When was the last time a place made you go “wow!”? For me, this happened when we traveled 90 minutes northwest of Detroit to the little city of Frankenmuth, Michigan.
Frankenmuth is no ordinary place. After driving through miles of fields and farmland, we were confronted with a giant, arching sign printed with the words “Willkommen,” German for “welcome.” After our car passed under the gate, we were transported into a fairy-book village with colorful buildings and an atmosphere of wonder and cheer.
Frankenmuth, a city of around 5,500 people is known as Michigan’s “little Bavaria.” Settled in 1845 by German immigrants, the village was originally founded for the purpose of converting the Native American population to Lutheran Christianity. While the U.S. has a long history of European immigration, Frankenmuth is, perhaps, one of the most ostentatious examples of cultural and linguistic preservation in the country.
When in Frankenmuth, one simply must visit the River Place Shops. Located on the banks of the Cass River, the River Place Shops is a strip mall with a fun twist — the buildings are all German inspired. The shops are colorful timber-framed buildings, which stir up images in one’s mind of lederhosen and Oktoberfest. Frankenmuth is not so much a “German” city as it is a “Bavarian” city, specifically taking inspiration from the “Franconia” region in southern Germany. This is an important distinction, as saying “Bavaria is Germany” would be akin to equating the Deep South with the United States of America…. Anywho, at the River Place Shops one can find Bavarian-inspired souvenirs, sweet treats, and all the kitschy items your heart didn’t even know it desired.
Right outside the River Place Shops is the Main Street (called South Main St.), which is lined with more stores, museums, restaurants, and hotels. These building are similarly themed and one can spend, perhaps, too much time at the Castle Shops, browsing and pursuing the cheeses, wines, steins, beers, sausages, and lots more!
Things to Do
If you want to learn more about Frankenmuth, consider visiting one of the few museums located right downtown. For example, the Frankenmuth Historical Museum, houses exhibits on the city’s history. Additionally, one can take a boat tour down the Cass River on the Bavarian Belle Riverboat or a horse-drawn carriage ride along the main street. If you are looking for a free attraction, consider simply walking down the “Holz-Brücke” (German for “wood bridge”) and snapping pictures of the river and the River Place Shops beyond. Additionally, Frankenmuth has some fun little quirky attractions like the (self-proclaimed) “world’s largest Christmas store,” a mirror maze, as well as wine tours and some intense-looking indoor water parks.
All in all, there is much to do in the little-bitty city of Frankenmuth. If anything, I wish we had had more time there to explore!
Gute Reise! (Happy travels!)