On Saturday, Rich and I, along with two buses of IBMers and their families, journeyed to the Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth, Washington. The trip had been arranged by the Washington IBM Club, which coordinates social and cultural activities for employees.
The trip had been very well planned and included several surprises. First, there was a goody bag on every bus seat, filled with cheeses, crackers, granola bar, candy, juice, and an IBM luggage tag and koozy (the foam sleeve you place over cans to keep them cold.
In addition, the host held a raffle during the first leg of the trip. Because Rich and I were on the smaller bus that held just 23 passengers, our odds of winning were substantially greater than if we’d been on the larger coach.
The first name drawn was mine. I won a large milk chocolate Santa. Rich’s name was drawn a few minutes later and he became the recipient of a See’s Candies gift certificate for one pound of chocolate. Yesterday, he promptly exchanged the certificate for a box of dark chocolates.
The drive to Leavenworth, which is east of Seattle, was a little over two hours. Enough time to read a People magazine then take a quick snooze.
Leavenworth was originally a timber community with the second largest sawmill in the state. It was also the headquarters of the Great North Railroad in the early 1900’s. When the railroad relocated in the 1920’s, the town’s economy followed.
In 1962, the townsfolk decide to revitalize the town by turning it into a mock Bavarian village. The setting of Leavenworth, in a mountainous valley with snow-capped mountains, helps perpetrate the Teutonic illusion. Almost all of the buildings, including the turn-of-the-century buildings with Western-style facades, are dripping with frescos of people in Lederhosen and dirndls, chalets, coats-of-arms, and other Germanic images, along with ornate woodwork, shutters, planter boxes, and whimsical railings on the balconies and edges of roofs. Even the motels and apartments were turned into pensions, chalets, and villas.
Leavenworth is almost too perfect in its idealized depiction of a Bavarian village. It borders on Disneyland with most of the shops catering to tourists, offering everything from apple strudel to nutcrackers, beer steins, cuckoo clocks, music boxes, cheeses, cured meats, chocolates, clothing, jewelry. and collectibles from around the world.
Rich and I weren’t ideal tourists, purchasing a calzone, slice of pizza and glass of Hefeweizen for lunch, and two brownies and coffee later in the day. We looked, but didn’t buy another else.
We also visited the Nutcracker Museum, which has over 5,000 nutcrackers. I found the museum, history and variety of nutcrackers to be fascinating. They had a metal nutcracker from ancient Rome, along with thousands of traditional nutcrackers that had been carved to resemble characters from Star Wars and Disney cartoons to American founding fathers, Mormon missionaries, Halloween ghosts and vampires, pilgrims, soldiers, dentists, carpenters… actually any character, profession, or celebrity that you can imagine. There were also nutcrackers from around the world, made from ivory, wood, metal, and even porcelain.
If you find yourself in Leavenworth, definitely visit the Nutcracker Museum!
As the light started to fade, the main street filled with people who, like Rich and I, arrived on buses… dozens and dozens of buses. Rich commented that he’d never been in a place with so many people.
Mingling in the crowds were several Santa’s, a Father Christmas in a long green velvet robe with white fur trim, and people in traditional German costumes. In addition, many people wore silly hats. See if you can spot the Santa in the picture to the right.
By the time the lighting ceremony was ready to begin, the street was shoulder-to-shoulder of people, from one of the street to the other. Thousands of people.
The program began with the requisite speeches by the mayor, event organizer, junior and senior beauty queens, and other local VIPs. A group of local musicians then played a dreary Germanic tune, followed by a women who sang Silent Night in both English and German. And that’s when it hit me…
Did hordes of German’s sing Christmas carols while Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and other deemed undesirables barely survived in concentration camps? Of course they did. The thought brought me to tears. It didn’t matter that the town was truly lovely as thousands of lights wrapped around trees, buildings, and displays were illuminated. I couldn’t push out of my mind the idea of people celebrating when others were suffering.
It was if we were in a Brave New World feelie. Our senses were delighted with the lights, costumes, music, and exhilaration of the crowd singing and being merry. When we left the "theater" and took our seats on the buses back home, we’d realize that nothing was real. And may be we felt a little guilty over the pleasure.