Slavic Village

My hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio has a strong German heritage. Many of the family names you hear in Cincinnati are German, and there is even one elementary school still conducted partly in German. We have a few German-American associations that promote our German heritage and one section of Cincinnati is still named Over-the-Rhine, harking back to when the city was settled and a river divided it.

But if you drive four hours northeast, the German heritage gives way to a different ethnic group. You’ll find a rich Polish and Czech heritage in Cleveland, Ohio. In fact, there’s a section of the city there known as Slavic Village.

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I’d already delved into Polish food at Sokolowski’s (which is in the Tremont neighborhood, not the Slavic Village area). So I was eager to explore the Slavic Village area where I expected to see signs in Polish and even hear some Polish being spoken. I was not disappointed, though a bitterly cold snowstorm kept us from wandering very far. Still, within a couple blocks of the Red Chimney Restaurant where we ate breakfast with hundreds of locals, we found everything we’d hoped for.

There were signs in Polish and a very prominent picture of Pope John Paul II in someone’s window.

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Slavic emblems were tacked to the sides of buildings and displayed in windows. Signs offering Polish food were the norm.

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Then we spied St. Stanislaus Church; a beautiful Catholic cathedral in the middle of what is becoming a very run-down neighborhood. We were covered in snow and ready to get back on the roads before they got worse, but first I wanted to peek inside. So I opened the door and discovered that the 10:00 mass was being conducted in Polish. I was so awed that we had to stay.

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We aren’t Catholic and don’t know a word of Polish, but felt such calm and reverence there. The mass was beautiful and the church was completely packed. Over a hundred people filled the pews. Some young, more old, and a few children being brought up in the old traditional ways. If I’d wondered at all whether the Polish tradition of Slavic Village had fallen by the wayside, I was answered here. Hundreds of voices sang and prayed together; people who’d weathered the snow to come to the 10:00 mass in Polish. The Slavic heritage of Cleveland seemed alive and well.

A few hours later, we headed south again, leaving Cleveland and its Slavic roots for our German Cincinnati again. I felt lucky to live in an area of the U.S. that still embraces its cultural heritage. This summer we may go to Europe and explore the real thing, but there is enough German and Polish heritage here in Ohio to tide us over til then.

What type of cultural roots can we find in your hometown?

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32 responses to “Slavic Village

  1. In Norway the population is mostly Norwegian and the immigrants ( mostly from The Middle East, Eastern Europe and Asia) haven’t really had any impact on us yet, but we’re becoming more and more American. If you want the full Norwegian experience you need to visit the countryside. We do hold on to our language though, some English words have been adopted and Norwegianized. Norwegian is very influensed by German and Danish, norwegian and Danish is just two different dialects but when it comes to Norwegian and German its a different matter. We do understand some German but it is a language one must learn. Thank you very much for a wonderful post! :)

    • American, huh? That surprises me, but at the same time, I’ve often wanted to visit Norway, so guess I’m not alone in that. I am not surprised by the Danish influence, nor the German. I speak some German, but can’t understand Dutch. I know they’re close, but different enough that I can’t make the connection with most words.

      Thanks for sharing all this insight into Norweigan culture. Fascinating!

  2. I’m so jealous! We live in San Francisco’s bay area and I can find only two shops that offer Polish food T-T it really looks like Poland, especially with the snow :D

    • True. I don’t recall much Polish influence in San Francisco, and hadn’t realized how much centered in Cleveland. If you ever have the chance to visit Cleveland, I’d love to hear what you think about it.

  3. This is really interesting. I don’t know much about Cleveland – and have never been there – but it’s wonderful to see a rich multi-cultural heritage exists there. Migrants bring so much to their new countries, something that we find in Australia too.

    • It is interesting to see how migrant communities spring up and stay in a place. There were a few children at the Polish mass. It made me wonder how many are still brought up learning Polish? I’m sure the number dwindles with each generation, but they’re still holding on.

    • The cathedral was beautiful. I felt funny pulling out my camera after the service, but would have loved to take more pictures of the stained glass and wooden figurines. So much detail I didn’t capture.

  4. Ethnic culture is unbreakable isn’t it? Sadly that’s also led to conflict too often. Jersey (Channel Islands) is interesting in that regard. Norman-French origins with a big English influx in the 19c. The Irish came for building projects but mainly left. The French were a common sight at potato picking time but never settled. Most numerous these days is the Madeiran/Portuguese community who originally did much low-level work but who are now an established and integrated group. Most recently the Poles and other Eastern Europeans have tried their luck in Jersey and, thankfully, all are made welcome.

    • Interesting, Roy. I would not have expected a Portugese community there. I’m not sure why not, but that came as a surprise to me. In addition to the German heritage we have here in Cincinnati, we also have strong Irish roots, though it’s not as easy to see their influence. The Germans seemed to own the town.

  5. Thanks for showing us around the Slavic village. How wonderful to be able to explore so many different cultures without having to board a plane!

  6. I think it’s so interesting how different cultural communities are spread out amongst the U.S. From what I’ve experienced, the East Coast definitely has much larger, more prominent communities of European heritage while the West Coast has a lot more communities of Asian heritage. Which, given the way geography is, makes sense. It’s always cool to walk into a part of town that has a rich cultural heritage and almost feel like you’re in a different country!

  7. Here in the UK we had a big wave of Polish immigration when Poland joined the EU, Some folks have a problem with that, but I say Britain has always been a country of immigrants, just like us Angles from Germany and what the Poles have brought with them to us has enriched our culture in the same way that immigrants from Ireland, India or the West Indies have. We even have Polish food sections in some supermarkets and fantastic Eastern European food stores selling stuff from the Baltic states, Hungary, Poland, Rumania and Russia.

  8. Great post about a great neighborhhood! We live in Garfield Heights, which is right down the road from Slavic Village. My father lived in Warzawa – often referred to as “the heart of Slavic Village” – from 1937-47. He attended St. Stan’s Church and School before his parents moved the family to Garfield Heights. We just took him to mass at St. Stan’s a few weeks ago. The neighborhood, which was slammed hard with foreclosures following 2007, is involved in numerous revitalization projects. Historic Fleet Avenue, which is pocked with potholes, is getting a makeover in 2014-15. Crime is a major concern, but the village always finds a way to preserve its rich ethnic heritage. Thanks for writing a nice piece about a nice little corner of Cleveland!

    • Thank you so much for sharing this! We noticed that the area had become somewhat rundown, but we could also see that revitalization had been started. I hope the city can reclaim some of that heritage. I felt it come alive during the service at St. Stan’s.

  9. I love looking at these transplanted populations. It’s interesting to see what they brought with them and what they left behind, and of course how the course of their culture has travelled and diverged from that of their heritage.

    Also, I love religious services. There is definitely something calming about them, even if it’s not how you usually worship personally.

  10. So cool! This reminds me of West, Texas. Have you heard of it/been there? I know you’ve been all over. My family settled there after immigrating to the U.S.. Lots of Czechs in Texas and West definitely makes you feel like you should get your passport stamped. : )

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