A March 2002 trip
to Frankenmuth by friskycelery
Quote: Frankenmuth was settled in 1845 by 15 Lutheran missionaries from the Franconia region
of Germany. They came to America to bring Christianity to the Chippewa Indians. And then they landed in the "jungle" south of Saginaw Bay.
In the 1950's, the two big restaurants in town started promoting Frankenmuth to the autoworkers in Flint as a pleasant destination for a Sunday drive. At the end of this Sunday drive was Sunday dinner, and that meant chicken. Today Frankenmuth is better known for chicken dinners than for missionaries. The Lutheran influence is still strong though; think of Frankenmuth as the Michigan version of Lake Woebegone.
Interestingly, the Alpine architecture you see along Main Street is not original. It began in 1959 when the Fischer Hotel, now the Bavarian Inn, was remodeled. That fact helps to sum up Frankenmuth today: prosperous, clean, a little fake, and utterly charming.
Frankenmuth is full of cute shops and good restaurants. If you are here in the winter, don’t miss Snowfest. The Frankenmuth Museum is an interesting stop anytime of the
year, and Oktoberfest is a week long hymn to beer.
Fast Fact: Over two million chicken dinners are served in Frankenmuth each year. That's over 900 tons of chicken.
To find out what's happening in Franenmuth, dial 1-800-FUN-TOWN.
Food here is of the sandwich and muffin variety, and all the choices are good. Sandwiches run from $4.95 for a tasty BLT or wrap, to $6.25 for a stacked club sandwich. One of my favorite choices is Mel’s Maui Chicken, a tangy grilled chicken breast sandwich on a Kaiser roll. All sandwiches come with a choice of fries or fruit. Trust me - choose the fries. They are marvelous, hot, crispy, cross-cut bits of potato heaven. It is just possible that you have never had fries this good.
As you might expect from the name, Frankenmuth Kaffee Haus is also home to all manner of yuppie coffee. The Mandrine Mocha, a chocolate-orange flavored espresso is my favorite. They also sell a couple of dozen whole bean coffees by the pound. Inexplicably, they also sell wind chimes here, including some huge, bass note chimes.
Once you’ve ordered at the counter, grab a seat by one of the big windows overlooking Main Street. If people watching isn’t enough of a distraction, (and for me it usually is) you can amuse yourself with one of the books or games that are scattered about.
The staff here is uniformly sweet and friendly. Ask for an espresso to go, and you’ll be invited to take a seat and they’ll bring your coffee to you when it’s ready. Keeping in mind that Frankenmuth is a very conservative place, the Frankenmuth Kaffee Haus is probably the hippest place in town. I always walk out of here with a smile on my face, and I bet you will too.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 31, 2002
Frankenmuth Kaffee Haus
500 South Main Street
Frankenmuth, Michigan 48734
Attraction | "Snowfest"
Just when you thought that cabin fever might actually be fatal, the city of
Frankenmuth holds its annual Snowfest, sponsored by Zehnders’. Snowfest is held the
last weekend of January / first weekend of February, and is a good excuse to get out of the
house and into some fresh - if frosty - air.
There are a number of activities that take place during Snowfest. The two most
visible are the snow carving competitions and the ice carving competitions. Each of these
is divided into events for amateurs and events for professionals.
The snow sculpting competitions are truly amazing. I don’t know how much snow
they start with, but some of the professional sculptures are easily ten feet high and twenty
feet long. A number of the professional teams come from outside the United States,
lending an international flair to the event. For the past couple of years, a team of snow
sculptors from China has wowed the crowd with some absolutely incredible detailed
carvings. They were the hands down winners in 2000. A photo of their winning entry is
included below, courtesy of Zehnders’ Snowfest website.
Sadly, after the events of September 11th, there were no international teams from
outside of North America in the 2002 competition. The professional snow carvers are set
up alongside Zehnders’. The amateur snow carvers ply their trade in the parking lot of the
Bavarian Inn, across the street from Zehnders’. These sculptures are smaller, and often
Ice carvings are located all over town. Many merchants have ice sculptures set up
outside their stores. If the day is sunny and cold, it is a real treat to see these big,
intricately chunks of clear ice glittering in the sun. There is an ice carving competition set
up in the park in front of the old mill. This area is fenced off, which is a good thing - it
keeps little kids and dumb adults away from the chainsaw wielding sculptors.
