CINCINNATI — Because of its hilly topography, this city has been called the "San Francisco of Ohio." And this July, those hills will be coming alive with the sound of choral music.
From July 4-14, the World Choir Games, also known as "The Olympics of Choir Music," will take place in Ohio's Queen City (derived from its 19th century status as "Queen of the West"). Some 367 choirs from nearly 50 countries will compete in categories that include jazz, pop, folk, barbershop, gospel and show choirs, as popularized by the hit TV show "Glee."
As many as 200,000 spectators are expected to watch choirs compete in venues scattered across the city. In addition to competition concerts, free "friendship" concerts will take place across the region as well as specially themed "celebration" concerts. And just as in the Olympic Games themselves, there will be opening and closing ceremonies.
Held every two years, the Choir Games are hosted by INTERKULTUR, a German organization that produces elite international choral events. Because of its strong German ethnic heritage and its history of German choral organizations, Cincinnati bested 20 other U.S. cities for the privilege of being the first city in North America to host the event.
INTERKULTUR hopes visitors to the games also will take time to immerse themselves in the cultural treasures of the host city. That's easy in strollable downtown Cincinnati, centered at Fountain Square, the city's crossroads for more than a century and anchored by the ornate Tyler Davidson Fountain. Many of the games' outdoor activities take place there.
Visual arts downtown range from the ultramodern offerings at the Contemporary Arts Center to the European and American masters at the Taft Museum of Art, consistently voted one of the nation's best small art museums and housed in a Federal period home dating from 1820. Also nearby is the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, whose exhibits include such sobering reminders as an authentic slave pen, where slaves were confined before sale.
Just outside downtown, another treasure, the Cincinnati Museum Center, is housed in a former train station, a magnificent art deco structure with what is billed as the largest semicircular rotunda in the world. Whisper in one corner of the half dome and your friend will hear you clearly in the other corner 180 feet away. Then head out to check the various offerings, which include a regional history museum, science museum, children's museum and a five-story OMNIMAX theater. Through Aug. 12, the Museum Center is the only Midwestern venue for the special exhibit "A Day in Pompeii," with hundreds of artifacts and body casts of the victims of Mount Vesuvius' eruption in A.D. 79.
Next, head for the hills. In the lush, impossibly picturesque Eden Park overlooking downtown, you'll find the Cincinnati Art Museum, where family programs are concentrated on the weekends and where the collection of local art, especially of the city's gorgeous Rookwood Pottery, is strong. Also in the park is the famed Krohn Conservatory, where visitors can walk from a rain forest to a desert and see displays of palms, ferns, orchids and bonsai.
Cincinnati is a city of neighborhoods, and two on the must-see list include Over-the-Rhine, an uber-chic area near downtown with a distinct Old World vibe. It's one of the most intact historically significant collections of architecture in the nation, comparable to New Orleans and Savannah, Ga.
In this rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, you'll find specialty shops, boutiques and several restaurants named among the best in town by Cincinnati magazine.
For night life, head up to Mount Adams, where popular bars line the cobbled, twisty streets in a residential neighborhood sporting the best views of downtown and the Ohio River.
If baseball's your game, Great American Ball Park on the riverfront has the Reds at home July 13-22. Or to learn more about baseball's first professional team, stop by the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame & Museum to see a collection of artifacts, including the team's three World Series trophies. Steps away, the Banks is a new complex of restaurants and breweries, including the Moerlein Lager House with room for 1,400.
When it's time to dine, the German heritage is in evidence across the Ohio River in places such as the MainStrasse Village area in Covington, Ky. Or walk across the "Purple People Bridge" to Newport, Ky., where the Hofbrauhaus is modeled after the original in Munich. While there, save time for the nearby Newport Aquarium, with its long underwater tunnels where sharks glide above you, and Mighty Mike, the biggest gator in the U.S. outside of Florida.
Don't leave town without sampling local fare such as rich and creamy Graeter's Ice Cream; or goetta, a local breakfast sausage; or the famous Cincinnati chili with its unusual blend of spices served atop spaghetti with your choice of cheese, onions and beans. The "five way" gets you everything. Skyline Chili is perhaps best-known, but you can't go wrong with Camp Washington Chili, a landmark with a retro feel and a recipe supposedly locked in a bank vault.
Just visiting the various choir venues will take you to many landmarks, including the colossal Victorian-era Music Hall, built in 1878 and home to the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops as well as ballet and opera.
Other venues include the Aronoff Center for the Arts and Taft Theater downtown, and St. Mary's Cathedral Basilica in Covington with one of the largest stained-glass church windows in the world.
If you go
Prices for flights to Cincinnati from Chicago are rather jarring. Driving via Interstate Highway 65 to Indianapolis and then Interstate Highway 74 to Cincinnati takes approximately 51/2 hours. Combination hotel and World Choir Game ticket packs are available at cincinnatiusa.com, where comprehensive information on the city's attractions also can be found. For more on the World Choir Games go to 2012worldchoirgames.com.
Competing from northern Illinois are the Northwest Choral Society, a mixed choral ensemble based in Mount Prospect; Forever Praise, a community gospel choir based in Westmont; and Kantorei: The Singing Boys of Rockford, a nonsectarian group (ages 6-18).
Contemporary Arts Center, 44 E. 6th St.; 513-345-8400; contemporaryartscenter.org
Taft Museum of Art, 316 Pike St.; 513-241-0343; taftmuseum.org
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, 50 E. Freedom Way; 513-333-7739 or 877-648-4838; freedomcenter.org
Cincinnati Museum Center, 1501 Western Ave.; 513-287-7000 or 800-733-2077; cincymuseum.org
Cincinnati Art Museum, 953 Eden Park Drive; 513-721-2787 or 877-472-4CAM; cincinnatiartmuseum.org
Krohn Conservatory, 1501 Eden Park Drive; 513-421-4086; cincyparks.com/krohn-conservatory
Great American Ball Park and Cincinnati Reds Museum and Hall of Fame, 100 Joe Nuxhall Way; 513-381-REDS or 877-647-REDS; cincinnati.reds.mlb.com
Camp Washington Chili, 3005 Colerain Ave.; 513-541-0061; campwashingtonchili.com
Graeter's Ice Cream, multiple locations, graeters.com
Hofbrauhaus, 200 E. 3rd St., Newport, Ky.; 859-491-7200; hofbrauhausnewport.com
Moerlein Lager House, 115 Joe Nuxhall Way; 513-421-2337; moerleinlagerhouse.com
Newport Aquarium, 1 Aquarium Way, Newport, Ky.; 859-406-3474 or 800-406-3474; newportaquarium.com
Skyline Chili, multiple locations, skylinechili.com
American Legacy Tours, 1218 Vine St.; 859-951-8560; americanlegacytours.com
Architrek Tours, Cincinnati Preservation Association, 342 W. 4th St.; 513-721-4506; cincinnati-walks.org
Segway of Cincinnati Tours, 513-225-1583, segwayofcincinnati.com/what-we-do/tours
Ride the Ducks Newport, 859-815-1439, newport.ridetheducks.com/home.aspxCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun