A Fun or Funny?
In July, Don and I traveled in Michigan. I insisted we visit the German town of Frankenmuth. "There's a lodge! It will be fun!"
Don showed interest when I told him I remembered eating at some German restaurant, when I was 16. I assured him that it would be an entertaining overnight. "It could be fun... or it might just be funny."
Historic... and Touristy
I had good, but vague memories of the little German town. However, the images I saw on the internet made "Michigan's Little Bavaria" look like a German theme park. Just how hokey would it be?
Then I decided, even if the town was jammed with tourists and dripping in corny German decor, it could be fun and memorable. Besides, Frankenmuth was more than a stage set. There was real history. The town was founded in 1845, by 15 German-Lutheran missionaries.
July 4th Weekend
We arrived on Friday, over 4th of July weekend. That could have been asking for trouble, right there.
But, we were ready to take on the whole Bavarian Inn & Frankenmuth Experience.
Bavarian Inn's Confusing History
When we spotted The Inn from Main Street, it looked like it covered the whole block. It actually looked pretty festive, with all the colorful flowers.
My photo just shows part of the rambling complex. Surprisingly, the right portion of building goes back to 1888. It was built as a hotel by the Fischers, the family that began the all you can eat fried chicken trend, in Frankenmuth. The hotel didn't have a Bavarian motif back then.
In 1950, the Zehnder family bought the Fischer Hotel. William (Tiny) Zehnder Jr. and his wife Dorothy ran the place.
Tiny (I so love that name) died over a decade ago, but Dorothy at 97, still can be found helping out in the restaurant's kitchen!
Zehnder's Famous Chicken Dinners?
This Zehnder family is confusing! It took a while to get this all figured out. So, across the street from Bavarian Inn, is Zehnder's Restaurant. Don and I actually ate there before checking in. This was the fried chicken biz, that Tiny's parents opened in 1928. Initially they served overflow customers from Fischer's.
Today both places serve fried chicken and German food... and are run independently, by different parts of the Zehnder fam. That's just strange. Two competing businesses across from each other... in a town of less than 5,000... both owned and run by the same family, that immigrated in the 1800's! Whew!
Then and Now
After a hearty lunch, Don and I headed across the street to the Bavarian Inn.
We walked through the beer garden, then through the door in the 50-foot Glockenspiel tower. This was part of the Old World expansion that Tiny added in 1959.
Lost in the Inn
Don and I headed inside and spent forever, wandering the halls, in search of the hotel lobby.
We found about 10 dining rooms, many with crowds waiting to be seated. But we found no front desk.
Across the River
Outside, we found a carriage driver, who pointed out the Bavarian Inn Lodge, across the Cass River.
She told us we could walk over the covered bridge. Okay, maybe this was Disney World! The sight of the complex, on 7 acres of land... was comical.
Holz Bruecke from 1979
The bridge (like the hotel) was not old. But it was pretty.
We followed a buggy across the bridge and met a couple who asked if we'd take their photo.
They had just become engaged. We had a fun chat and then the groom-to-be asked Don, "You've been married 40 years? What's your secret?" Don answered with a grin. "Be a good listener." Sweet.
Hiking to the Lodge
We headed down the road, laughing at ourselves. These buildings looked like a fairytale village!
What were we getting into? And why were we leaving our car way behind?
We passed a giant birdcage, with peacocks. We watched a few kids roll down the hill, on a nearby lawn.
When we got past the huge parking lot, there was a colorful lineup of buildings. Of course my photo from early morning, looks peaceful. At 2:00 pm, there were toddling tots and crying babies in strollers, old folks with walkers and smokers on benches.
But the flowers were pretty. And I was happily amused by the painted stucco, in the shady, garden area.
It was about 90 degrees, which felt pretty warm after our hike.
We were glad the lobby entrance was in the first building.
Lots to Study
I shouldn't be a travel snob. I shouldn't make fun. But it was hard not to laugh when I took in some of the decor, as we stood in the snaking, check in line.
My neck hurt from staring upward, at the upside down Christmas tree (decorated in spring colors) and the German dolls and wooden oxen yoke, deer heads and pastel umbrellas. What a display!
Where Do We Go?
I should have listened when we were given directions to our room. It was a confusing maze through all the buildings.
It would have been easier if we'd just walked outside and headed past the Banquet/Conference Center...
We could have just parked down by the "Tower Entrance". But instead we wandered inside, turning down many wrong halls and dodging families with all their pool gear. Were we the only guests with no children?
Don and I grinned and shushed each other, every time we read the special reminder signs! Then at last, we found our room!
I wish I'd taken some photos of all the cleaning carts and rollaway beds and folding cribs, that clogged the hall. But I must say, the staff couldn't have been friendlier. They cheerily apologized every time we stepped around their carts.
