Wednesday, December 28, 2005


Leavenworth is an interesting tourist spot. Situated in the Cascade mountains close to the Stevens Pass ski resort, it is a Bavarian-themed village where everything from the local Starbucks to Bank of America have Bavarian/German-themed signs and architecture. The village is full of shops and restaurants with the same theme. Summer sees Bavarian-themed dances in the village square, and Winter sees elaborate lighting for Christmas with a full choir accompanying a town crier on a full-fledged "Lighting the Christmas Lights" ceremony.

So, what's with the Bavarian theme? Is it that a group of people moved here from Bavaria some generations back and decided to re-create their homeland here?

Actually, no. From the official history of the town...

"For more than thirty years, Leavenworth lived on the brink of extinction.

But in the early 1960’s, everything changed. In a last-chance effort to turn their precarious situation around, the leaders of the community decided to change Leavenworth’s appearance, hoping to bring tourism into the area. Using the beautiful backdrop of the surrounding Alpine hills to their advantage, the town agreed to remodel their hamlet in the form of a Bavarian village.

Hoping to create more than a mere facelift, the entire community rallied to create the illusion of Bavaria in the middle of Washington state. Besides the complete renovation of the downtown area, community members worked to begin a series of festivals. The Autumn Leaf Festival, Maifest and the extremely popular Christmas Lighting Ceremony were the first of many attractions Leavenworth offered to passers-by.

It worked. Since the change to a Bavarian motif, Leavenworth has become a pillar of the tourism industry in the Pacific Northwest. Today, more than a million tourists come to Leavenworth each year, each visitor finding their own individual love affair with the community. The story is a landmark case of the human spirit: Not only did the people of Leavenworth survive their most critical hour, but they endured."

I doff my hat to the ingenuity and chutzpah of the fine folks of this town. What amazes me is not just their spirit, but the fact that they are able to pull this off without having *any* historical links to the German province. While the food items and such may be authentic (as is the architecture), I did not find many things in the souvenir stores with serious German provenance. In a restaurant, a few friends interested in trying German beer found that they had only one variety in stock.

I think more than the place itself, the idea of such a place was more interesting. I must say there is something to this American spirit that so many people keep talking about. More than in rhetoric and jingoistic country songs, this is where the never-say-die spirit of the American settlers shows itself.


CAR said...

How true are the words you speak of. While in St Louis, I managed to spend some time at the museum of westward expansion and i was amazed by reading stories of traveller and explorers who formed lands as they rolled in their covered wagons. From the cold of the east to the deserts of the west, I am amazed by the newness and spirit of discovery.

Saket said...

My friend Suvid took me to Friedricksburg near Austin for a similar experience. The highlight was freshly brewed beer in three colors with authentic German names too... dunkel, weiss, rott... The whole place was pretty cool, ofcourse they actually have a lot of German Immigrants in the town too.:)