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Michigan's Little Bavaria.

More than 100 picturesque attractions have made Frankenmuth Michigan's No. 1 tourist attraction.

There's no way to convey the festival fun, the dining, and the two miles of main-street shopping that now attract more than 3 million visitors each year to Frankenmuth, Michigan, a town of only 6,000 residents. No way to explain why Frankenmuth has become Michigan's No. I tourist attraction, ahead of Greenfield Village or Mackinac Island.

Where to begin your visit to this "little Bavaria," located on M-83, a few minutes off 1-75 between Flint and Saginaw? If you follow the flow, you will be swept into one of the two main restaurants, Zehnder's or the Bavarian Inn, each facing the other across the bustling main drag. The two restaurants' combined figure is 1.7 million meals served in a single year.

Karen Maurer, the tourism coordinator for the Frankenmuth Chamber of Commerce, tells us that the typical visitor spends from four to six hours in their multifaceted city. If eating consumes half that time, what do you do with the other two or three hours? You'll begin at Bronner's Christmas Wonderland. In this glittering maze of 50,000 trims and gifts, the 100 decorated Christmas trees, the 600 animated figures, the steins, the music boxes, the indoor and outdoor decorations, you may lose all thought of time. But there are still 100 picturesque shops and stops competing for your attention-and your credit card.

You'll want to at least take a minute to marvel at Tiffany Biergarten's rare Tiffany lamps. And more than a minute at the Woolen Mill, "comforting folks since 1894" with its wool-filled comforters, its fabrics, and its roving for spinning; Rau's crystal-cutting and -engraving shop, where craftsmen hand-cut and hand-engrave fine lead crystal glassware as it was done in Germany and Bohemia some 150 years ago; and the Schnitzelbank Woodcarving Shop, carrying Michigan's largest selection of music boxes and offering free woodcarving demonstrations.

But be warned: to enter the Frankenmuth Gallery, one of the largest in America, containing thousands of paintings and frames, steins, and Emmet Kelly collectibles, is to run the risk of never coming out. At least not with time enough left to trip-trap across Zehnder's Holzbrucke (or covered bridge, if you prefer). Half the fun of crossing this Cass River span is first stopping at the Covered Bridge Gift Shop and viewing the 13-minute video presentation of its construction. This 230-ton wooden structure was built on dry land and then pulled into place across the river in 12 days by two alternating pairs of oxen and a complex set of machinery.

Not only did the bridge fulfill the longtime dream of Edwin and William Zehnder, but it also opened an area for much-needed parking facilities and the 100-guest-room Bavarian Inn Motor Lodge. Why a motor lodge in Frankenmuth-along with numerous motels, guest "hauses," B&B lodgings, and even an RV park and campgrounds-if the typical visitor's visit is but four to six hours?

Credit much of the need for this transient housing to the city's three big yearly festivals. The Bavarian Festival, originated to celebrate the opening of the Bavarian Inn, will observe its 30th anniversary the week of June 18-25. Once again the 52-acre Heritage Park will come alive with upward of 250,000 visitors. In the big tent, the recording star Glen Campbell will be in concert. The Munich HofbrauHaus show will feature authentic folk dancing, music, and "kuhglocken" (cowbell ringing) direct from West Germany.

If, however, you can't make this popular Bavarian bash, Frankenmuth fathers have thoughtfully provided two makeup festivals. The ten-day Frankenmuth Summer Music-Fest-August 12 through 21 -offers an opportunity for you to dance off the pounds the hearty German fare has put on you. And should you miss this one, you have one more chance: the Twelve Days of Christmas, when Frankenmuth remembers the heritage of European Christmas traditions that should not be forgotten.

Festival time or not, wherever you might be in this settlement on the Cass, perhaps in the Zeesenagel Italian Alpine Village or ordering some of Willie's smoked bratwurst, at the sound of the 5 -bell Westminster chimes you'll be joining the crowd headed for the Bavarian Inn Glockenspiel Tower. Here, several times a day, the 35-bell carillon, said to echo for miles outside the town, announces another figurine movement depicting the legend of the Pied Piper of Hameln.

After charging a purchase at the Leather Shop, we hurried across the adjoining parking lot to compete for foot space at the base of the tower. The 4-1/2-foot figures were just then beginning to move. The movement, however, had proceeded no farther than where the Pied Piper is leading the rats out of Hameln when a woman rushed up and panted, "Are you Maynard?" We pled guilty.

"Oh, thank God!" she gasped. "I've got six other people out looking for you-here's your credit card."

Besides everything else Frankenmuth has going for it, it also has the nicest people.
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Title Annotation:Frankenmuth, Michigan's number one tourist attraction
Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:May 1, 1988
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