Friday, October 23, 2009

Bavarian Disneyland

Leavenworth Washington is a special place. That’s a pretty simple statement isn’t it? I love this town but oddly not for all the reasons I usually hear. It truly is a beautiful magical place, romantically nestled in the shadows of majestic mountain peaks. The town of Leavenworth is like a Bavarian Disneyland. Everything and I do mean everything is Bavarian themed. From the Hotels, restaurants, and gift shops right down to the gas stations, Safeway grocery and Starbucks. Heck even the McDonald's payphones are housed in tiny Bavarian chalets.

The gift shops boast the finest quality to be found. Exceptional creative works saturate the entire area. Hotels are adorned with exquisite art which can often be found in one of the many gallery boutiques. There are all sorts of shop doors and windows filled with whimsical art, unique clothing and the most wonderful confections. Oh, had I forgotten to mention those? The warm buttery scent of big toasty pretzels with dipping sauces draws you into quaint bakeries full of aromatic breads and pastries. Savory hot bratwurst with potato salad washed down with a frothy micro brew draw you into underground lairs of deep forest timber. And then there are the candy shops filled with a kaleidoscope of rainbow colored treats. Sparkling glass jars filled to the brim with the delicacies of childhood and the richest chocolates of your wildest dreams.

Music plays in the streets while costumed merchants stroll and do business along the bric-a-brac lanes. Horse hooves and carriage wheels can be heard clicking and clomping as they carry people through the streets in a festive display. In every season Leavenworth has found a spectacular way to celebrate with festivals and events that revel in the natural beauty and charm of this amazing place. The piece De la resistance however simply has to be the winter lighting festival. If you have ever wondered what it would be like to live in a Currier and Ives Christmas card or even a Thomas Kincaid painting this would be it. I have never seen a more enchanting winter wonderland.

Now having said all that, singing the praises of this quaint little Bavarian Disneyland in the Great Northwest I must go back to my original statement. These things are not why I love this town. The reason I love this town is because it is the most inspiring little town I have ever known. Leavenworth was originally a timber, rail and fruit town. It was never a large town by any measure and only has about 2,100 residents at this time. In the not to distant past it boasted a dubious reputation of brothels, saloons and hard living. In the 1920s the rail line moved its roadhouse and rerouted the rails to bypass the town thus killing the timber industry in one fell swoop. The depression further hammered the town’s economy and the subsequent war years drove the last nails into its economic coffin. By the 40s and 50s Leavenworth’s boom years were a faded dusty memory. With their economic opportunities dried up and gone there was little hope of survival.
Then in 1962 the town leaders went to the University Of Washington Bureau Of Community Development in search of ideas that might save their town. It was the natural beauty of the area that gave birth to the idea of a Bavarian theme with the hope of attracting visitors. While longtime residents, Pauline and Owen Watson are credited with being instrumental in this Hail Mary pass it was a total team effort. In 1965 key business owners made the brave decision to remodel their buildings. Pauline drew up some sketches for the remodeled store fronts and sold the idea to other business owners. Soon an agreement to Bavarianize Leavenworth was reached and Project Alpine was formed to guide the process along. By that summer in 1965 the first remodel was underway.

Now here is the part that makes me love Leavenworth the most. They did it all on their own dime. The whole town got together, made a decision and gave it their all. There was no government money used. Instead it was entirely financed by the hard work and sweat of people who were dedicated to a goal and to each other. They used their own money, mortgaged their own homes and took on a tremendous risk individually and as a team. Their town was a dust bowl in the middle of nowhere dying a certain death with no hope on the horizon. And they banded together, pulled a stroke of genius out of the air and had the good sense to grab it will all their might. This is a true story of survival and redemption.

So while I do love the Bavarian Disneyland and the picture perfect winter playground what I really love about Leavenworth is something you don’t see. This town is a beautiful testament to beating the odds. When I visit and I do visit often, I see something else in those cute little payphone chalets and lederhosen clad shop owners. I see the triumph of the human spirit. Passing the bric-a-brac fronted buildings which are teaming with visitors from all around the world I am filled with awe, though not of the exquisite Currier and Ives images that meet every turn. I am filled with awe at the people who took a dying town and not only breathed life into it but turned it into something far beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. I love Leavenworth because it makes me proud. It gives me hope and renews my faith in the impossible.
Oh yeah, you may be wondering about the hats. I can't explain it. There is a fantastic silly hat shop. They are the official mad hatters of the town apparently. I think the ample beer gardens help.


  1. LeSan,
    Sometimes I wish Nederland would get with it and do something as extraordinary as Leavenworth has.
    Leavenworth seems like such a unique place to stroll around. I love learning about new places and you made it fun with your great photos.

