If you would like to experience the culture of Bavaria, WITHOUT having to get a passport, make your way to the quaint village of Frankenmuth, Michigan ( www.frankenmuth.org )
The Frankenmuth Visitor's Center, surrounded on one side by this lovely fountain and plaza, and on the other side by the Cass River, is a great place to begin your exploration. There you will find maps, brochures, coupons, calendar of events, and general information that will make your visit to "Little Bavaria" one you will never forget.
There are numerous shops to provide "retail therapy", with an abundance of German-themed gifts and souvenirs.
I was fortunate during my visit to get to take a cruise on the Bavarian Belle, as it navigated the lovely Cass River that runs through the town.
This is a modern version of a covered bridge, built using the time-honored tradition of wooden trusses and lattice work, by a family of craftsman skilled in this style of construction.
The Harrey Kern Community Pavilion, shown in this photo, is a scaled-down version of an authentic German beer hall. The Community Hall, along with the Heritage Park surrounding the building, are the site of the annual Oktoberfest ( www.FrankenmuthFestivals.com ) that is scheduled for September 20 - 23, 2012. The Frankenmuth Oktoberfest celebration is the only Oktoberfest celebration outside of Germany that is officially sanctioned by the City of Munich. The Munich Oktoberfest (September 22 - October 7, 2012) is known as the largest Volksfest (People's Fair) in the world. It was started in October, 1810, to celebrate the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Bavaria. The citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities held on the fields in front of the city gates, to celebrate the happy royal event.
At this colorful riverside park, a visitor can take an electric boat ride down the Cass River, or simply sit and enjoy the views.
No Bavarian expedition would be complete with out a cuckoo shop, and Frankenmuth is no exception. The store had hundreds of varieties of clocks to choose from, many of them making the traditional cuckoo sound, that can be understood in any language.
I had the delightful culinary experience of having lunch in the famous Bavarian Inn, in this German-themed dining room.
In other parts of the Bavarian Inn, there are areas where children can be a part of creative activities, and grown-ups (or children) can roll their very own pretzel.
Hand-dipped chocolates, made by a cute girl in a dirndl, give a new visual image to the phrase "German Chocolate".
These chocolate "mice" at the Bavarian Inn candy shop are ready to find a new home with a hungry tourist who is captivated by their cuteness!
I was delighted to see that every table in the Bavarian Inn Restaurant had these prayers from the Psalms to say not only before the meal, but after, as well!
This spirit of gratitude to God is easy to understand when one learns that the history of Frankenmuth, is identical to the history of the St. Lorenz Evangelical Lutheran Church, shown in this photo. In 1845, Lutherans from Bavaria, set sail for the United States of America, to demonstrate "wie gut und schoen es ist bei Jesu sein" ("how wonderful it is to live with Jesus").
The stained glass windows in the St. Lorenz church depict important aspects of Christian history, as well as the history of Frankenmuth. A complete explanation of all the windows is written out in a brochure provided by the church, or also on their website, www.stlorenz.org .
With such a strong Christian heritage, it is not surprising that the world's largest Christmas store is located in Frankenmuth. At Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland, there is every kind of Christmas decoration imaginable. They are famous for their staff of artists who will personalize the ornament you purchase, while you watch or continue shopping.
All of Frankenmuth is very "motorcoach" friendly. For example, at Bronner's, there is a massive covered pavilion where motorcoaches (and private cars as well) can unload/load their passengers. The group I was with also used this area for a group photo of us with our newly-acquired Bronner's Christmas treasures. To start planning your visit to this fairytale-like community, log on to www.visitgreatlakesbay.org . Wishing you miles of Bavarian smiles! Tricia