Holiday in Helen; a Slice of Alpine Georgia

Between a surgery, work, then a year and a half so far of Covid-19 forcing us to cancel our trip, I have not been able to go back to my beloved Vaterland for over three years. That ache in my heart for lederhosen and medieval architecture is sometimes unbearable.

We set out instead for Helen, a Bavarian-themed tourist attraction town in north Georgia, about an hour south of Chattanooga. It has street names like Munich Strasse, Edelweiss Strasse, Brucken Strasse (no umlaut), Chattahoochee Strasse, and Alpenrosen Strasse, and is full of cobbled walkways, a matching colour scheme, half-timbers, painted exteriors on point, and most importantly, Biergartens.

Helen has only around two square miles and less than six hundred residents, but boasts over 200 local businesses. It is Georgia’s third most-visited city after Atlanta and Savannah, but Helen as we know it is only a few decades old.

129630559_139246197978162_237654419954843580_n

The Cherokee Nation ruled this land until the Indian Removal act of 1830. Multiple authorities on Helen’s history affirm that America’s first gold rush actually started when someone found gold in the Nacoochee-Helen Valley a couple miles from Helen back in 1828. The historic England Gold Mine where the gold was found is still standing.

Georgia’s Gold Rush led to the California Gold Rush, and the hopefuls who upturned its earth quickly moved westward.

My song for this blog is “Ten Grand Goldie” by one of my favourite bands, Einstürzende Neubauten.
German, of course.

In the late 1800s the settlement took on a new industry, lumber. Sawmills and logging companies swooped in with the help of the railroad, annihilating the environment in yet another way before moving on in the 1930s.

Helen had been officially incorporated in 1913 and the threadbare town’s saving grace at that point was the creation of the Chattahoochee National Forest. Tourists that came through helped the economy, but it wasn’t quite enough.

130556109_139257367977045_8733323073776429282_n

A group of local businessmen held a brainstorming session about what they could do to revive the town, and decided to try their hands at different type of tourism.

130836912_139257341310381_3490039509318611311_n

They hired a friend and artist named John Kolloch with German ancestry to create sketches from his memories in Bavaria. Renovations and construction began in 1969 to convert the entire town into a mock Bavarian village named Alpine Helen.

Helen’s location in the Appalachian/Blue Ridge Mountains along the Chattahoochee River has the same geographic appearance as many German towns that are situated in mountains with rivers flowing through. To say it was a “Little Bavaria” was not much of a stretch.

130239038_139246324644816_8362246435659801535_n

So what do you do there? I have to start with German food. There is no way around this one.

Hofbrauhaus
Our favourite restaurant in Helen is the Hofbrauhaus, patterned after the real one in Germany. The exterior mural says it is the “Hofbrauhaus Inn International” but that is just decorative, there is not actually any kind of lodging available.

130769724_139254367977345_2601802579495953692_n

This one also has a “GI Germany” pub fashioned after the army base Kolloch spent time in during the war.

Hofbrauhaus has the best giant Brezeln mit Bierkäse of any place we tried, and we tried a few. I have been to the real Hofbrauhaus in Munich and am a regular at my local German biergarten, but I can never get tired of this meal.

129430980_139246921311423_9046781770191017842_n

My favourite German dish is Rahmschnitzel, kind of like Jägerschnitzel except it has a thick sauce made of onions, cream, and often some cheese instead of brown mushroom gravy.

129300477_139246997978082_5176734020186377940_n

At night, the Hofbrau has live music inside and we somehow had one whole room to ourselves. On our second visit, we shared a crisp grilled Reuben.

129795818_139247371311378_7074237111378324496_n

Cimmi’s Courtyard Cafe
For breakfast, Cimmi’s serves traditional and Southern American breakfasts, perfect after a night of self-guided German beer walking tours. While tourists file into the Hof Bakery and other specialty cafés, the locals eat at Cimmi’s.

a239723833_316141193621994_4890692556998325792_n

Bodensee (Lake Konstanz) Restaurant
We had another delicious Rahmschnitzel at the Bodensee. The owners are from Romania and lived/worked as chefs in Germany for many years before moving to Helen and opening the Bodensee.

