Thursday, February 6, 2014

Impossible Germany: Frankenmuth, MI

If you ever wanted to know what America would be like if the Germans won the war, go to Frankenmuth, Michigan.

A tourist destination near the thumb of the mitten, Frankenmuth was settled in the 1840s, long before Hitler was a twinkle in anyone’s eye. Timeline aside, it’s a strange look into a strange could-have-been but thank-god-it’s-not future. Frankenmuth mirrors the German-designated section of Epcot beer halls, cheese and sausage shops, perfectly maintained buildings in the Bavarian architectural style with astutely trimmed window boxes of multicolored pansies. Every shop attendant is dressed in “traditional” German garb — lederhosen for men and dirndls for women with the obligatory Heidi braids. Upon entering a store, you are greeted with “guten tag” and after swiping a free sample or four of fudge, sent away with “auf wiedersehen!” Not a single piece of garbage flutters to the street before it is swept up by an employee who is neither seen nor heard. Most disturbing is the absence of minorities. Everyone, from the employees to the patrons, is a minutely varying shade of ivory.

There are a few expensive restaurants along the main street, toting themselves as “inns” and each serving what they claim to be a “World Famous” chicken dish. We ordered all our finances would allow — sides of spetzel and beets, curious to see what the illustrious chicken dish was but unwilling to pay $28 a person for it. At the next table over, a couple suited up to consume one of these famous feasts, which upon arrival looked no different than fried chicken from a cardboard bucket. This did not seem to bother the couple, who waited just until the waiter breathed to shovel food into their mouths.

The centerpiece of this whitewashed abyss is Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, boasting itself as the world’s largest Christmas store.

The parking lot overflows in mid-July with sparkling mini-vans and SUVs. Women with wooly up-dos and bermuda shorts pushed heavy shopping carts, filling them with white boxes containing ceramic, light-up scenes from Norman Rockwell paintings and It’s a Wonderful Life, none for less than $70, nearly twice their K-Mart price. Unenthused husbands in Lions’ and Packers’ sweatshirts nodded in sync with each flowing query.

“Do you like this?”
“Do we already have this one?”
“Isn’t this darling?!”

Music dreaded for ten months of the year is enjoyed at the highest volume. Rows of glimmering ornaments for every occasion imaginable are lined up over more square footage than a professional golf course, organized into categories like “newly engaged,” “food,”  and “fishing.” There’s an employee who’s purpose is solely to customize ornaments, painting messages like “Derrick and Brittany, June 2014” on a frail periwinkle bulb. Everything makes noise, or worse, sings a song.

Bronner's also had no problem letting their patrons know that their electrical bill is $900 a day.

Being in Frankenmuth is like being stuck in one of those tiny, porcelain villages, this Made in China town where everything exists for display purposes only a lived-in cuckoo clock. Even the people seemed like they were purchased and set there, dressed in costumes they didn’t have the option of removing, swallowing a conveyor belt of beer and cheese and sausage medallions on an endless loop. Dolls in someone else's playhouse.

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