Washington state’s Lit­tle Bavaria

Washington’s Leav­en­worth does fine im­pres­sion of a Ger­man vil­lage

Times Colonist - - Front Page - BETHANY JEAN CLE­MENT


Leav­en­worth is a trip. Nes­tled against the far side of the Cas­cade moun­tains just a few hours east of Seat­tle, this lit­tle town does an im­pres­sion of a Bavar­ian vil­lage with all its might. The beer flows freely and the mu­sic is oom­pah; build­ings are dec­o­rated with wooden beams, fam­ily crests and gin­ger­bread trim (or their trompe l’oeil ver­sions). The Hei­dle Burger boasts “Best Burg­ers in Town,” and even the 76 sta­tion, Star­bucks and Howard John­son’s are in on the il­lu­sion, their cor­po­rate iden­ti­ties trumped, for once, by a civic the­matic mis­sion.

The small town cen­tre is en­tirely com­mit­ted — sev­eral square blocks of signs in gothic fonts bear­ing names such as “Das Sweet Shoppe.” There’s candy and can­dles, hats and tchotchkes; you can get your photo taken in a dirndl with an ac­cor­dion in your arms, or ride in a car­riage hauled by a horse round and round. There’s a mu­seum de­voted solely to nut­crack­ers. Leav­en­worth is deeply weird and alarm­ingly adorable, and peo­ple love it.

And why shouldn’t those who set­tled here, com­ing from far away in Ger­many back in the day, cel­e­brate — and cash in on — their her­itage? But while that might seem the likely back­story, Leav­en­worth is an even more Amer­i­can suc­cess story than that: It was just a reg­u­lar log­ging town strug­gling to sur­vive in the 1960s when the idea of a tourism-friendly makeover was fab­ri­cated. As leav­en­worth.org puts it, “To say the change worked is like say­ing you can taste a hint of cab­bage in kraut.”

Ger­man philoso­pher Theodor Adorno would’ve had a field day with Leav­en­worth — the dis­tant Bavaria re-cre­ated en­tirely for pros­per­ity’s sake, where the peo­ple of the re­gion get an ar­ti­fi­cially for­eign break, with plenty of “spu­ri­ous and il­lu­sory ac­tiv­i­ties” to di­vert them. He called the phe­nom­e­non “the cul­ture in­dus­try” and it’s here in spades — and, as he noted, con­sumed heartily, yet “not quite be­lieved in.” The charm is be­yond-Dis­ney­land ridicu­lous, and ev­ery­one goes all-in on the fun.

This makes for ex­cel­lent peo­ple-watch­ing. Take an out­door ta­ble at Ici­cle Brew­ing Com­pany on a sunny au­tum­nal af­ter­noon, and see the vis­i­tors stroll by, happy in their new Ty­rolean felt head­gear (reg­u­lar size or com­i­cally tiny and at­tached to a head­band). Across the way, it’s self­ies ga­lore with the hops har­vest-fes­ti­val mu­ral on Star­bucks’ rear; a cou­ple women pre­tend to hold the reins of the painted horses, and from here, with a beer, it looks pic­ture-per­fect.

But the tourists must also be fed. Try Arg­onaut for cof­fee and snacks; South for Mex­i­can food (sources say to get the poblano sauce on a bur­rito); and Good Mood Food for just that. For a fancier (read: pricier) din­ner, Wa­ter­shed makes very good farm-to-ta­ble com­fort food (the meat­loaf, huge and de­li­cious, costs $32 US), while Mana is there for the up­scale ve­gan crowd (at $85 for eight cour­ses).

Of course, you don’t have to ac­tu­ally move — what­ever uber-Ger­man-style pub you’re in will have pret­zels, sausages and the like. The name of one might ring a bell to some: Rhein Haus. Leav­en­worth’s lat­est ad­di­tion fits so seam­lessly here — pretty, pale pinewood; steins and antlers and snow­shoes ev­ery­where — you’d never guess its Bavar­ian ar­ti­fice is a meta-im­port, just opened in Au­gust. The first in­stal­la­tion is on Seat­tle’s Capi­tol Hill, and Ta­coma and Den­ver also have lo­ca­tions.