In addition to the usual German fare, steaks, seafood, and fancy Bavarian dishes usually reserved for holidays or important occasions are their specialties. I was so enthusiastic about diving into their version of Rahmschnitzel that I almost missed taking a photo.

130717533_139258217976960_4266870379437794300_n

Muller’s Famous Fried Cheese Café
Muller’s specialty is German and Czech foods and they are notorious for their fried cheese squares. It came with a salad and bread, but the waitress talked us into ordering a Nutella crepe too.

130686721_139258191310296_5221352268035023972_n

One of the best things about traveling with other adventurous eaters is that you can basically order a little of everything, sample it all family-style, and not end up feeling sick after a gastro tour.

130807375_139258164643632_4762365068650303884_n

White Horse Square
The Heidelberg Restaurant and King Ludwig’s Biergarten are the main features of White Horse Square.

129449616_139246951311420_7141506504976747787_n

We did not go inside since it was too crowded to keep our distance, but we revisited King Ludwig’s later that night when it was nearly empty.

130556109_139256757977106_8862844085453143677_n

Just like in Germany, you walk up to the outdoor counter, place your order, then take it on a tray to your table.

130729652_139254901310625_8240383557818076936_n

White Horse Square also has several cool boutique shops like Zuzu’s Petals Rock Shop, Windmill Dutch Imports, Artisan Market, Alpine Olive Tree, Yonah Coffee, Hooch Cafe, and Marley’s Vape Shope.

130718700_139256714643777_788150431298382572_n

A239888131_316168656952581_5401670028498840325_n

There really is no high level of actual German ties or ancestry in Helen, so it is kind of a catch-all for anything Germanish like Austrian, Swiss, Dutch, Czech, Viking, and Slavic/Russian kitsch in the gift shops and on the menus. I love it all.

130287290_139246701311445_8771745153986813456_n

Chattahoochee Cheese Shop
Near the Hofbrauhaus Restaurant, the Chattahoochee Cheese Shop is the place for charcuterie, fancy fixin’s, craft beer, wine, and baked goods. 130769724_139258241310291_1441497378880532658_n

They missed a good opportunity to call it the Chattahoocheese, but okay.

130735740_139258261310289_5549560855414463126_n

130714262_139258284643620_3032954143747752921_n

Habersham Winery
On the southern end of downtown Helen, Habersham Winery offers tastings, gifts, and all the things you might like to have with your wine.

130235964_139258137976968_505987093684219088_n

Habersham looks eerily like the entrance of Dachau Concentration Camp and that gave me the willies, but it was warm and inviting inside.

130797590_139258114643637_8882366494415269456_n

Just for fun, here is a photo I took of the entrance of Dachau:

13435469_10154323667563885_2151352778110996648_n

Moving on…

Betty’s Country Store
Pick up your staples and regular groceries, hot meals, and old-fashioned candy at Betty’s.

A240056045_316167870285993_599061063996485615_n

Betty’s is like Cracker Barrell meets Publix meets Mast General Store, and it was full of things we had never tried before.

130553826_139247227978059_6148414951178214357_n

Helen Square is another location primarily for decorative purposes, but this building marks the spot for several more cool stores in Helen.

130272914_139246621311453_4353741223537192527_n

Hansel & Gretel Candy Kitchen, Fox Winery, Village Crepes, and Tim’s Wooden Toys are among the shops arranged like an outdoor mall on either side of the street.

130576531_139246647978117_4732568865066538382_n

A240180057_316168740285906_5083236643981225152_n

The Glass Blowing shop offers live demonstrations and can make anything you like on the spot.

130726718_139254741310641_6715812007068815411_n

Hofbrau Riverfront Hotel
While we could not stay in an actual Hofbrauhaus Inn, the Hofbrau Riverfront Hotel was just across the parking lot. Honestly it was clean but a bit cruddy and dilapidated, all the more comical while looking out across the river at the nice cozy cabins other people were staying in (see below).

The value in this place is for the location though, and I would stay there again just for that reason.

