Saturday, August 10, 2013

Frankenmuth ~ Michigan's Bavarian Village

On my way home from a family visit, I decided to detour slightly and spend a day in Frankenmuth, Michigan, USA.  The town is famous for its Bavarian theme and of course for the world’s largest Christmas shop, Bronners.

Love the chicken-shaped floral!
Frankenmuth was conceived by German missionary Frederick Wyneken who was working in the area.  According to the local historical society (they have a museum on Main Street which you can visit), in 1840 he wrote an appeal to all the Lutherans in Germany for help, telling them of the hardships of the German pioneers in his region.  This appeal reached Wilhelm Loehe, pastor of a country church in Bavaria.  Loehe was a popular and influential preacher in his time and he organized a mission.  In 1844 he sent a congregation with a dual purpose:  to give aid to the German pioneers in the Midwest’s Saginaw Valley and to show the native Indians in the area "Wie gut und schön es ist Jesus zu sehen" (how good and wonderful it is to see Jesus).

Loehe wrote the pastor of a nearby settlement in Michigan and together they selected the location along the Cass River, naming it "Frankenmuth". The German word "Franken" represents the Province of Franconia in the Kingdom of Bavaria, and the German word "Muth" means courage, thus the city name Frankenmuth means "courage of the Franconians".  The emigrants departed from Nuernberg on April 5, 1845.  They reached New York Harbor on June 8, after 50 days of sailing.  From there they made their way to Michigan via steamboat, train and then sailing ship.  According to all accounts it was a harrowing journey with numerous boat and train accidents along the way.  They finally arrived at their new colony on August 18, 1845.  And we think travel is slow and tedious today!

As you can see in the photos on this posting, the town capitalizes on the Bavarian theme.  It makes for a pleasant days outing or several relaxing days in the countryside.  The town is filled with little shops, candy stores, its own micro-brewery and restaurants all of which are pleasant to visit.  This trip I was there in the summer and everything was in full bloom.

Flowers at Bavarian Inn
They were making fresh fudge and taffy and offered a wide-range of temptations.  The town is well-kept and also offers public parks and other touring and outdoor activities.  As there is no really no public transportation to speak of, a car is a necessity for full enjoyment of the region.

If you decide to spend the night in Frankenmuth (which I would recommend), you’ll need to select from one of the many hotels.  You’ll want one on Main Street that is an easy walk to all of the shops and restaurants.  Hotel parking is a must as the town’s public parking areas often fill up.  Taking in all of downtown Frankenmuth is easy to do on foot, but you’ll need your car for those shopping trips to Bronner’s.
Marv Herzog Hotel
Marv Herzog Hotel:  I've been to Frankenmuth a number of times and have tried out many of the local hotels.  By far the best choice for an adult-only visit is Marv Herzog Hotel where I stayed on this visit.  Most of the other name hotels in town have added water parks to attract families with small children, and this has been successful.  The other name brands (Spring Hill Suites, etc.) are cookie cutter and not impressive.  When you walk into the lobby of the Herzog you will know you are not in one of the other properties and be thankful you made the choice.  The lobby is large and done in hard woods.  It’s backed up to the eating area, where a full breakfast is served as part of the room rate, along with afternoon wine/beer/soft drinks and snacks.  This too is included in the rate.  The hotel sits right on the river and sports a large patio overlooking it.  From here you can see the lovely countryside, watch the boats go by and enjoy your cocktail hour.

Frankenmuth actually has its own river boat and while it may look like the Dixie Queen it’s actually the Bavarian Belle paddle boat.  Other smaller craft are also available for boat tours as are kayacks and other water toys.  My balcony (third and top floor) overlooked the river and patio and was comfortable for two people.  Request the river facing rooms on the second and third floor when booking.

My room was large, nicely done and had a lovely overstuffed sitting chair with reading lamp.  WiFi was also included and amazingly fast.   If you and an adult companion are coming to Frankenmouth, Marv Herzog is the hotel of choice.  While the Herzog offers complimentary cocktails and appetizers, you'll still need to select a restaurant for dinner.

Bavarian Inn Restaurant:  The Bavarian Inn offers classic foods from Germany's Bavarian region, which I have visited. Like there, they maintain traditional costumes to keep the tourists happy. The restaurant offers the classic chicken famous across the street, as well as all of the German dishes. Today though I opted for the fresh (never frozen) Lake Superior white fish, which was broiled. I selected traditional German side dishes like the sweet/sour red cabbage and the spaetzle. All of it was very good, along with the beer made specifically for the Inn and kept on draft.

Skip the Apple Strudel
The only disappointment was the apple strudel. If you follow my food blog you know I made apple strudel recently. I'm sorry to report that my own was much better and in fact I've never had strudel that was less desirable than this. It had a tough (not flaky) crust and lacked apples. Only three slices were included but there was a large amount of cloyingly sweet glaze. I would suggest you instead have the apple cheesecake and ask them to put the gooey apple topping on the side. Overall however, it's a nice choice for a restaurant in town where you want the Bavarian atmosphere. It does get busy so show up early for dinner (5PM) if you don't want a long wait.

Waiters in Bavarian Costume
Bronners Christmas Wonderland:  I stopped by Frankenmuth just to visit Bronner's as we were searching for a new Christmas tree. The store remains loaded with Christmas ornaments and even has a smattering of Halloween and Easter decorations. They carry a nice if small selection of Radko and Italian free-form glass blown ornaments. Both of these are kept in the case so ask if you want to purchase one. They do have ornaments for every possible tree theme. From seaside to hunters, from sports to various religions (despite the obvious Christian based signage.) Unfortunately the tree selection wasn't as good as it had been in the past, and several comments were overheard of guests complaining about the lack of yard/outdoor decor. They do have artificial pines of all sizes (tall to short, fat to thin). They even had several options in palm trees decorated with miniature lights. But they didn't have any white or silver trees, and many of the green trees were plastic with very soft limbs which are not good for hanging ornaments that can weigh down the branches.

Bronner's Christmas Wonderland
Still of you are in the area, it's certainly worth a stop and it will take you two hours to quickly browse the entire store as it remains very large. If you are tree shopping, there are probably better options.

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