While I have much love for Flint, I sometimes feel as though I grew up in Frankenmuth …
As the destination for many a Ribner family outing, Michigan’s Little Bavaria played a big role in my childhood. My brother and I would become filled with excitement each time the family car turned north onto M-83 on its way to our destination: the Bavarian Inn. In addition to its delicious chicken dinners, our father, the son of Slovak immigrants, loved the old world charm of the restaurant’s Austrian and Alpine rooms. Perhaps this is why I long to live in a fachwerk, a timber-framed, stucco house set inside a deep and enchanting forest…
For my brother and me, the sights, sounds and smells of the Bavarian Inn proved fertile ground for our imaginations. We loved exploring the Castle Shops downstairs, with our first stop being the Wine & Beer Shop. We’d walk straight to the back corner where a tiny stream trickled down moss-covered rocks (who else remembers this?). And we’d pick up some Blackjacks and Root Beer Barrels from the Candy Corner while being tantalized by the tasty aromas emanating from the Castle Shop Bakery. In fact, I still have a wooden nutcracker from the Royal Gift Shop purchased sometime during the 1970s!
After dinner, our adventures continued outside, starting with the Bavarian Inn’s glockenspiel bell tower. With my mother being a first-grade teacher, my childhood was steeped in children’s stories and fables, The Pied Piper of Hameln being one of the most memorable (its moral and dark and mysterious ending always did it for me). Needless to say, the magic of the glockenspiel’s Pied Piper re-enactment never ceased to captivate me during each visit.
Having been there so many times, we came to think of Frankenmuth as our own personal playground. There were stops to the Frankenmuth Cheese Haus, complete with pictures taken next to its iconic mouse, and visits to Memory Lane Arcade (anyone else recall that old-time penny arcade? Classic!). I also remember picking up a packet of Hire’s Root Beer flavoring from Kern’s Sausages, though attempts to reproduce the soft drink were unsuccessful– something I attribute to operator error. All of this and so much more combined to make Frankenmuth a delightful experience for me, one I remember fondly.
Although those halcyon days of my youth are gone, the allure of Frankenmuth remains with me to this day. Now, my wife Rosemary and I love taking our sons – Jacob (17), Draco (9) and Johnny (5) – to enjoy everything the quaint little town has to offer. It makes perfect sense, too. After all, Frankenmuth is rich in tradition, making it the perfect place for us to continue practicing our own traditions, as well. ♦
Photography by Mike Naddeo