130101073_138963478006434_8316309705075995478_n

The Castle Inn
I had hoped to book a room at The Castle Inn, but that remains on my list for next time. This lovely inn sits right on the river where the bridges arch across the town center.

130302977_139247024644746_3546250008211570407_n

Alpine Dispensary also makes its home in the street level.

130676153_139254691310646_5542664029898369384_n

Below the bridge, visit the riverfront pub Troll Tavern for drinks and small plates. This was the coolest hangout spot after dinner and on into the night, even if their Bierkäse looked and tasted like cream of broccoli soup.

130718705_139254471310668_2715385470704917265_n

There are various levels of walkways going around, beside, and over the river near The Castle Inn and Troll Tavern. It felt safe and we did not encounter anyone sketch.

130689208_139257741310341_4273191470627466062_n

One night, we ended up at a place called Monday’s Pub that also has a big outdoor patio. Our server at Hofbrau recommended a stop there where locals hang out after dark.

A Cherokee grandma named Mamu befriended us right away and we imbibed, frankly, a lot more delicious German beer than we should have. Making our way back to our hotel was an adventure, to say the least.

AAH

If you visit Helen during the Christmas holiday season, the entire town is lit up with colourful lights, ornaments, and blow-up characters for Alpenfest. Walking through Unicoi Hill Park at night felt like a dream, even for a Scrooge like myself.

130192947_139257641310351_8937936752343122941_n

Other annual events in Helen include the Southern Worthersee, the Helen to the Atlantic Hot Air Balloon Race and Festival, Bavarian Nights of Summer which is like a mini Oktoberfest every Saturday night in summer months, Winefest at Habersham, July 4th celebrations, and the longest running Oktoberfest in the US.

By this I mean it goes on from September through part of November and has been going on consistently for over fifty years now, not that it was the first city to host Oktoberfest in the US.

130248656_138963054673143_474935753771480605_n

Outdoor Adventures
When in Helen, you are also in the Blue Ridge Mountains by the Chattahoochee River so the options for hiking, camping, birdwatching, fishing, tubing, kayaking, and even horseback riding are endless.

Smithgall Woods State Park & Conservation Area and the Unicoi State Park are both a very short drive away. 

The Georgia Mountain Coaster, Cool River Tubing, Helen Tubing & Waterpark, and the Innsbruck Resort & Golf Club are also popular sites. 

There are four waterfalls near Helen including Dukes Creek Falls, Raven Cliff Falls, DeSoto Falls, and Anna Ruby Falls. We hiked to Anna Ruby Falls on our third day, and you can read more about that here

130768668_139182954651153_2993260792781679439_n

Cherokee History & the Sautee Nacoochee Indian Mound
Predating the Cherokee, archaeologists determined that Native Americans from the Woodland Culture and the Southern Appalachian Mississippi Culture settled this area between the Sautee and Nacoochee Valleys.

There is a giant mound in the middle of a cow field and a small, vague plaque by the street that says it is a Cherokee mound, but that has been proven incorrect.

It was raining when we visited so I looked it up and learned that this property is part of the Sautee Valley Historical District and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

130601281_138963364673112_4986078717126482787_n

Layers of History
History and art lovers will enjoy visiting the museums of Helen like the Hardman Farm State Historic Site which contains the Indian Mound, the Old Sautee Store/1873 Market, the Sautee Nacoochee Center, the African American Heritage Site, the Gourd Place gallery, the Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia, and Charlemagne’s Kingdom.

Be sure to check out the Nacoochee arts & shopping village and the Helen Arts and Heritage Center with its art gallery, pottery studio, and history museum.


AHelen

In the area for a while? Follow me to Blue Ridge or Blairsville!

********************
© Copyright Fernwehtun, 2015- Current. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Fernwehtun and Fernwehtun.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

2 thoughts on “Holiday in Helen; a Slice of Alpine Georgia

  1. Pingback: North Georgia’s Anna Ruby Falls | Fernweh

  2. Pingback: 5 Reasons to Visit Blairsville, Georgia | Fernweh

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s