By Erik S. Lesser
Several years ago I had a brief encounter with Oktoberfest in the quaint north Georgia town of Helen. Now that I work for a company with headquarters in Germany, I decided to take another jaunt to the Alpine village.
Once a sleepy logging town in the Blue Ridge Mountains, city business leaders decided in 1968 that an economic face-lift was needed to bring in the tourists and money. They were correct, and while some people make fun of Helen, many others enjoy visiting for the day or longer. Most of all the economic revival has created many jobs.
Now in their 44th year, far behind Munich, Oktoberfest and all things Bavaria is big business in Helen. Candy shops, German and northern European themed restaurants, imported gifts and even an Heidi Hotel dot the landscape. Helen is even a sister city with Füssen, Germany.
I don’t own a pair of Lederhosen and luckily they are not required. There are plenty of people who proudly wear Lederhosen and other German-style clothing, but you also see locals wearing cowboy boots. In fact, there are many people who return year after year, paying the entrance fee to the Festhalle to raise their commemorative mugs and steins to German toasts and participate in polkas and the chicken dance and celebrate their heritage. There are even retired couples who have moved to the area to be closer to the action and volunteer.
Other German traditions are heartily celebrated in Helen throughout the year including Fasching and the dropping of the Edelweiss on New Year’s Eve.
So, willkommen to a little taste of the German Alps in the southern United States.
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