Featured Photo by Oktoberfest In The Amana Colonies
Experience German Culture At The Amana Colonies
The Great River Road in Iowa travels through many unique Iowa cities like Dubuque and Davenport, but veering west from the Mississippi River can take you to some great parts of the state if you’re willing to travel a little. One of these amazing places is The Amana Colonies. Located west of Iowa City, The Amana Colonies are made up of seven scenic villages originally settled by Germans during the nineteenth century. Today, German heritage is still very important in the Colonies, influencing their architecture, food, wine and beer, and handcrafted goods.
The Amana Colonies are split up by village and each colony offers the opportunity for you to try something new and learn about the German heritage, history, and culture. At times, a visit to Amana will feel like stepping back in time to another world and culture, giving you an experience that might be difficult to recreate anywhere else. With all there is to do in the Colonies, here are a few places to start out when planning your visit.
Photo by Amana Colonies
One guaranteed way to get your fill of German culture is by stepping into the many craft shops that feature handcrafted goods and antiques. A great place to start is Heritage Designs Quilting & Needlework, a charming little quilt shop in the heart of historic Amana. Setting up shop in a renovated old granary from 1895, the shop sells quilts and quilting materials, counted cross-stitch, punch needle, embroidery, and tatting. Along similar lines is Amana Colonies Antiques featuring authentic antiques ranging from old toys, advertisements, vintage paper, and primitives, to quilts, paintings, and household items.
If you’re more interested in furniture and décor, two great places to stop by are Schanz Furniture and Refinishing and AJ’s Copper Garden. The former specializes in beautiful hand-crafted wooden furniture, and the latter offers an exotic collection of copper and metal garden ornaments. But if you are really excited about experiencing the culture in the Amana Colonies, the High Amana Store is one stop you will not want to pass up. Built in 1857, the store is both a museum and shop in one, offering hard-to-find trinkets and unique treasures, as well as an assortment of handmade goods.
Photo by Millstream Brewing Co.
It would be hard to celebrate the German heritage in the Amana Colonies without recognizing the influences left on the wineries and breweries. In the early days of the communal society, 5 breweries were established to serve the village. Today, there is just one brewery in the Colonies, the Millstream Brewing Company, but it is home to Iowa’s Oldest operational brewery, award-winning beers, and great live music and events. Your visit would not be complete without stopping at the Millstream Brau Haus where they serve German inspired food, along with a large selection of Millstream Beers.
If you’re more of a wine fan, you’ll be pleased to know that making and drinking wine was a big part of German culture, which is why there are 60 different types of wine in the Amana Colonies today. To try some of these wines, you can stop into one of the six wineries, or make a day of it and visit all of them. If both sweet and traditional wines are your taste, Fireside Winery, Ackerman Winery, and Prosit Wines can best meet your needs. For a larger selection of sweet and fruity wines, you should stop by Village Winery, but if you enjoy more traditional German and French wines, White Cross Cellars is the place to go.
Photo by Oktoberfest In The Amana Colonies
Visiting the Amana Colonies during one of their five annual festivals is a great way to immerse yourself in German heritage and have a great time while doing so. Throughout the year, the Colonies celebrate authentic German festivals to honor their history and carry on the traditions of the people who once lived there. These festivals include Oktoberfest, Tannenbaum Forest, Prelude To Christmas and Winterfest during the fall and winter, and Maifest and Wurst Festival during the spring and summer.
The most well-known of these festivals is of course Oktoberfest, which is celebrated around the world each year, and in the Amana Colonies is celebrated in true German fashion. To the folks in Amana, this means polka, brats, beer, and dressing up in traditional German garb, along with a city-wide celebration throughout the seven colonies with cultural events and festivities. No matter which festival you might choose to attend, you will be greeted with welcoming arms and smiles and encouraged to join in on the fun.
Photo by Amana Heritage Society
There is no shortage of history and culture in the Amana Colonies and if you are interested in learning about the area and original settlers there are plenty of places in the colonies to do so. A great place to start is the Amana Heritage Society Museum, which is made up of three 19th century buildings that display and present artifacts and photos from past Amana. Here you can explore the original buildings built before the 1900s and learn what daily life was like for the first villagers.
Some historical places you want to be sure to see are the original washhouse/woodshed, which houses wine-making and gardening displays, the communal-era kitchen, the church museum, and the General Store. These locations will give you a better idea of day-to-day work such as the cooper shop and the blacksmith shop. Each location you visit will have a friendly staff to interpret the artifacts and present the rich history of the buildings and people who lived and worked there.
Another unique experience in the Amana Colonies is trying the authentic German influenced cuisine, which the colonies are praised for. The various restaurants and shops offer both traditional family-style meals, such as at the Ox Yoke Inn, and communal dining experiences, like the Ronneburg Restaurant, much like their ancestors would have shared meals giving an authentic dining experience. Many of the restaurants also use locally sourced ingredients such as the popular meats cured at the Amana Meat Shop and Smokehouse.
Other places to stop for food include The Chocolate Haus and Hahn’s Hearth Oven Bakery for your sweet tooth, or the Amana Colonies Popcorn and Ice Cream Company for a quick snack. If you can’t decide where to begin, many of the shops offer free samples and you can sample your way through the village getting a taste of all the baked goods, sausages, jams, jellies, and chocolate.
I am a student, aspiring writer, and avid reader of books. My favorite things in the world are my German Shepherds and hiking in Colorado.