On a walk down Edelweiss or Munich Strassen, you’ll find cobblestone alleys lined with brightly painted Bavarian shops. Only, this charming German town is not actually in Germany. It’s Helen, nestled away in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Northeast Georgia.
Helen, an old mill town, was given new life in the 1960s by artist John Kollock, whose new shop front designs and color schemes were inspired by his time stationed in Germany. Since the town’s makeover, it has become a popular tourist attraction, even boasting one of the biggest Oktoberfest celebrations in the United States.
Speaking of Oktoberfest, there’s one thing you should know about the quaint town of Helen: It knows how to party.
Several times a year, major celebrations take over the picturesque streets of this Alpine village. After fall’s roaring Oktoberfest, the holidays take front and center with Christkindlmarkt and the New Year’s Eve Dropping of the Edelweiss.
In an answer to Mardi Gras, the town celebrates German Fasching in February. Spring brings Helen’s annual Trout Tournament and Springfest, a warm weather festival celebrated on the banks of the Chattahoochee River.
If you aren’t lucky enough to make it to Helen for one of its festivals, don’t fret. A trip anytime of the year is just as rewarding because of the town’s landscape.
The Blue Ridge Mountains are the highest mountain range in the state, and Helen provides the perfect place to see them.
To do more than sightseeing, Unicoi State Park has hiking and mountain biking trails through the mountains. One of the park’s trails leads to Anna Ruby Falls, twin waterfalls that lead to Unicoi Lake and then to the Chattahoochee River.
With the Chattahoochee River running right through Helen, summertime welcomes a lot of splashing. Tubing companies open in May, although during Fasching celebrations, tubers brave the February cold and make their way down the ‘Hooch.
Time for schnitzel
There is no shortage of places to get a meal in Helen. While most places offer the German staple of wursts on a bun, you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not digging a little deeper for richer, German fare.
For schnitzel, try Bodensee Restaurant or the oldest German restaurant in town, the Old Heidleberg. Hofer’s of Helen is a bakery and cafe, but its grill specialties such as Sauerbraten mit Rotkohl und Spatzle, marinated roasted beef served with homemade spatzle and red cabbage, are sure to fill you up.
True to its German culture, beer is important in Helen. King Ludwig’s Biergarten has several German specialty beers on tap, including Warsteiner Dunkel, Warsteiner Pils ner and Paulaner Oktoberfest. If sweets are your vice of choice, Hansel and Gretel Candy Kitchen is fully stocked with handmade chocolates, fudge and pralines.
Leaving Helen empty-handed won’t be possible once you get to the town square. Storefronts line up with souvenirs and collectibles, many handmade or from Germany.
Classics, an import gift shop, is filled with colorful inventory from the owner’s trips to Europe. Some of its specialties are musical cuckoo clocks from the Black Forest, German nutcrackers and porcelain dolls. It also has a collection of authentic German dirndl and lederhosen. You’ll get to take a piece of Helen home with you as a reminder of your trip, or just to show off to your friends who couldn’t make it.