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October 15, 2009 | 12:00 a.m. CST
As men in lederhosen play traditional German music, crowds of people wander from winery to winery and sample Hermann’s annual Octoberfest treats. Inviting signs that read Willkommen line the picture-perfect streets that have quieted since Hermann’s more unruly days. But even when the festivities end at the close of the month, this town of a little more than 2,500 has lots to offer throughout the year.
Hermann is home to a burgeoning arts scene, the center of which is the Künstlerhaus Gallery on East 1st Street. Converted from a bar to a studio and gallery, the Künstlerhaus sells works from about 40 Missouri artists and provides studio space for several, including the three co-owners and founders, Joey Los, Dave Ludig and Artur Hohl.
In the year 9 A.D., the warrior Hermann liberated Germania from the Romans. In the year 2009 A.D., the proud residents of Hermann, Mo. celebrated the 2,000th anniversary of this victory with the formal dedication of a bronze statue of the warrior.
In 1836, the German Settlement Society of Philadelphia founded Hermann because they thought the lush, rolling hills of Missouri resembled their native Rhineland. A vision of a self-supporting community to preserve German traditions attracted German professionals and artisans who developed the town’s distinct architecture, commerce and winemaking industry.
Before Prohibition, Hermann’s Stone Hill Winery, home to the cavernous stone wine cellars and red brick buildings that overlook the town, was the second largest in the country and third largest in the world.
Since the 1950s, the people of Hermann have shown renewed interest in the town’s history. Today, the landscape of Hermann is scattered with historic homes and picturesque steeples. Visitors can relive the past through the annual Octoberfest and Maifest celebrations, the German School Museum and the Deutschheim State Historic Site, which features two restored traditional German homes and a German artifacts and photographs display.
At first, the gallery can be a bit of a sensory overload; the walls are lined with original paintings and pieces of furniture cover the floor. By the entrance sits an upright piano that Ludig occasionally plays as visitors meander. Nearby is the work of this month’s featured artist, Beth Gramith. Her display includes colorful, African-inspired paintings, pottery and a zebra-skin rug. But there is more to Hermann’s art scene than just the Künstlerhaus.
The streets of Hermann are packed with local restaurants, bars and shops that sell everything from flowers and farm equipment to arts and antiques. Quiet in the morning, the streets become lively when the ferver of Octoberfest spills over from the wineries.
One of the many shops on Hermann’s main drag, Blanche’s on 1st Street, sells a variety of imported German goods, crafts and ornaments. On the first cold fall day, Blanche’s is warm and inviting. Cinnamon aromas from owner Sue Ott’s homemade soy candles fill the room. Octoberfest is one of her busiest times of year, and her German Santa Claus-shaped incense burners become a popular item.
Outside of downtown, many local artisans have businesses in their homes. Mary Fritz’s Windy Hill Cut Flower Farm is a bountiful garden full of colorful flowers and plants that almost obscure her home from street view. The house incorporates the property’s pre-existing log cabin, and the greenhouse is a renovated chicken coop. With more than 350 varieties of plants and flowers, and 100 weddings and other events every year, business is blooming.
Fritz’s farm is a perfect example of the art community and culture in Hermann; Ludig carved and painted the custom German signs on each of the property’s buildings. The town thrives on events such as this weekend’s Art Walks and Talks, which will feature artists throughout the town speaking about their work and giving demonstrations. Hermann often hosts functions such as this each year, and a little wine is a great introduction to the town.
“There’s plenty of live music and a theater here,” Los says. “Come and see an actual thriving, small community — and that’s rare in this day in age.”