There are several Texas towns that were built by German immigrants and as I sit inside an authentic biergarten in the little town of Fredericksburg, I can’t help thinking that I like what they’ve done with the place.
With wide streets, historic 19th century buildings, beer gardens, gourmet restaurants, German bakeries, art galleries and abundant area wineries, Fredericksburg is a unique mix of Rhineland village and Wild West frontier town.
Located in the heart of Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg is far from the stereotypical image most people have of Texas. When German immigrants began settling here in 1846, Texas had just become the 28th state and the U.S. government was encouraging European immigration to populate the edge of what was then the Wild Western frontier.
“It was an organized immigration,” explained Ernie Loeffler, president of the Fredericksburg Convention and Visitor Bureau. “The town was planned before the immigrants arrived and was laid out with wide streets and a central square as is typical of German cities.
Residents purchased a package that included passage on a ship, inland transportation, a town lot and farmland outside the city.”
As with many things in life, the immigration did not go entirely as planned and you can see it in the way the town was ultimately constructed.
When the settlers arrived, most discovered that their farms were further away from the town site than they had imagined. In most cases, it was impractical to travel back and forth from the town to the farm on a daily bases, so many immigrants constructed their main house on their farm property and later built a smaller one-room Sunday House on their town lot.
They would live and work on the farm during the week and stay in town on weekends to shop, socialize on Saturday evenings and attend church on Sunday mornings. You can still see these Sunday Houses around the historic section of the town.
At first, settlers constructed their homes and businesses with wood. But after some time, they began constructing with sandstone, because it is very abundant in this region of Texas and provided good insulation from the heat and cold.
Among the immigrants were some excellent stone masons and as they became more affluent, they began constructing stone churches that resemble the beautiful churches of Europe, complete with painted interiors and spectacular stained glass windows.
The wonderful thing about Fredericksburg is that much of its historic architecture is preserved and the progression of the architecture provides a glimpse into the lives of these early settlers. A town ordinance protects the historic architecture from big box shops, so the Main Street is filled with art galleries, restaurants and boutiques inside the original buildings. A funky kitchen supply shop sits inside the first hospital, a retro furniture store is inside an old Buick dealership and upscale clothing shops occupy what were once farming supply stores.
Though the community grew and thrived, it never became the large German city that settlers once envisioned.
“Life was difficult for these early immigrants,” Loeffler said. “One of the companies organizing the immigration went bankrupt and some immigrants had to travel on foot from the boat dock to Fredericksburg and some died along the way.”
German immigrants also suffered during the Civil War, because they supported the north in a southern state.
The First and Second World Wars marked a decline in the support for teaching the German language in schools and few residents today still speak the dialect that came to be known as “Texas German.”
Today, Fredericksburg sits at a cultural crossroads. Though it staunchly holds onto its German heritage, it has not been untouched by the other cultures that surround it. Looking around the biergarten, I can see ranchers in stiff Wranglers and straw Stetsons sitting next to townsfolk who are undoubtedly descended from original German immigrants. The local cuisine reflects ties to Germany, Mexico and Texas ranch culture.
This region of Texas Hill Country is one of the Lone Star State’s most unusual tourism destinations and a popular spot for the Hollywood set who want some time away from the big city. Madeleine Stowe has a ranch near Fredericksburg and rumours are floating that other celebs are shopping for their own second homes.
This fact, combined with the large number of weekend visitors, seems to indicate that there is no shortage of people who like what they’ve done with this place.
Things to do
• Texas Winery Row: There are 13 wineries along Hwy 290 just outside Fredericksburg (http://www.wineroad290.com/) and visitors can enjoy the perfect wine country getaway with tastings, tours, good food and live entertainment on weekends at wineries.
• Wildseed Farms: You’ll find acres of wildflowers at Wildseed Farms (www.wildseedfarms.com), the largest wild seed producer in the United States. There’s also an onsite gift shop, a restaurant and plenty of trails to enjoy.
• Shopping: With no chain stores or outlets, shopping along Fredericksburg’s historic Main Street is a fund adventure. There are several upscale art galleries for serious collectors, funky boutiques and great restaurants and diners.
• Dining: There are more than 100 dining establishments in Fredericksburg and even more in the surrounding county. Top dining picks include: The Auslander (German), Fredericksburg Brewing Co. (pub food), Cabernet Grill (steaks, seafood and Texas wines), Clear River Pecan Bakery (ice cream and treats), Hilltop Café (great seafood and Southern fare), The Nest (American gourmet), Navajo Grill (steaks and seafood), August E’s (eclectic — sushi, steaks and wild game) and Auto’s (German bistro).
If you go
• Fredericksburg, Texas, is located roughly halfway between Austin and San Antonio and visitors typically fly into one of those cities and drive from there. Spring and autumn are the best times to visit.
• Fredericksburg has one of the liveliest Oktoberfest celebrations in the U.S. and rooms should be booked well in advance if you plan to visit during that time (www.oktoberfestinfbg.com).
• Weekends can be very busy and lively in Fredericksburg and the surrounding area. If you enjoy live music, dancing and busy streets, a weekend visit is ideal.
• We stayed at the Fredericksburg Herb Farm Cottages (www.fredericksburgherbfarm.com). This bed-and-breakfast-style inn features accommodations in recreated Sunday Houses, an onsite spa, restaurant and an herb farm. Rates start at $159 per night including breakfast. In addition to hotels, there are more than 400 B&Bs in Gillespie County near Fredericksburg.
• For more information about Fredericksburg, visit the official tourism website of the Convention and Visitor Bureau at www.visitfredericksburgtx.com.
• For more information about visiting Texas, visit the official state tourism website at www.traveltex.com.
Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. Follow Debbie’s travels at www.wanderwoman.ca. If you have an interesting travel story you would like to share, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.