Monday, April 9, 2012

Spotlight: Helen, Georgia

"H" is for Helen in the A to Z Challenge

I'm 1/2 German, 1/2 Sicilian. My mother's father came to America from Sicily when he was 17 years old. Her mother's parents were born in Sicily, but my Grandmother was born here.

Growing up, I heard a lot of Italian being spoken. But I never heard any German. My roots on my dad's side go back a couple of more generations before they actually find footing in Germany.

So when I learned that German was available in my high school, I was quite excited. I took German, and joined the German club, becoming vice-president in my senior year.

One of the fun things the club did was take annual trips to Helen, Georgia for Oktoberfest. Helen is a small town with an interesting history. From their chamber of commerce website:

Helen's evolution into an alpine village began in 1968 when a group of local business men met to discuss ways to revitalize their town. They approached a nearby artist friend, who had been stationed in Germany. He sketched the buildings, added gingerbread trim, details and colors to the buildings, giving an alpine look to the entire town. In January of 1969, business owners and local carpenters began turning ideas into reality and all downtown stores were renovated. Faces of buildings were painted with scenes of Bavaria and North Georgia, mirroring the migration of early settlers.

And this from Wikipedia:

Formerly a logging town that was in decline, the city resurrected itself by becoming a replica of a Bavarian alpine town, in theAppalachians instead of the Alps. This design is mandated through zoning first adopted in 1969, so that the classic south-German style is present on every building, even for the small number of national franchisees present (such as Huddle House).

It is a fun and creative way to answer the question "What can we do to bring economic health to our town?"

Bavarian styles houses in Helen

I sang Die Lichtenstiener Polka in that blue building with the bay window. It sealed my "A" in German that year. I was inspired to build a small version of it for the Christmas village my dad always put under the tree... a German tradition.

Here is is, to the right of the church, 30 years after it was built:

Dad's Christmas Village 2011... much smaller than it used to be.

The 42" x 90" village in all its glory

If your town is seriously discussing what to do to create a "go to" destination", think about creating a theme for the town, and carrying it through to every building.

If you are looking for something to do next Oktoberfest, consider a trip to Helen.

Edit: Sadly, I just found out my German teacher, Dr. Robert L. Shuford III, passed away last August. I just did a google search on him to see if I could find a contact to send him a link to this post, when I found an online memorial.

Rest in Peace Doc!

"H" is for Helen, and April is Parkinson's Awareness Month


  1. Brilliant idea. I co-wrote a series of four books with a woman from Germany. The first will be published next month by Double Dragon Publishing. Called Wind over Troubled waters. Just goes to show how inventive and creative the Germans are.

    1. For a fascinating book on Germany and WWII, read From Hitler Youth to American Soldier, by Herb Flemming. I met Herb in Shepherdstown, WV and got an autographed copy of his book. He was a child in WWII, and a member of the Hitler Youth. As an adult, he came to America and joined the army.

      His first person account of the war is like watching a movie.