With the dollar dropping into a bottomless pit, there will likely be fewer US visitors to Europe in the coming months. But if your hunger for polka and liederhosen can’t be satiated, head to a theme town to get your European fix. When researching this post, I discovered that most themed towns rely on Oktoberfest and architecture to draw tourists there, so if you like beer, brats, and wood you won’t have to travel across the Atlantic to get them. Here are a few European “villages” the States has to offer:
This California-wine country town was founded as the center of a Danish academy, and those roots can still be seen not just in the Danish architecture, but in small details like immaculately-kept gardens. The name Solvang means “sunny field,” and the town’s website promotes a “bright happy cheery feeling.” You might recognize the town from its appearances in both The Simpsons and the movie Sideways.
New Glarus, WI
This “Little Swizterland” isn’t quite as authentic as Solvang, though the Chamber of Commerce’s web site boasts that many Swiss tourists visit the town (isn’t that a little like Americans traveling to Switzerland to visit Wal-mart?). Though it was a Swiss settlement, after WWII, a faltering agricultural industry gave way to the tourist sector. Swiss-styled architecture began popping up, and the alpine meadows created a perfect backdrop for a Swiss-themed town. Today, you can partake in Oktoberfest activies or hear polka bands honking their horns.
Helen is a completely re-created town. You won’t find much European heritage here — in fact, the town is celebrating a meager 35 years as “a mountain community with a touch of Bavaria.” Complete with cobblestone streets and specialty shops selling everything from cuckoo clocks to schnitzel to wooden toys, Helen is a European stereotype at its tackiest. The town holds a two-month celebration of Oktoberfest, complete with a beer hall housing live polka music. You can also visit the Christmas Shoppe year-round (and it just wouldn’t be a European town if something wasn’t spelled “shoppe” or “olde,” would it?)
I grew up visiting Leavenworth, and to be honest the Bavarian-modeled village actually was my first taste of “Europe.” Granted, it’s a cheesy reconstruction, much like Helen, Georgia, but it was always fun to visit during Oktoberfest. Much as you would expect from a town that decided to model itself after a stereotypical German mountain village, you can hear live polka, eat bratwurst, visit a nutcracker museum, and shop in “quaint” wooden toy shoppes. It’s a nice town to visit during the winter, when ski trails cross town and the mountains are packed with snow.