We stepped into our room and chuckled just a bit. The size was fantastic. We had no complaints about that.
The bathroom and furniture seemed a bit dated, but all was clean. We'd seen photos on the website, so it was no surprise. However the balcony door and windows bothered me. It was sort of industrial and odd. But at least I knew there was a balcony, with a river view, just outside them. We'd paid extra for that perk.
When we opened the door and realized we had a shared balcony, I suddenly was less enthused.
I hadn't pictured us sharing the balcony space with other families. Plus, we suddenly had no privacy in our room, when the curtains were open. Oh well.
The view of the trees and garden and river was nice. It was all pretty peaceful out there... just a few muffled squeals, now and then. That was off to the left, coming from the kids inside the tower, sliding down the enclosed water slides. Funny.
There was another odd thing about our room.
The wall decor made me think we had accidentally stepped into someone's personally decorated timeshare unit. I'm fine with some dated decor and slightly musty carpet. Don and I would stay only at Marriotts, if we had those concerns. But why were there so many framed photos?
At Home With the Claramunts
It took a while to get it, but our room was named for the Claramunt Family. There were pictures of Morrall and Nancy and their 3 kids all over the room. There were even family Baptismal certificates on the wall. Why?
Okay, I'm sure the Claramunts are outstanding folks. But it was strange being surrounded by them. And why are those frames not centered over the couch?
So I guess we weren't the only ones who lucked out with a family focused guest room. As it turns out, every one of the 360 guest rooms, is named for a local family or person in the community. Gee, if only I'd seen the list of all the room names, earlier. I could have requested to stay in the room that says MEYER on the door. That's my maiden name, from my German great grandfather. Next time?
After taking in the wonders of our room, we set off to explore.
Don and I peeked around at some of the pool excitement, but really we had no urge to participate.
There were 4 indoor pools, plus putt putt, ping pong and pool, as in billiards... gift shops, arcades. There was lots to delight the families.
Where's the Beer?
In the evening we hiked back across the bridge, in search of a little German beer.
We headed into the original building where the Fischers once got in a little trouble for selling beer, during prohibition. Evidently the Zehnders did as well, across the street!
The street entrance took us into a waiting area, for two of the dining rooms.
There were no crowds waiting, like there had been at lunch. We weren't hungry yet, but I was curious. I peered through the glass into Tiny's Room. That must be used for special events.
I peeked into the Family Crest Dining Room and I became less hungry. I just wasn't ready to eat another big meal in a big banquet room... even if the staff was dressed in festive lederhosen!
Beer and Pretzel!
Instead, I chose to be amused by a pouting mannequin, wearing his lederhosen.
He was sitting at a small bar. I sat beside him and posed with an empty mug. Don posed with pretzel and beer. Both were good and we were happy.
So we spent the evening in the building where the whole Frankenmuth fried chicken thing started, about a century ago and we didn't end up eating!
That is sinful. We could have eaten a German feast as well. But we just weren't hungry after our big lunch.
By the time we were hungry, the dining rooms were clearing out. Some of the rooms weren't even in use, which seems crazy. It was a Friday night in July!
Back to the Lodge
By 9:00, the German band was packing up in the beer garden and the Glockenspiel was playing its last little show.
We headed back over the bridge. Man it stays light, late in Michigan!
We found some life back at the lodge. The crowd at Lorelie's Lounge was a mix of locals and tourists. The live music was pretty decent and our server, Holly kept us happy with popcorn!
She assured us, the 10:00 Schnitzelbank Sing-a-long was a must. Don knows some German, so he was able to sing along, with the help of our napkin. What a hoot! They even had a real schnitzelbank work bench on display near the stage. I only wish we'd been able to do a little German polka dancing.
We slept well in our king bed, which actually came with both soft and hard pillows. Extra points for that. I woke early and threw on my running shoes.
One of the nicest parts of the stay, was getting up early before the heat and crowds. I had the most lovely run, over the bridge and into town. I even stopped to play the little instrument, beside the sidewalk.
Back on the Porch
After a quick shower, Don and I made coffee and pulled out some pastries, we'd brought with us. I was determined to use that shared balcony before we left.
Luckily our neighbors seemed to be sleeping. It was pretty pleasant and quiet. We packed up, said good bye to the Claramunt Clan. We were soon on our way.
It's a little ridiculous that we spent a night at the Bavarian Inn Lodge and we did not partake of the water activities or the dining! That's crazy.
Yes there was some hokey stuff and our room was not the most luxurious. But Don and I really enjoyed exploring and lounging and figuring out the odd Zehnder history. I don't know that we'll go out of our way to stay again in the future, but I'm mighty glad we stayed this time!
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My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!