposite side, the Cleveland Cultural Gardens have been a key feature of Rockefeller Park since 1916 when the first garden, the Shakespeare Garden, now known as the British Cultural Garden, was built. Upon visiting the dedication of the Shakespeare Garden, the Jewish Leo Weidenthal was inspired to add a Hebrew Garden nearby. Soon, Weidenthal and his German friend, Charles Wolfram, envisioned a chain of gardens representing Cleveland’s rich ethnic background. The Cleveland Cultural Gardens are the result, a unique creation that many consider to be a national landmark. For more than two decades, Wolfram served as the president of the Cleveland Cultural Garden League, promoting ideals of citizenship and heritage, ethnic pride and brotherhood. But how did this celebration sit with German-Americans like Bernhard Kehrig, who may have looked to leave their heritage behind in favor of Americanization in their new homeland? Decades later, the Cleveland Cultural Gardens’ grand and noble mission of peace and brotherhood amongst American ethnic groups is still a work in progress, mostly because the mission Wolfram promoted is an impossible one.

II. The German-Americans of Cleveland