Thursday, July 9, 2015 12:06 am
A touch of Germany in Hermann, Missouri
The bachelorette party was in full swing as the would-be bride and her attendants made the rounds of the wineries in Hermann, Missouri. Several groups of women poked their heads into antique shops while motorcyclists parked their bikes to follow their noses into a wurst haus.
When 19th century German settlers brought their winemaking craft to Hermann, they probably never envisioned the town’s streets would teem with wedding parties, women’s getaways and bikers. But modern-day visitors to this spot hugging the Missouri River 184 miles southwest of Springfield should expect encounters with all three, especially on busy summer and fall weekends.
And while downtown Hermann has little to interest families with children, they can enjoy bicycling on the nearby Katy Trail, part of the 240-mile rail-to-trail state park spanning a good chunk of Missouri. The stretch around Hermann is especially scenic with rolling hills and lush vegetation. Some compare it to the Rhine Valley, which may have enticed those Germans, but don’t expect any castles perched on the river banks.
Hermann gets 150,000 visitors every year, according to Elias McDonald, the director of tourism. The biggest crowds, in the thousands, come during the fall, primarily for leaf colors and “Oktoberfest.” Held the first four weekends in October, the festivities include German food, music, arts and crafts.
“If you prefer a more laid-back atmosphere, the month of September or the spring are better times to visit,” McDonald says.
Late summer and fall bring other special events. The town hosts a sausage-making class Aug. 15, a wine and jazz festival Aug. 22 and both Civil War Days and a heritage festival Sept. 18-20.
To bolster its image as a wedding venue, Hermann sponsors a “wedding trail” twice a year, with the next one Sept. 13. Mike O’Toole, proprietor of the downtown antique shop, The Gold Rhine, said weddings are a big business in town with three or four every weekend.
Visitors can sample wine from the nine wineries in the area or check out the small brewery downtown or the distillery in nearby New Haven. Special buses and trolleys can safely transport drinkers along the winding roads in the Ozark foothills.
If you want to skip sampling the alcohol, you can head underground to view wine cellars or to restaurants in and around town for sausages, sauerkraut, potato salad and other German specialties. Hermann’s tourism office claims settlers wanted a town that was “German in every particular,” and it seems several eateries strive to deliver.
So do the town’s Deutschheim State Historic Site and the Historic Hermann Museum at the German School. The Deutschheim site features daily guided tours of two circa-1840 homes and galleries of German Americana artifacts. The Strehly house once housed a printing company, which published a German-language newspaper, and a winery. Visitors can see one of the few remaining carved wine casks in the Midwest and grapevines planted in the 1850s.
Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for students and free for those 5 and under. The same admission rates can be found at the museum in the former schoolhouse, which is open every day except Wednesday from April to October and weekends in December.
Displays on Hermann history fill the hallways and rooms. Built in 1871, the school offered courses in English and German until World War I, when many German settlements had to quash their ties to the mother country.
Among the rooms is one named for the Schweighauser family. Springfield residents may recognize the link to former UIS astronomy professor Charles Schweighauser, whose family hailed from Hermann. That room contains framed illustrations from fairy tales, early local redware pottery, antique quilts and vintage musical instruments.
The museum gift shop offers some treasures as do multiple antique, gift, specialty food and art stores downtown. Lodging choices include bed and breakfast inns, guest houses, motels and a campground at the city park. The park also has an outdoor community pool if you feel like a dip after a bike ride or shopping spree.
If you plan an overnight stay, be sure to book early, especially on busy summer and fall weekends. After all, you are competing with wine lovers, German food aficionados and all those wedding guests.
For more information, visit www.visithermann.com, www.historichermann.com, www.hermannwinetrail.com and www.katytrailstatepark.com.
Mary Bohlen of Springfield is a freelance writer and editor and former journalism professor at the University of Illinois Springfield. She alternates writing the monthly Midwestern travel column for IT with Mary C. Galligan of Chicago.