To be honest, I never imagined myself describing central Missouri as “a lot like Europe.”
But just an hour east of Columbia is Hermann, a historically German town nestled on the Missouri River that is about as close as it’s going to get.
I ventured to Hermann this weekend for Oktoberfest and discovered a quaint and picturesque town filled with old-time German-American architecture, local businesses, gorgeous scenery and a whole lot of wine.
According to the city’s website, the German Settlement Society of Philadelphia founded Hermann in the 1830s with the utopian German-American ideals of a self-sufficient town supported by farming, commerce and industry, and it’s obvious that they’ve stayed consistent to their paragon.
The foundation for Hermann’s charm is in its geographic affluence: rolling hills, vineyards and picturesque foliage in the middle of the Missouri Rhineland. Red brick buildings and pedestrian-friendly walkways supplement the town’s natural beauty. Hermann is a small town, with a population of 2,431, but its local attractions bring in an abundance of tourists eager to explore restaurants, wineries, museums, shops and biergartens.
Downtown Hermann is full of local galleries and shops that are both uniquely German and entirely Midwestern, including antique shops that sell everything from vintage Viceroy advertisements to mid-century Scandinavian furniture. The restaurant-to-population ratio is incredibly high — there are bistros, barbeque spots, corner taverns and local deli and ice cream shops to choose from. There are also four museums chronicling the state and city’s history: the Deutschheim State Historic Site, the Historic Hermann Museum at the old German School, the Gasconade County Historical Archives and Record Center and the Hermann Fire Company Museum.
You can’t mention Hermann without including its wineries (according to the city’s chamber of commerce, it’s the “Birthplace of Missouri Wine Country.”) While the hilly topography might not be ideal for agricultural self-sufficiency, it’s obviously suitable for vineyards. There are two wineries downtown and several more just a few miles outside of the city limits.
For my own Oktoberfest escapades, I visited Hermannhof Vineyards. Hermannhof is located in the heart of the town and claims a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. The historic brick building has a large patio lying right next to grassy hills and its own vineyards. The winery sells and produces their house-brand wines and for Oktoberfest, they also have live German music and entertainment.
Located just 65 miles southeast of Columbia, Hermann is an attainable and convenient chance to pick up a bit of German culture in the heart of Missouri. It’s accessible from the Katy Trail, which provides the perfect opportunity to spend the day biking to enjoy Missouri’s scenery and burn off the impending boozy calories.
Hermann is worth the drive any time of the year, but if you want to experience Oktoberfest the town is celebrating every weekend this month.