COLUMBUS, OHIO: German Village

29 Apr

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We are in the lovely, historic German Village neighborhood just south of downtown Columbus Ohio. Spring has already sprung, the temperature today is supposed to reach the low 80’s, luring us outdoors, on foot, through neighborhood streets. The first order of business is breakfast, there is a wonderful mix of small businesses nestled among charming homes in this area. Walking down 3rd St we approach a superb little bakery called Pistacia Vera, cute cafe tables are drenched in morning sun, customers sip on coffee and tea while eating fresh-baked pastries. Inside, a tantalizing array of baked goods await us, for me it doesn’t get much better than a buttery, flaky croissant, well, unless you add chocolate, pain au chocolat it is! Now we are ready to continue our expedition.

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The Village, settled by German immigrants, was mainly developed between 1840-1914, with a majority of the structures built in the last quarter of the 19th century. The jewel of the neighborhood is Schiller Park; it is the gathering place, the activity center, a place for festivals, picnics, reunions. This is where folks walk their dog, soak up the sun, take respite from a hectic day, sit by a fountain and read a good book. A sizable bronze statue of Friedrich von Schiller, the famous German poet for which the park was named, stands proudly in the park, some of his quotes are chiseled into the granite promenade near the statue. Today the roughly 23 acres are full of action; dogs race after frisbees, joggers are getting in swim-suit shape, Canada geese and ducks paddle around in the compact lake.

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The Huntington Gardens are coming to life, everything is lush and green. Square in shape, the park is bordered by some of the village’s finest homes. After walking the entire perimeter we take a seat on a bench facing the Umbrella Girl fountain; I think this is my favorite spot. The original Umbrella Girl mysteriously disappeared, Columbus sculptor Joan Wobst is responsible for the statue we see today of a young German girl in a dirndle carrying her shoes and holding an umbrella. Village native Phil Kientz designed the octagonal pond that surrounds her, if you look closely you’ll notice the designs in the sandstone resemble those found in doors and cornices throughout the neighborhood. 

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Not far from the park is Barcelona, a Spanish fusion restaurant with one of the best patios in the city. We have timed our arrival perfectly, we have our choice of tables. The space is perfect. Flower pots are brimming with colorful pansies, leafy ferns bask in the sun, water flows gently into the above ground Koi pond, blue umbrellas shield us from the warmth of the afternoon, perennials are making their return. We sip on glasses of ice water as we check out the Siesta Fiesta menu, feeling famished I think we ordered half of the menu! The plate of crusty bread and dip of olive oil and some kind of sun-dried tomato mixture disappears instantly. The parade of small plates begins. Patatas Bravas, delicious chunks of twice fried potatoes, garlic aioli and spicy tomato sauce, next, a perfectly ripe avocado stuffed with goat cheese served with a handful of mixed greens, a sun-dried tomato vinaigrette is drizzled over top of everything, then the chilled spiced peach soup, if you like peaches, you’ll love it. Then there’s the Costillas, braised beef short ribs in a Spanish blue cheese mushroom sauce a little green olive aioli and fried leeks, the meat just falls apart—- had to get more bread to soak up the amazing sauce; did I mention the Sangria…… The meal was outstanding, the atmosphere delightful, the service excellent.

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Time to walk. When we come to German Village we just wander, today tulips and daffodils are in full bloom, giant bumble bees gather by the dozens in weeping cherry blossoms. Homeowners have been busy filling urns and window boxes with pansies, violas and Gerbera Daisies. Each house is unique from the wrought iron gates to the stained glass windows. There’s a strong sense of community in the Village, residents walk down the street stopping to admire a neighbor’s yard, greetings are exchanged, compliments given. Die-hard gardeners work diligently creating manicured lawns and picture perfect landscapes; in one yard there’s a statue of a woman tending her lupines, it’s quite beautiful. Roots of mature trees have had their way with brick-paved sidewalks, it’s a good idea to glance down from time to time. This is a designated historic district, the facades of houses have changed little in the last 100 years, isn’t that wonderful?

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Jeni’s German Village is a walk-up ice cream shop consisting of a blackboard menu, take-out window and a smattering of colorful patio tables and chairs. With the old brick building as a backdrop, a string of white lights, and the tree-lined street, this sidewalk shop exudes a charm. Kris reads the list of today’s flavors, he smiles when his eyes reach Brambleberry Crisp. With cone in hand we continue our stroll. Like so many other cities or neighborhoods German Village has seen it’s share of hard times; two wars of anti-German sentiment forced changes to street names, they even changed the name of the park for a while, eventually reclaiming the name Schiller Park. This area was home to as many as seven breweries, then came prohibition, the district eventually fell into decline. In 1960 the German Village Society was formed, things started to change; homes were renovated, businesses moved in, they say it is the largest privately funded restoration in the US. It is truly the premier place to live in Columbus.

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Our time in the city is running short; we have walked for hours having seen quaint red-brick cottages, grand homes, marvelous displays of tulips. It seems every other person we pass has a four-legged companion; I have enjoyed my encounters with friendly pooches happy to get a pat on the head or a scratch behind the ears. Walking in the direction of the Jeep I see the words Chocolate and Coffee on a storefront window, our pace picks up a little. Winans Fine Chocolates and Coffees has been making fine chocolates and candy in the German tradition for 5 generations. Approaching the door a cream-colored canine is napping on the concrete, maybe he needs a shot of espresso. The shop is aromatic, a blend of fresh ground coffee and chocolate, kinda like heaven…. We are pleased to find they have cold-brewed coffee, it’s one of the best we’ve had anywhere. Now for something chocolate, the glass case has rows of amazing looking treats, shelves display boxes and bags of milk and dark varieties, but it’s the dark chocolate Oreo that calls my name.

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Contented, we head north via the scenic route. The drive is an integral part of the get-away; Kris has refined the route over the years into a pleasant 2-lane trip through farm country and tiny towns. It has been a great couple of days, though we’ve only traveled a couple of hundred miles, it feels as if we have been somewhere far away. 

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