It wasn’t this way not so many years ago. In the early 1960s, the once-booming lumber town was in serious decline. The Great Depression, the sawmill closing, and departure of the railroad switching yards had left
with an ailing economy and lack of jobs. As the town became more and more run-down, local business leaders and residents formed a committee called Project LIFE (Leavenworth Improvement for Everyone) and turned to the Leavenworth ’s Bureau of Community Development for help in saving the community. A number of ideas were tossed around, but the concept of creating a theme town was the most popular. There were already several successful examples in the country including “Danish” University of Washington Solvang, California, “Swiss” New Glarus, Wisconsin, and “German” . While Frankenmuth, Michigan had no single ethnic tradition, it did have an attractive alpine setting and the idea of creating a romanticized, Bavarian village seemed to be the best fit. Leavenworth
Architectural consultants were called in and the transformation took off. Downtown businesses were redesigned with half-timbered facades and embellished with Bavarian elements including window shutters, scalloped designs, flower boxes, and Germanic script. Great efforts were taken to make the town as authentic as possible; even Safeway and McDonalds caught the Bavarian spirit.
Today, tourists roll in by the busloads and the hills are alive with the sounds of oompah-pah, polka music and the ch-ching of cash registers.
shines as an amazing success story in community improvement. While some critics consider it a bit too kitschy and way over the top, the concept somehow works. Visitors gladly make the 100-mile trek east from Leavenworth Seattle to experience a little bit of Europe without the ten-hour plane flight, weak dollar, and language problems.
Shopping is a big attraction here with dozens of specialty shops lining
Front Street. Many stores stick to the German theme offering cuckoo clocks, music boxes, Hummel figurines, smoked meats and sausages, Christmas ornaments, and nutcrackers. There’s even a museum dedicated to the nutcracker with over 5000 of them, from the traditional, wooden toy soldiers to a silver-plated French courtesan.
Restaurants with names like King Ludwig, Café Mozart, Munchen Haus, and Der Hinterhof offer an opportunity to sample Bavarian cuisine washed down with German beers. If sausage, schnitzel, and sauerkraut are not to your liking, there are dozens of other choices as well.
Likewise, accommodations range from charming, Alpine-inspired bed and breakfasts to rustic cabins on the banks of the
. With so much variety, Wenatchee River makes as excellent home base for exploring the Washington Cascades. Leavenworth
When all the Bavarian gemutlichkeit becomes overwhelming, visitors can escape to the great outdoors. The surrounding Wenatchee-Okanogan National Forests offers over 2600 miles of hiking trails and there are several, easy nature trails in town along the Wenatchee River. Other recreational opportunities nearby include horseback riding, whitewater rafting, and fishing. Winter time brings downhill skiing at
, cross-country skiing, sleigh rides and snowshoeing. Stevens Pass
With its many festivals, four season outdoor activities, and scenic mountain setting,
Leavenworth has gone from down-in-the-dumps lumber town to one of ’s top tourist destinations in only forty years. Washington