One day in December, I brought home a box of Virginia Bakery schnecken, part of my research for our “Get Baked” guide to local bakeries. My 14-year-old son devoured half of it in one sitting. He loved saying the word schnecken and feigned mild interest in my story about how Busken makes the cinnamon loaf only twice a year, using an old family recipe from a different bakery that’s been out of business since 2005. We returned to Busken later that week to buy another couple of boxes to enjoy over the holidays.
I feel like the episode is yet one more small example of Cincinnati’s current renaissance. When I moved here 30 years ago, locals were unsure of how to explain the city’s peculiarities to me. Some new friends were defensive, a few embarrassed. An air of “that’s just the way things are” seemed to pervade. I liked Cincinnati right away, though, because to a twentysomething different is always better—and where I came from we didn’t have Cincinnati chili, the Reds and Bengals, Oktoberfest, goetta, “please,” Hudy Delight, Pete Rose, or a rundown inner city neighborhood named for a river in Germany.
There’s a fine line between hokey and kitschy and between old-fashioned and classic, and the line moves all the time, usually set by the eye of the beholder. We can save the debate for another time about how, why, and when Cincinnati crossed the line from chafing against its perception to celebrating its uniqueness, but the reality is the city is very different today from how I found it 30 years ago.
We’ve reinvested in Over-the-Rhine to create a nationally-known model of live/work/play energy amid stunning architecture. We saved Music Hall and Union Terminal from the wrecking ball and fixed them to last several more generations. We know our King Records history and celebrate Cincinnati’s role in inventing rock and roll. We pushed our way onto the Major League Soccer stage. We support food and beverage tastemakers, tech entrepreneurs, and creative thinkers of all stripes, in a place where only traditional top-down corporations used to get things done. And at least one more native teenager thinks schnecken is delicious…and kind of cool.