Rhein Haus’s menu meets all the hun­gry drinker/hiker/snow­boarder ex­pec­ta­tions: the town’s best pret­zel; a prodi­gious bratwurst; rich, slightly smoky goulash with big chunks of beef. Fat, ex­tra-crispy fries love the curry ketchup, but the plat­ter-sized pork schnitzel’s thin sauce needed more lemon, ca­pers and/or shal­lot (avoid in­un­da­tion by or­der­ing it on the side, and pass the salt and pep­per).

The place has a sense of hu­mour: a stuffed wild­cat in re­pose sports the Ty­rolean tourist hat (and man­ages to look debonair), while staffers wear T-shirts printed with folk-cos­tume-tops rather than the real thing.

Just three blocks away, Leav­en­worth’s other new de­vel­op­ment does a dif­fer­ent kind of im­i­ta­tion. Postho­tel is castle­like — six storeys built into the hill­side over­look­ing the We­natchee River — but it ex­er­cises re­straint with its cream-coloured and flag­stone ex­te­rior. In­side, too, it’s taste­ful and sooth­ing, with a faint laven­der-herbal scent in the air, and only a mod­icum of antlers. Postho­tel staff wear the classi­est pos­si­ble ver­sion of tra­di­tional Ger­man coun­try at­tire, while most of the guests pad around the place in slippers and soft, white robes.

Yes, it’s just like a Euro-style san­i­tar­ium, and yes, it’s weird at first, but not for long. Quiet per­vades, and no chil­dren are al­lowed; ev­ery bed is king­size, with a soft bank of pil­lows, and ev­ery room has a gas fire­place and enor­mous mar­ble tub. But why would you soak there when the spa awaits? A gen­tle­man will kindly ori­ent you, in­ton­ing the words “hy­drother­apy” and “re­flex­ol­ogy” over the four spe­cial foot-soak­ing pools, in­vok­ing the name of Se­bas­tian Kneipp, a Bavar­ian priest who founded the natur­o­pathic move­ment, pro­mul­gat­ing the idea that frigid plunges into the Danube cured his tu­ber­cu­lo­sis.

In Postho­tel’s ca­pa­cious, vaulted-ceil­ing spa, you can par­take of two lovely wood-pan­elled sau­nas, one ex­tra hot. There are two steam rooms, too, one of­fer­ing the op­por­tu­nity to re­cline on a con­toured mar­ble bed, sim­i­lar to a body on a slab in a health­ful mau­soleum filled with a thick, hu­mid, tran­quil­liz­ing cloud. A shower with set­tings such as “Arc­tic Mist” will buf­fet you and, just as you look up, dump a del­uge from above. Padded lounge chairs, wear­ing their own terry-cloth cosies, are in­ca­pable of any­thing but a fairly steep re­cline. An in­fin­ity pool, flow­ing from in­doors to out, has un­der­wa­ter bub­bling chaise-beds to tickle you all over. The view — moun­tain crags, dis­tant forests, cir­cling hawks, the river with reg­u­lar peo­ple tak­ing the air along it — is fab­u­lous. Should you grow weary, back in­side, there is a nap room with in­di­vid­ual wa­terbeds.

All this swad­dled “well­ness” costs $385 US per night on week­ends (go­ing up to $435 in 2019). Skiers will doubt­less swoop in af­ter days on nearby Stevens Pass slopes, but one must com­mit to vig­or­ous con­sump­tion of leisure to get the most of Postho­tel. The price of ad­mis­sion is al­most allinclu­sive: the spa (treat­ments ex­tra); use of fancy Pub­lic (not “pub­lic”) bikes; a gor­geous mini-golf course (wind­mill­free); all-day cof­fee, tea and fruit; beau­ti­ful break­fast and lunch buf­fets (the for­mer with eggs and sausages to or­der, the lat­ter with a choice of soups); and a nightly eight o’clock dessert ex­trav­a­ganza (per­haps with a choco­late foun­tain).

Could a cou­ple of Ger­man-cheese-and-cold-cut sand­wiches se­cured at lunch — the robes have big pock­ets — plus a huge, juicy front-desk pear be­come sup­per? The dis­tinct sense at Postho­tel is that if it con­trib­utes to your tem­po­rary sense of well­ness, no one’s go­ing to stop you. Maybe, that bike ride around Leav­en­worth ear­lier was just enough.

In Leav­en­worth, build­ings are be­decked with all the trim of a Bavar­ian town.

The Postho­tel bal­cony pro­vides even more room for re­lax­ation with a view.

At the Ici­cle Brew­ing Com­pany, the pret­zels are good and the peo­ple-watch­ing is great.

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