A couple of warming tents are set up around town. These are the venues for the
bands, the beer, and the bratwurst. Schnapps is also readily available. All in all, Snowfest
is very festive weekend, and a good way to blow away the cobwebs during a long winter
Snowfest gets crowded quickly. As you come into town on Main Street, go east at the
stoplight by the Bavarian Inn, and go over the covered bridge. There is plenty of free
parking on the other side of the bridge.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on April 1, 2002
730 South Main Street
Frankenmuth, Michigan 48734
Attraction | "Outlets at Birch Run"
A couple of things separates Prime Outlets at Birch Run from every other outlet mall in America. First is its sheer size. At over 170 stores in six sections, this is one of the largest outlet malls in Michigan.
Second, Birch Run boasts a number of designer and high end stores. On the apparel side there is Nautica, Polo, and Tommy Hilfiger. Other high end merchandise includes Bose (stereo speakers), Royal Doulton, and Dansk. There is also all the usual suspects: Bugle Boy, Eddie Bauer, and Nike.
For our Canadian friends, keep in mind this outlet shopping experience is only about two hours from the border. (Cross the Blue Water Bridge at Sarnia-Port Huron, take I-69 west to I-75 north to exit 136.) And remember: No GST! No PST! Come on over, we're waiting for you. Some merchants accept Canadian currency, and everybody accepts credit cards.
There is a cute little trolley that will help you get around, but it doesn't run on any kind of schedule, so I wouldn't depend on it. There is loads of free parking, and several places to eat, imcluding a Bob Evans. If you are a true shopaholic, there are a couple of hotels adjacent to the mall, so you can make a weekend out of it, provided your credit cards don't melt from overuse.
A mall is a mall, but this one is a bit bigger, and a bit more high end, than most.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 31, 2002
Prime Outlets Birch Run
12240 South Beyer Road
Birch Run, Michigan 48415
Attraction | "Pinocchio's"
Pinocchio’s has two rooms crammed with teeny-tiny vegetables and teeny-tiny hoes. Little-bitty sofas, and chairs, and beds with little-bitty blankets share space with itty-bitty
tables with itty-bitty plates of food. If you are a dollhouse building, diorama loving, miniature maker, this is the place for you. I’ve never seen so much little stuff in
my life. A whole doctor’s office in miniature scale is on display, next to the general store,
also in a one inch to one foot scale.
Be aware that all this little stuff does not carry little price tags. A miniature plate of tacos cost more than a full size plate of real tacos. This is also not the place to come if you are feeling fat or awkward. All this itty-bitty stuff will only make you feel even more chubby and awkward. Thankfully, everything is safely tucked away in display cases, so an inadvertent brush with a sleeve will not send a whole village flying.
Pinocchio’s also carries some other collectibles, and, like every other shop in Frankenmuth, they carry Beanie Babies. But the real reason to come here is to get the teeny-tiny Thanksgiving dinner, complete with turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy.
465 S. Main Street
Frankenmuth, Michigan 48734
That's not nearly as boring as it seems, and the Frankenmuth Museum does a very nice job of making history personal. The exhibits start with the voyage of the first immigrants to Frankenmuth - Lutheran missionaries who were coming to America to bring Christianity to the Indians.
There are a number of hands on exhibits that are kind of fun. Test your strength by lifting two water buckets on a yoke. Feel the different pelts of native animals. All the exhibits have extensive placarding, and there is also an audio narrative as you walk through the different rooms.
Perhaps the most interesting of the exhibits are the letters that these early settlers wrote to their families and friends back in Germany. These are actual translations of real letters that were sent in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. You can find them in the "Outgoing Mail" section of the Post Office exhibit. These letters speak of the hardships, the fun, and, occasionally, the pettiness the early immigrants faced. I highly reccommend taking a few moments to read a few of these missives.
The museum is small, and you can easily go through it in about half an hour, more if you read all the letters. And it only costs a dollar, a bargain any way you cut it.
There is a gift shop that masquerades as a museum shop in the same building as the museum. The shop carries some lovely things, none of which have any connection to any of the exhibits. In the warmer months, therre is a very nice herb garden laid out on the south side of the building. It's nice just to stop and smell the lavender.
When you're tired of shopping, and can't take one more cheese sample, I recommend stepping inside the Frankenmuth Museum and stepping back in time.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on April 1, 2002
Frankenmuth Historical Museum
613 S. Main Street
Frankenmuth, Michigan 48734