If you can't make it to Europe this year, but desperately need a lederhosen fix (sorry; it's an obligatory lederhosen reference), you can find delightful German-themed towns scattered across the US. All offer an irresistible look into Old World customs, plus some first-class beers, memorable wines and all sorts of sausage. And of course, they're excellent places to celebrate Oktoberfest.
The Cascade Mountains help give Leavenworth an authentic Bavarian feel © Connie Coleman / Getty Images
Entering Leavenworth feels like some sort of Germanic hallucination. Blink all you want, but you really are still in Washington. In the 1960s, this former lumber town went for a total Bavarian makeover to restore its crumbling fortunes – and it worked. The city is now a traditional Romantische Strasse village backed by a mountain right out of Sound of Music (OK, that's set in Austria, but you get the picture). Linderhof Inn is a cozy Bavarian-style B&B, and you'll find spaetzle and accordions galore at the lively and newly renovated Andreas Keller restaurant.
Perched above the Missouri River, between Kansas City and St Louis, the site of Hermann was hand-picked by German immigrants for its Rhine-like setting and climate. And like the Rhine, this region is known for wines: the Hermann AVA was one of the first designated American Viticultural Areas. This lovely town – one of the best reasons to take scenic Hwy 50 instead of I-70 across the 'Show-Me State' – has plenty of B&B options like Hermann Hill and is home to the oldest operating tavern west of the Mississippi, not to mention a town flag.
Helen's Alpine architecture and location in the Appalachian foothills has generated the nickname of 'Alpalachia' © Sean Pavone Photo / Getty Images
Like Leavenworth, the town of Helen in the North Georgia mountains reinvented itself as a Bavarian village as a revitalization strategy. In 1969, local businesses and carpenters got to work, with help from a local artist with German roots, transforming this former mill town into the self-proclaimed best little German town in the South. Or in 'Alpalachia,' if you will. Today, some 1.5 million visitors per year discover Helen's picturesque downtown, fueled by steins of Dunkelweizens, Doppelbocks and Pils. The region is also home to Georgia's best wines, including German-style Rieslings and Gerwurtztraminers.
In Fredericksburg, a giant Weihnachtspyramide (Christmas pyramid) is part of the seasonal decor © Lonna Allen / Getty Images
Settled in 1870 by (you guessed it) German immigrants, Fredericksburg is a frightfully dainty, rewarding destination right between Austin and San Antonio, amidst Texas' lovely hill country. Visitors can shop in boutiques in the collection of Victorian townhouses, take in the area's myriad wineries via the wine-trail map and grab a bite to eat at the Old German Bakery, which serves up standbys like schnitzel and bratwurst. The Pioneer Museum gives a good overview of the lifestyle of the early settlers.
Frankenmuth's Bavarian vibe goes down to the details © RiverNorthPhotography / Getty Images
Some 75 miles north of Detroit, Frankenmuth, Michigan – affectionately dubbed 'the Muth' by locals – hosts two serious German-inspired festivals: a summer music festival in August and an Oktoberfest. It's also Christmas all year long at the 'rah-rah Tannenbaum,' 45-acre, year-round Bronner's Christmas Wonderland, said to be the world's largest Christmas store. Another 'world's largest' in this tiny town? Zehnder’s Splash Village, a 50,000 sq-ft indoor waterpark that is a popular family destination.
Amana Colonies, Iowa
Just northwest of Iowa City (and off mind-numbingly monotonous I-80), this string of seven Iowa villages occupy a fun-to-drive 17-mile loop. Amana, East Amana, West Amana, South Amana, High Amana, Middle Amana and Homestead were settled by German 'Inspirationists,' a religious group that had been persecuted in Germany, in the years before the Civil War. And unlike Amish or Mennonite religions, these communities embrace modern technology – they even generated a successful line of refrigerators that became the Amana Corporation, now owned by Whirlpool. Aside from learning about local culture at a half-dozen museums, including the insightful Amana Heritage Museum, it's worth coming for truly wonderful German meals and a mug of local Millsteam wheat beer. Zuber's Homestead Hotel is a good value B&B in a late 19th-century building.
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This article was originally published in 2010.