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Frankenmuth – a Christmas Tradition

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

For years, I had seen billboards touting Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth. I’m not big on super stores, and the “largest Christmas store” in the known world seemed excessive. I finally gave in to the lure of the season, however, and made a day trip about two hours northwest of Battle Creek to check out Bronner’s and the faux Bavarian town of Frankenmuth.

As I discovered, the first thing to know is that a visit to Frankenmuth is not a day trip. It can be done, but the amount of holiday cheer and food you will experience is really too much for a sane person to absorb in one sitting. I approached the day with a little bit of the Grinch in my heart, imagining maniacal elves and overfed Santas on every corner, serenaded by endless Christmas carols. My bah humbug attitude was probably a result of the intense planning needed to compress all of the meals and all of the shopping into just a few hours. If we wanted to sample the “famous chicken dinner” at Zehnder’s and German food at the Bavarian Inn, in addition to Bronner’s and the Frankenmuth River Place Shops, we would have to hustle.

What we found was a charming and welcoming town with lots to do and that really “keeps Christmas in your heart all the year long!” to quote Tiny Tim. A covered bridge, the Holz Brucke, transports you into “Little Bavaria.”

Bronner’s was our first stop, since we wanted to get in some miles in their Yule-stuffed aisles before settling into serous eating. I love that the third generation of the Bronner family is now running the Christmas store empire. I’m not sure anyone really needs 50,000 Christmas ornaments and gifts, but it is a holiday shopping extravaganza, filling 27 acres. We were successful at finding our annual tradition—a new Christmas ornament—a charming little wooden covered bridge. Bronner’s even features the Silent Night Memorial Chapel, a 56-foot-tall replica of the original chapel where “Silent Night” was first sung on Christmas Eve in 1818.

A Frankenmuth chicken dinner was next. According to the local Chamber of Commerce, the Bavarian Inn and Zehnder’s serve more than two million chicken dinners annually. We picked Zehnder’s, with its imposing façade, for an early lunch. Think giant restaurant with nine dining rooms and seating for 1,500 guests. The classic chicken dinner was available on the buffet or served family style to the table. We chose the table service, and an enormous meal of fried chicken; buttered noodles, mashed potatoes and coleslaw soon arrived. Portion control was not possible.

To burn off a few calories afterwards, we chose a stroll through the River Place Shops, a recreation of Bavarian village turned shopping mall. You could spend days wandering around, with 40 different shops to choose from, including N’Orlins, a beignet shop and the Sugar High Bakery, recent winners of the reality show, “Cupcake Wars.” I stopped at Bead Haven and one of the nice women’s clothing stores, Emilie B’s.

Soon, it was time for dinner and our reservation at the Bavarian Inn Restaurant at the Lodge of the same name. My husband had to try the rouladen with all of the sides, while I tried to keep it a bit lighter by ordering the Wurst & Käse appetizer—a lovely housemade sausage with cheese! The service was excellent, and after a German beer or two, neither of us wanted to face the drive home. With a wave and an “auf wiedersehen,” however, we left the Christmas wonderland that is Frankenmuth.

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