  2. I haven't been to Leavenworth in so long. This post makes me want to go for a visit. I didn't know about the history of the town, I wish the town I live in would just take a chance and do something like Leavenworth.

  3. Rosey I bet you guys could come up with something really spectacular there. Texas is such a great state and you have such wonderful and exciting history to draw from.
    I'm glad you liked the photos. I was sorry that I didn't have any of the winter lighting festival but come this December you can bet your boots I will have some to share.

    Catherine you really should get out there again. It would be so much fun for the kids around Christmas. I actually planned a December wedding over there for a friend one year. It is so incredible there in the snow it made everything seem like a fairy tale wonderland. Guess I'm a little partial to it. You don't think it shows do you? LOL

  4. I love this story. What a proud accomplishment for this community, who risked it all. I would love to visit someday.

  5. They had the good sense to leave some beautiful trees too! Lovely fall colors. Carol

  6. I would love to visit Leavenworth someday. You have me sold on the idea.

    That is so cool too to learn the back story. It's like the Little Town That Could.

    You say on my blog you are not a "writer". I beg to differ :-).

  7. I like Leavenworth. I can't say "love" because well, I could never get rid of the feeling that it's not a real Bavarian town. But I love its history, admire its people, like that hat shop, plus its park with salmon river,shops, etc., etc. Hmm, where is that line between like and love? Suddenly, I feel that I want to go there right now. Anyway, your writing is amazing. I enjoyed every single sentence. It's a great post and thank you so much for bringing memories about this town which I like or love, I'm not sure now.

  8. Hi LeSan,

    I do love this blog. Who would think of Bavarianizing a town as a way to attract tourists. But it makes complete sense in the setting. And you're right it's a triumph of creative thinking. Power to the people.

    Take care,


  9. AZ Plantlady ~ I am so glad that you liked this description of Leavenworth. I think you would enjoy it very much. Coming from the desert Southwest I think it would be almost exotic in its contrast. It was such a surprise to me the first time we saw it.

    Carol ~ yes, they definitely did have the good sense to not mess up the area with overdevelopment. They really appear to understand that their true treasure is in the natural beauty of the land. They have some of the most wonderful B&Bs anywhere that make full use of all that exquisite beauty.

    Jewel/ Pink Ink ~ Thank you so much for that generous and supportive compliment. I am putting it in my “treasures” box. :-) I like what you said about it being the Little Town That Could. That just made me smile.

  10. Tatyana ~ I do understand what you mean about not being able to quite get past the fact that it isn’t a genuine Bavarian town. I guess it never bothered me because I was so impressed with the verve and commitment with which they did it. When I see pictures of what it looked like before and then see what they did, I am willing to suspend my disbelief long enough to love it. For some reason this makes me think of Tina Turner. We tell women of a certain age they should never wear a mini skirt but no one in their right mind would think to tell that to Tina Turner. She just wears it so well.

    I want to thank you for what you said about the writing. This blog is the first writing thing I have ever done so it means a lot to me that you enjoy it.

    Barbara ~ I knew you would understand this one. Maybe it’s the artist in you. The idea of taking nothing and turning it into something wonderful is what art is all about. The spectacle of an entire town doing that is amazing.

  11. LeSan,
    Would you still like me if I said I was from Colorado? :)

  12. Rose~ LOL absolutely! I'm from Arizona. I guess we went in opposite directions on the map.

  13. I am the one from Texas, but we do have a Nederland ,Texas, too.

    Isn't this really The American Way? This is how we always did it, back in the 'olden days'.

    Or was that The Good Old Days?

    I would love to visit Leavenworth. It sounds like a lot of fun!

    Also, LeSan, I love the way you write. I bet you write just like you talk. Fun!

  14. Janie ~
    apparently I am confused beyond my years. I looked up Nederland from Rosey's coment and just saw Nederland, Texas. While for a moment I did think it was rather odd that she recently had snow I wasn't about to let that get in my way. No sir! Who am I to question the internet?
    Rosey I am red faced embarassed. I apologize for moving you so far from home.

    Janie of course your the one from Texas. Someone with a personality as big as yours need room to roam. :-)

    Ok, so now I am looking for the slap self on the forehead key...

  15. I'm glad I made it here this evening to read this heartwarming post. Oh, and I forgot to mention in my last comment, that I am a chocolate fan, too. I turn down the sweets I'm offered elsewhere, for the most part, because I know I am going to eat chocolate every day, normally, dark chocolate.

  16. LeSan,
    I would SO much rather be in Nederland Texas today. We just got two feet of snow.