How a Fake Bavarian Town Won My Soul

“Well, it’s under a bridge,” I tell her. “About a mile down the Wenatchee River after you hook a left onto Icicle Road. But that doesn’t do it justice. You kinda have to see it…or understand it…and understand me I guess.”

Air Canada flight 557 is taking its sweet, sweet time departing out of Toronto on a late fall evening on a direct back to Seattle. My row partner happens to be making her first trek to the states and is burning for details about what makes the Pacific Northwest such a great place to visit. It’s too early in our meeting to deep dive into the power of Northwest Soul, so I start with the basics.

We chitter chat about the rain, the delightfulness of great coffee, endless evergreens, Seattle’s exploding micro-brew scene and of course…those mountains. It’s the last topic that seems to catch her interest. “Yessss! Mountains!!!” she yelps with a perfect French accent. “You have no idea how long I’ve waited to hike these mountains you describe. I can’t wait to go!!”

We chat about the region’s infamous two ranges, the Cascades and Olympics, discussing the merits and “must-sees” of each. We talk about the perfection that is fall hiking in the Northwest and flip through a couple trail guides she has brought along to help plan her most important of important decisions.

As our conversation continues, I come to learn that my new flight pal is planning to take a trip to central Washington to visit a small Bavarian-themed German town called Leavenworth. My eyes light up as I hear her utter one of my favorite words. “Oh, you mean Faxuvaria,” I shoot back with a quick correction. “Huh, what do you mean?” she asks.

I go on to describe what quickly became my most cherished little town in Washington (ahem…the world??). I proceed to break it down by first describing Fauxvaria (Fake-Bavaria) according to how most see it. “Sure, it’s a fun little fake Bavarian-themed German town…and that’s how probably 95% of it’s visitors perceive it…but it’s so, so much more than that.”

You see, for most, Leavenworth is a quirky stop-in. A pullover to stretch the legs, try on a crazy hat at the hat shop, or grab a German sausage and ice cream cone before continuing along into the eye-popping Tumwater Canyon along Highway 2. For me, it’s always been much more.

I’ll never forget my first drive out to Leavenworth in the summer of 2010 after moving back to Washington and settling into Seattle. It had been some 20 years since I had visited the town. The sun was shining on a crystal clear summer day, the tunes cranked and the joy and excitement of a new adventure was all I could think about. In the six years since that visit, I can’t count the number of times I’ve returned. From summer and winter cabin weekends with friends to extensive day hikes and camping adventures to river floats and skiing, it’s been a special place chalk full of amazing memories.

At one point in my reflections of Fauxvaria to my row mate, I started to hone in on a particularly special place in town. As I described the little entrance to the Wenatchee river, I suddenly realized how ridiculous I sounded. “Yes, correct…it’s actually under a bridge.”

It’s there that I’ve had many life-affirming dips into the frigid river and spent hours on end without a care in the world, relaxed as can be. Welcomed and said goodbye to our cherished Northwest summers. Shared laughs with family and friends. Paused an extra moment to get personal clarity before moving on to my next adventure in life.

Simply put, I’m glad we found each other Fauxvaria. You’re escape. You’re community. You’re local. You’re a guaranteed great memory waiting to be made and I look forward to many more adventures. I hope others who visit realize the value in learning about you beyond the surface And of course, I can only hope that my plane friend explored more of you beyond snapping a photo with a silly hat.