Because I am still so used to it (among all my neighbors are German), I hear a lot of German in Ann Arbor. And take note. They don’t know that I hear them (haha!). And having lived in Germany and Bayern for a while, I wasn’t ready for traveling to Frankenmuth and drown in its fake German-ness. I have not yet understood the American obsession with re-creating European cities. To some end, the immigrant population, European branding and maybe just travelers have made everyone believe that anything European means it has more “culture.” And it sells. I’m not going to stand tall on some pedestal and say this, but traveling to Europe for culture and living there amassing the culture lead to very different experiences. It’s like being a vegetarian talking about how amazing the lamb recipe is. Traveling to the US (earlier) and living here have given me such different experiences, that sometimes they feel mutually exclusive. I think more people need to live in different cities before generalizing experiences.
Coming back to Ann Arbor , it is a delightful town and that could also border on being pretentious (I like it all the same). We have a biergarten with burrito stalls and American service. But also laid back small gardens like small Ludwigsburg (nothing does and can come close to Munich, naturally). Frankenmuth is an hour’s drive from Ann Arbor and markets itself as the “Little Bavaria in Michigan.” It’s well maintained, cute and makes a very strong attempt at wanting to be German. From a fake Isar (just the landscaping not the river), to Lederhosens, Brezels, to German menus and houses, it tries hard. It also plays the Rathaus-Glockenspiel with English storytelling as an addition and hosts the Weiss und Blau Bayern flags all over. It looses me on dustbins with printed notices of Danke-schoen – at once giving away all its credibility. (No administrative notice in Germany says danke anything).
It reminded me of Rothenburg ob Tauber – especially with the bulk of Asian tourists all over. Tiffany said some even came in big tourist buses. I understood that the town was set up by real German families. Although, they must’ve been highly Americanized to think that Bayern == Germany. Not that it isn’t, but then, you know. Delhi isn’t the whole of India either. Everyone likes simplifying things to stereotypes and a single experience. It didn’t bother me though.
As I grow older, traveling and enjoying new cities is a lot about people who I spend time with. Tokyo was so special but a personal nightmare with all its loneliness. I’m not even ready to go back there. Frankenmuth was cookie cutter German, but gave us a great time, because we were with friends who understood our experiences.
It made me recall how special Bayern is. And I miss it- for the people and its stunning beauty. I also recognize why I decided to come to the US. Sometimes I wish to live in as many countries as I can. Traveling for checking boxes just doesn’t seem enough.
If you want to see Germany, go to Germany. If you want to understand it, live there. And if you just want to recall German experiences, meet your friends in Frankenmuth and sit together wondering what made it special.
All images by Dushyant.