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Off the Editor’s Spike: Hermann the German

Dw.cdrChristmas seems to be coming early this year as Gallatin businesses announce plans that promise a better Yuletide spirit here. On the other hand, Christmas is already late for me.

Liz and I broke away from all ties that bind and (finally) enjoyed a weekend away at the destination community of Hermann, located on the bluffs of the Missouri River. A nice stay at a bed & breakfast plus gift cards to cover gas expense and more were given to us by our staff last Christmas. This was really a treat we greatly appreciate.

I’m happy to report that the shops in Hermann are not jumping past Thanksgiving to vault hurriedly into another Christmas retail season. In fact, things were a bit slow there last weekend and we liked that. Hermann, known for its wine and German heritage, was regrouping after its annual Oktoberfest. The autumn colors were still beautiful, and several shop owners said we were wise to visit after the big crowds disappeared.

I had to chuckle. Liz and I vowed to avoid talking business over the weekend and largely succeeded. During the hours of driving south we talked mostly about plans to revitalize things in our home, starting with a deliberate strategy to sort and dispose of the unneeded and unwanted. Then, of course, we spent a good portion of our weekend going into shops specializing in trinkets and collectibles …to fill up your home.

This was our first visit to Hermann. When I say the town of 2,400 souls unfolds along the river bluffs, I mean serious “ridges” where you see a hawk soaring high above its prey yet eye-level to your window. Liz and I like to walk. We found the 3-mile trek between our B&B and downtown to be challenging with legs sore from walking down steep streets as much as walking up them.

We drove past the town’s first landmark just past the river bridge and hardly noticed it. There really was a man named Hermann, and the statue of the German leader who defeated three Roman legions in the Teutoburg Forest (September, 9 A.D.) is one of only three in the world. This statue here in Missouri is quite different from the others located in Detmold, Germany (1856) and New Ulm, MN (1998) because he is clean-shaven and holds a spear rather than a sword. And there are reasons.

Lots of folks in Hermann would like nothing better than for you to ask why, especially folks like Steve Mueller who assists at the town’s museum. The museum was among the most interesting places we visited last weekend. Displays are plentiful and insightful, including a huge focus on Missouri river boat travel most prominent during the 19th century. But the building itself is of interest.

Like most small towns, Hermann had an old 2-story brick schoolhouse standing vacant after the school built a modern school. The property teetered on becoming an eye-sore. But when plans became known about demolition to make way for a convenience store, the town rallied to save its history and renovated the building into a asset – a community museum of note.

This is not to say even tourist towns like Hermann are without squabbles. We also heard some back-biting about the new bus trolleys in operation about town. Yes, it helps move the crowds around but at the expense of less foot traffic – meaning fewer buyers walking through shop doors. So there’s good and bad to everything.

There are unexpected parallels between the early development of Hermann and Gallatin. For Hermann, it was a sudden dramatic influx of Germans from Europe arriving off river boats from New Orleans that caused strife. Sound familiar, when considering our Mormon history here? Both historical conflicts peaked at nearly the same time, in 1837 and 1838.

We do not drink, but what would be a visit to Hermann without tasting the wine? However, even more interesting was learning how Hermann was devastated by Prohibition, the national ban on alcohol in place from 1920 to 1933. Our government burned down the second largest winery in the world, introducing Hermann to the Great Depression a decade before the rest of the nation. That’s not the side of history we’re taught in most school textbooks.

I’m just saying, there’s good and bad to everything …and a trip to Hermann is worth your time. We enjoyed our weekend.