By Ken Paul Mink —
Ever since “The Sound of Music” burst onto the American music scene the sights, sounds, foods and beauty of Bavaria has warmed the hearts of millions of Americans and countless others around the world.
Few can afford to jump onto a plane and wing their way into the fantastic real world of Bavaria, but the U. S. has tried to capture much of the fun and excitement of these European localities through dozens of Oktoberfest events throughout the nation each fall.
While many of these events offer glimpses into aspects of the world of Bavaria, none can match the Bavarian experience offered in the Blue Ridge Mountains town of Helen, Ga.
Located in North Georgia near the Tennessee/North Carolina border, Helen provides visitors the longest-running Oktoberfest in the world, extending nearly two full months from early September through October of each year. This year marks the event’s 48th anniversary.
Helen might not be in Germany or Austria, but it sure is the next best thing to being there.
The town bursts with Bavarian-style architecture, with several cobblestone streets and dozens of colorful themed buildings very reminiscent of the heart of Germany and Austria. Horse-drawn carriages provides visitors a casual tour of the town.
The town has more than 200 shops and more than a thousand hotel/motel rooms, B&Bs and cabins.
And Helen goes all out each September/October with food, music and events providing visitors not only scenic beauty but giving them a great feel for the spirit of Bavaria. Many agree the food from all parts of the world satisfies most palates, or as Germans would say it is “koslich” (delicious).
Helen may not have the Salzac River, but it does have the beautiful Chattahoochie River, which gently gurgles its way over large stones and is framed by large trees. Many hotels and restaurants are based along the river, providing guests great views and waterside dining.
Numerous restaurants offer authentic Bavarian dishes and the town has a huge Festhalle, providing visitors traditional food, music and dancing each day. Several oompah bands from around the country and the world offer German/Austrian tunes each night.
Visitors can experience the feeling of Gemütlichkeit (the German word for satisfaction and fulfillment) and the atmosphere of community, cheer and belonging that is the heart of the experience of Oktoberfest . Festhalle has is the prime location for enjoyment of dining and features rows of long tables arranged so that diners can enjoy their food and the entertainment at the same time. Visitors can try a wurst, schnitzel or a brat on a roll, accompanied by German beer. Guests can participate in group dances and Polka dancing, including the traditional Chicken Dance. Guests purchase food and drink separately.
Helen has no shortage of specialty shops, candy stores and gift stores and specialty stores for antiques, arts and crafts, handcrafted quilts, pottery and furniture by local craftsmen. Nacoochee Village (nacoocheevillage.com), on the south side of Alpine Helen, is home to an antique mall, historic Nora Mill and Habersham Winery (nacoocheevillage.com/winery). Visitors can tour the processing facility, sample and purchase locally made wines.
Most of the hotels are within walking distance of dining, shopping and festival activities. Guests can stay in accommodations that feature colorful exteriors and gingerbread trim, keeping with the theme and mood of the occasion. The 99-room Helendorf River Inn is one such beautiful hotel, providing great Bavarian-theme facilities alongside the Chattahoochie River. Moderate price, many amenities (including large screen TVs and continental breakfast). firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re into water sports you can have a ball in Helen: Rafting, tubing, fishing aplenty. And there is a four-star golf course (Innsbruck Resort) five minutes out of town, providing tons of fantastic postcard mountain views, well-kept fairways and greens and an unforgettable par 3 (15) where your tee shot seems to soar forever before finally hitting the green. Lots of uphill/downhill yo-yo holes, but your GPS golf cart keeps you on track. http://innsbruckresort.com/
While Oktoberfest is Helen’s main attraction, the town and area offer many other events throughout the year. Helen crosses more than an ocean: it crosses time. Visitors can celebrate centuries of Helen’s history, and learn more about the unique cultures that have called the area home. Discover Cherokee Native American settlements, explore the daily lives of early homesteaders, and see how gold and timber brought money and industry to the area.
For more information, contact the Alpine Helen/White County Convention and Visitors Bureau, visit www.HelenGa.org