I celebrated Oktoberfest in the epicenter of Oktoberfests – Munich. Back in my military days, my shift leader planned a three-day adventure for the airmen and their families. We had so much fun – drinking with the locals during Oktoberfest, touring the area, including Salzburg, Austria, as well as enjoying a brew at THE Hofbrauhaus.
I dream of returning to Deutschland and visiting places where the younger me didn’t maybe appreciate them as much as I would now. You know, the older a dog gets, the more it appreciates those good ol’ days.
So, when my daughter Mallory suggested we visit Leavenworth during one of my visits to Seattle, I was all in. She, friends Thomas and Anita, and I headed to the Bavarian-style German village in the Cascade Mountains, about two hours east of Seattle. A side note: The forecast called for sunshine and temperatures in the 70s. Mallory and I dressed for the weather – shorts and T-shirts. Our friends were dressed for any occasion we may encounter. As we drove over and around the mountains, the skies became cloudy, the dashboard showed outside temps in the upper 40s. Mallory and I wanted to reconsider our wardrobe choices. But, just like that, as we approached Leavenworth, the clouds parted, sunshine prevailed and the temps were indeed pushing 70 degrees Fahrenheit. All this as we approached Leavenworth.
The entire town of almost 2,000 people resembles a village in Germany’s Bavarian region. Has it always been this way – a German paradise hidden among Washington’s mountains? Nope. Leavenworth, founded in 1889, used to be a timber and railroad power broker. But, the railroad moved away. The town struggled. Then, in the 1960s, following a suggestion, Leavenworth residents transformed their town into a German village, and tourism grew as a result.
Today, Leavenworth is a major tourist attraction, drawing about 3 million visitors annually. The top events include the Christmas season and Oktoberfest, which kicks off Sept. 29 and runs over three consecutive weekends.
I felt as though I was in Germany again. The buildings with the Cascades in the background screamed Germany. City leaders struck gold with transforming the town. I half-expected shopkeepers to speak Deutsch when we entered.
Since we arrived around 11, Mallory suggested we find a place for lunch, to beat the crowds they encountered when they came for the German festival. She encouraged us to dine at Andreas Keller Restaurant, because that’s where she, Thomas, Anita and Mal’s mom dined at during their visit last winter.
Andreas Keller is reminiscent of a local restaurant you would find in Germany. It reminded me of a place we dined at regularly when we lived in Speicher, near Spangdahlem Air Base, where I served. I took a chance and asked the server if they had Bitburger bier. No, but they had Hofbrau, which I gladly ordered. I don’t drink often, but when I do, I enjoy a German bier. The Hofbrau quenched my memory’s thirst.
Now, what to have for lunch? I truly could have ordered the entire menu. All kinds of wurst dot the menu – knackwurst, Bavarian bratwurst, weisswurst, etc. The schnitzels were a plenty – Cordon Bleu, Wiener and Jaeger. I went with the Cordon Bleu. Spatzle (dumplings) was the main side. I ordered an additional side of beets. Though, I couldn’t finish the meal, I savored every morsel.
Though our bellies were full, the four of us decided to split dessert. What do you have at a German restaurant? Black Forest cake, of course. Oh, was it good!
We needed to walk off lunch and explore the area. Buildings along Main Street cried out to have their photos taken. The buildings looked like they belonged on Bavarian post cards.
Nutcrackers and more
Stores sold everything, from lederhosen to souvenirs. Visitors dodged in and out them, looking for the perfect item to celebrate their visit.
We checked out the Nutcracker Museum. The museum features more than 6,000 nutcrackers from about 60 countries. The collection includes nutting stones as old as 8,000 years. The wooden nutcracker that we’re most familiar with lined the museum’s exhibit space, from floor to ceiling. They come in different sizes and shapes, from the standard wooden soldier to Elvis Presley. There’s even an eskimo holding a seal.
Almost every visitor wants his or her picture taken with Karl, a six-foot statue carved by a local. He’s one of the most popular attractions in Leavenworth.
Since we were in the holiday spirit, why not check out what’s going on at the Christmas store? Kris Kringl helps people celebrate the holiday year round. Opened almost three decades, Kris Kringl offers about 8,000 square feet of ornaments and other decorations on two floors. It’s easy to spend hours in the store taking in the displays, including the one of Santa Claus and his sleigh hanging from the ceiling.
We thought a walk through the park would be a nice way to end our day in Leavenworth, so the four of us headed down toward the river. Waterfront Park is the perfect name for the park that runs alongside the Wenatchee River. The park offers plenty of walking trails, bird viewing, kayaking and rafting sports. Along the way, visitors can take a seat on one of several benches and just enjoy the view Mother Nature created, Mountains, rivers and trees. Does it get any better?
As our visit to Leavenworth drew to a close, what should Seattleites and their guest do on the way out? Stop at Starbucks, of course. You wouldn’t think a story involving a Bavarian village in Washington wouldn’t include Starbucks, would you?
I can’t wait to return to Leavenworth. I’m thinking a two- or three-day visit next time. I recommend putting Leavenworth on your Seattle or Washington bucket list. The area is beautiful. The people are friendly. The food and attractions are amazing. Leavenworth truly is a little Bavarian village in the Cascades.
To check out more information on Leavenworth and its attractions, please visit www.leavenworth.org.