Tale of Two Oktoberfests and Two Bavarian Villages

Tale of Two Oktoberfests and Two Bavarian Villages

Every month has its moments of celebration, but for the beer-drinking crowd, October means Oktoberfest. There are two distinctly different but strikingly similar destinations in the eastern United States to put on the RVers list for this month – Frankenmuth, Michigan and Helen, Georgia.

Frankenmuth is nestled in the south central portion of Michigan and draws 3 million visitors each year. It is called Michigan’s Little Bavaria and it lives up to this nickname, playing up its Germanic heritage with Alpine themed buildings, German cuisine, beer halls, quaint shops and a museum that celebrates the founding of the town in 1845 by a group of 15 German-Lutheran missionaries. It’s year-round resident population hovers around 5,000.

Helen, Georgia, on the other hand, has the mountains that Frankenmuth does not have. It is in North Georgia, in the Southern Appalachians, about an hour from Atlanta, Georgia. This tiny town with a year-round population of only 430 people and encompassing 2,1 square miles, is the state’s third most visited city, falling in behind Atlanta and Savannah. Its origins as an Alpine Village has less to do with German heritage and more to local leaders wanting to create a tourist destination in a rural part of the state. Helen was founded in 1913 and adopted the Germanic theme in 1968.

There are other similarities. Both are pedestrian friendly. Both offer horse-drawn carriage rides. Both have access to a river. Both have a variety of specialty shops and restaurants. Both also draw crowds for the Oktoberfest celebrations.

Helen claims the longest Oktoberfest event in the nation, going on for six weeks from mid-September through October. Frankenmuth, however, lies claim to holding the only Oktoberfest sanctioned outside of Munich, Germany. Their festival runs over a three day weekend in mid-September, with the 2020 festival cancelled due to the Corona Virus pandemic.

If you haven’t been to an Oktoberfest, expect to hear polka music, people in lederhosen and drindls, and an abundance of German cuisine and Hofbrau beer from Germany. The very first Oktoberfest was held in 1810 to celebrate the marriage of the crown prince of Bavaria, who later became King Louis I, to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen.

Tourists who visit Frankenmuth can take a riverboat ride on the Cass River. Those who are lured to Helen can often be seen floating through town in inner tubes on the Chattahoochee River.

One non-Bavarian attraction that is a destination in itself is Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, the world’s largest Christmas store, in Frankenmuth. Inside the building that is the size of five and a half football fields, shoppers can find an estimated 50,000 ornaments, trees, decorations, specialty items, and gifts.

In the South, the call of waterfalls lures tourists about a mile or two from Helen’s downtown to the Unicoi State Forest and Ana Ruby Falls. Hiking trails, ziplines, fly fishing and other outdoor activities are the other attraction for visitors to this part of the Georgia mountains.

So, when the leaves start to change and there is a nip in the air, it’s time to mark the end of summer at either one of these Bavarian inspired destinations. Even if beer is not your drink of choice, attending an Oktoberfest is lots of fun and a good way to enjoy celebrating with a couple of hundred or thousand of your closest friends.

Oct 6th 2020 Lois Tomaszewski

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