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Think of Texas and you might conjure up images of cowboy boots, longhorn cattle and oversized belt buckles. Yet tucked away in Texas Hill Country, 80 miles west of Austin and 70 miles north of San Antonio, the small town of Fredericksburg defies the state’s stereotypes by celebrating and preserving a distinctly German heritage.

Founded in 1846, Fredericksburg attracted German immigrants with the prospect of 10 acres of farmland and one lot in the centre of town. Since most immigrants were highly religious and would travel up to 20 miles every week just to attend church, families often made use of their assigned town lot to build smaller “Sunday houses” where they would gather on weekends and religious holidays.

Today, descendants still own many of these small buildings, and some have been converted into bed and breakfasts. Visitors can stay in an authentic Sunday house through the Absolute Charm B&B reservation service, or book one of 14 Sunday house replicas at the new Fredericksburg Herb Farm, where the traditional-style cottages come fitted with more modern trappings like high-definition televisions and king-sized beds .

In the early days of the settlement, church services for the many different denominations were held in the Vereins Kirche (or society church), a two-story, octangular-structure built in the central part of Main Street. Though the original was removed in 1897 to widen the roads for ox carts, a reproduction was built in 1935 and still stands in the town’s central Marketplatz as a historical museum and powerful reminder of Fredericksburg’s well-planted roots.

Across the street from the Vereins Kirche, The Pioneer Museum showcases 10 other preserved buildings from the immigrant era, including a blacksmith shop, a one-room schoolhouse and a bathhouse. Outside of the busy town centre, the Sauer-Beckmann farmstead in the Lyndon B Johnson State Park, 18 miles east of town, showcases how German settlers lived on the farm. Costumed volunteers replicate chores just as they would have been done in the early 1900s: canning vegetables, churning butter and caring for the mules, chickens, and sheep on site.  

Unlike other immigrant-settled cities where museums are the only relic of an original culture, Fredericksburg showcases a surviving German tradition. German continued to be the primary language in the town until World War II, and today, many of the town’s older residents still speak a distinct Texas-German dialect that has been studied by linguists around the world.

Though the dialect is in danger of dying out in the next generation, traditional German cuisine promises to live on in the area. The Old German Bakery and Restaurant has served schnitzel, potato pancakes and pastries for the past 40 years, and was recently bought by a German man who happened to be visiting the town. At the Auslander (meaning “outsider”),  the classic pork schnitzel gets a Texas twist, served topped with ranchero sauce, Monterey Jack cheese, sour cream and guacamole.  During the colder months (even Texas suffers the occasional frost), the restaurant offers warming glühwein, a mulled wine spiced with cinnamon and cloves.

For just-right spiced bratwurst and sausage, try Opa’s Smoked Meats, a family-owned shop that uses original German recipes passed down the generations and always has samples on hand. Finish off any meal with a stop at Chocolat, one of the few chocolate shops in the US that uses a classic European technique known as “liqueur praliné”, where a delicate sugar casting encases liquor, espresso, wine or other liquid fillings. The casting is then covered in chocolate to make a confection that must be eaten whole, lest the encased liquid come dribbling out.

No authentic German experience would be complete without beer, of course, but commercial breweries have been a very recent addition to the town. The Fredericksburg Brewing Company opened in 1994 when Texas passed legislation that allowed breweries to serve food.  Using copper and stainless steel tanks manufactured in Europe, the brewery crafts a variety of ales and lagers using traditional German brewing techniques. If sipping on imported beers is more to your taste, Der Lindenbaum offers 30 different German beers to enjoy before nibbling the homemade apple strudel and Black Forest cake.

Before saying “Auf Wiedersehen” to Fredericksburg, hike to the top of nearby Enchanted Rock, a pink granite dome that rises 425ft above the surrounding land. The vast view still captures the wild frontier and fertile land that held so much promise for those who once sailed across the sea with only their dreams and treasured culture to guide them.

 

 

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