Cincinnati is known for, among other things, hosting the nation’s largest Oktoberfest celebration. Our German roots poke through all around town, from the architecture of Over-the-Rhine to the menus of eateries like Mecklenburg Gardens and The Lübecker.
But it wasn’t Zinzinnati’s German pride that attracted Felicia (Feli) Hofner to the Queen City; it was an exchange program offered by the University of Cincinnati. Since arriving here in 2016, she’s earned her master’s degree and amassed quite a following on her eponymous YouTube Channel Feli from Germany (380,000 followers and counting). In her delightfully animated confessionals, Hofner talks about language and cultural differences between the U.S. and Germany, discussing everything from American small talk and driving habits in each country to Cincinnati’s ubiquitous chili-topped spaghetti.
We chat with Hofner, 28, about her experiences in Cincinnati, odd local and American traditions, and how, after six years, the Queen City has become home.
What brought you to Cincinnati?
I really wanted to study abroad in the U.S. to experience American college life, and my department offered two exchange programs: One was a journalism program in D.C., where the exchange student had to pay half of the tuition—which is a lot, considering university in Germany in pretty much free—and the other one was in the Electronic Media Division at UC. Since I had participated in a two-week high school exchange between the sister cities of Cincinnati and Munich in 10th grade, I felt like it must be destiny. I was more interested in audio and video production anyway and didn’t really want to pay any additional costs, so UC it was.
Cincinnati is lauded as a German town. Are there any places in Cincinnati that remind you of home?
To be completely honest, no! This is a question I get a lot because many people know about Cincinnati’s rich German heritage; but to me it feels like a typical mid-sized American city. Now, of course, spots have certain elements that remind me of home, such as the biergarten at Hofbräuhaus or the narrow streets in Clifton, and it’s really cool to see all the German inscriptions in OTR or Covington. But I wouldn’t say any of these places full-on feel like home.
So how does Cincinnati feel like home? How have you found your “tribe” here? Have you met other expats in the area?
Shortly after I came to Cincinnati, I met some amazing people through the UC German Club who liked to go to the Cincideutsch Stammtisch at Mecklenburg Gardens once a week. This is also how I met one of my best friends to this day, Josh, who ended up moving to Munich and with whom I host our podcast Understanding Train Station: Living Between Cultures. Having a friend group that was half German and half American—or Americans who were really interested in the German language and culture—was a great addition to my otherwise very American exchange semester experience.
Speaking of American experiences, what are some things Americans, particularly Cincinnatians, do that you find strange?
One of the biggest things I had to learn was probably American small talk. During my first few months here, it was so weird to me that every time I ran into someone I knew on campus they would say “Hi” and “How are you” but just kept walking. There were so many situations where I just automatically stopped as soon as someone started talking to me, but the other person was already gone.
And I know that everyone in the city will hate me for this, so let me preface it by saying I love so much about this area, but eating spaghetti with a weird Bolognese sauce and way too much orange cheese is something just plain weird that Cincinnatians do.