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The Hills Are Alive Once-Impoverished Logging Town Turns A Profit By Offering Tourists A Bit Of Bavaria

Sun., Sept. 7, 1997

We were sitting in a bubbling Jacuzzi drinking champagne and nibbling on lingonberry tarts when I got the giggles. It’s hard to keep a straight face in a hot tub in the middle of church.

OK, former church.

The onion-domed Catholic chapel-turned-bedroom-suite is attached to Hotel-Pension Anna, where all the rooms are furnished in authentic Austrian decor and the breakfasts are Germanic and hearty.

The pension is one of 48 hotels and motels helping to create a bit of Old Bavaria in this once-impoverished logging town.

If you hanker to nestle into a faux-Alpine chalet and awaken to the dulcet tones of an alpine horn, this is your place to hear the sound of that music.

Leavenworth comes complete with oompah bands, excellent Wiener schnitzel, scenic Bavarian-style murals on the buildings, nutcrackers and more nutcrackers, and hand bell ringers.

Even the gas stations look like a second home for Julie Andrews and the Von Trapp Family Singers.

Inspiring this Bavarian bacchanal are the mountains and valleys of the Leavenworth area, which bear a striking resemblance to the Bavarian and Swiss Alps.

Once the townspeople figured that out, it was goodbye sawmills and hello tourists. Bavarian Leavenworth began to emerge in the 1960s. Today its festivals and shops have turned the place into a year-round destination, popular not only with tourists but also as a good location for family reunions because of the variety of nearby activities.

In the spring there is the annual Maifest when former loggers and their spouses don lederhosen and dirndls to romp around the maypole. There’s more dancing in the summer, and outdoor theater featuring - you guessed it - “The Sound of Music” (along with “Oklahoma” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”).

The fall highlight is the Washington State Autumn Leaf Festival, with more parades and bands and queens and costumed dancers. Winter includes the Christkindlemarkt and the Christmas Tree Lighting Festival with sledding in the park, roasted chestnuts and sleigh rides.

Between, in and around the festivals, the town has shopping and dining. Everything is for sale here: collectibles, silly T-shirts, more-than-acceptable local artwork, and, of course, the ubiquitous nutcrackers.

Some of the restaurants are excellent. Our dinner at Cafe Mozart began with an Austrian salad plate that included real German potato salad, went on to Wiener schnitzel with fried potatoes and ended with apple strudel. Mozart tinkled from the speakers, the brass fixtures gleamed and the bill was reasonable.

But there’s more to Leavenworth than sausage, desserts and schlock.

The town’s history is a testimony to what people can accomplish if they work together as a team.

In 1960, progress had passed by Leavenworth. It was even dubbed a welfare town, writes Ted Price in his historical record, “Miracle Town.” One by one, businesses were closing and leaving empty storefronts and buildings in disrepair. The lumber business was gone. The railroads were gone.

Hammered by the regional recession, the town was in an economic quagmire and young people were leaving to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

When Price and his partner, Bob Rogers, bought a cafe in the mountains and transformed it into a Bavarian chalet, they recognized the tourism opportunities. By 1965, they had convinced the rest of the town.

The people staked their small, personal fortunes on Leavenworth’s future. They did their homework, including field trips to Solvang, Calif., and Europe. They decided to demand high quality construction and authentic representations.

You can see the results while strolling down Front Street: the big eaves on the buildings; scrolled support beams; Bavarian-style murals surrounding the entrances and covering walls; and windows framed with decorative painting.

And the stores are staffed with young people who easily find jobs in their own hometown.

So grab a bratwurst and a pretzel and get with the theme.

Even if you’re not in the market for musical beer steins or miniature doll-house furnishings, there are good reasons to pause here.

The town is a civilized stop before pushing on to skiing, white-water rafting, hiking, snowshoeing or whatever in the Lake Wenatchee Recreation Area in central Washington.

Leavenworth is only a 20- to 30-minute drive from Lake Wenatchee, Fish Lake, Plain and the Chumstick Valley.

We came through Leavenworth in the fall when the Wenatchee forests were splashed with color.

Our route took us north, out of the Cascade mountains and through the lush Yakima Valley, past acres of trees heavy with red and golden delicious apples.

Instead of Bavaria, we entered a coy world of shops selling aplets and cotlets, which are soft apple confections dusted with powdered sugar. But that’s another story.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: IF YOU GO Festivals, art shows and special events are part of Leavenworth’s yearlong calendar. Here are some highlights: MaiFest: May 9-11 Art-in-the-Park Craft Fair: June 6-8 International Folk Dance Festival: June 21 Accordion Festival: Aug. 7-10 Wenatchee River Salmon Festival: Sept. 18-20 State Autumn Leaf Festival: two weekends, Sept. 26-28 and Oct. 3-5 Christmas Tree Lighting: two weekends, Dec. 5-7 and Dec. 12-14.

Accommodations For information on Leavenworth hotels, motels, pensions and bed and breakfasts, as well as cabins and RV parks in the recreational areas, contact the Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 327, Leavenworth, Wash. 98826, or call (509) 548-5807. The chamber Web site is at www.leavenworth.org

This sidebar appeared with the story: IF YOU GO Festivals, art shows and special events are part of Leavenworth’s yearlong calendar. Here are some highlights: MaiFest: May 9-11 Art-in-the-Park Craft Fair: June 6-8 International Folk Dance Festival: June 21 Accordion Festival: Aug. 7-10 Wenatchee River Salmon Festival: Sept. 18-20 State Autumn Leaf Festival: two weekends, Sept. 26-28 and Oct. 3-5 Christmas Tree Lighting: two weekends, Dec. 5-7 and Dec. 12-14.

Accommodations For information on Leavenworth hotels, motels, pensions and bed and breakfasts, as well as cabins and RV parks in the recreational areas, contact the Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 327, Leavenworth, Wash. 98826, or call (509) 548-5807. The chamber Web site is at www.leavenworth.org


 
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