Tag Archives: German Village

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. 

Columbus Ohio: A Breath of Spring

22 Apr

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About this time every year Kris and I jump in the car and head about 3 hours south to Columbus Ohio to get a little head start on Spring. You wouldn’t think there would be much of a difference 200 miles south of here, but there is! We head out of town under a perfectly clear blue sky, by the time we reach Columbus the temperature is in the 70’s. Last time we were in town we read about an upcoming exhibit on the 1950’s at the Ohio History Center Museum, this is our first stop.  Of course the first image most people conjure up of the 50’s is poodle skirts, juke boxes and Happy Days-like scenes. The pop culture, music, art, literature and design of that decade defined our country; the influence of that time is still apparent today.

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The exhibit is titled “1950’s Building The American Dream”, to the right a shiny silver Airstream is hooked up to beautiful copper 1957 Chevy Bellaire. Just inside the exhibit a reel mower rests along the fence of a perfectly manicured Astroturf lawn belonging to a  real, full size, completely furnished Lustron home. This is what we came for. After WWII 12 million soldiers returned home, there was a housing shortage, prefab houses were seen as a quick solution to the problem, thus the Lustron home was born, er, manufactured. The steel houses were made like cars in a former aircraft plant in Columbus Ohio. Flatbed trucks would deliver the porcelain enamel-coated steel panels to the concrete foundation the home would sit on. Panels were assembled with nuts and bolts, the whole process took about two weeks. Radiant heating was installed in the ceiling, china cabinets, book cases, cabinets and shelves were built-in. Houses were one-story ranch style, you could choose from three floor plans and four color combos.

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Cardboard cut-outs of the ideal family greet us at the front of the home; dad looks dapper in his overcoat and hat, while mom looks lovely in her matching red coat and hat, holding her baby daughter in one hand and a homemade pie in the other. Just inside the front door we enter the authentically furnished family room; Nat King Cole croons from the nearby record player, period newspapers and magazines rest neatly on an end table, I think my grandmother may have had a jaguar lamp like the one on top of the television set. The house is full of visitors like us, signs encourage us to make ourselves at home; little girls play dress up and walk about wearing hats and dresses from back in the day. A boy about 8 is putting on the old adjustable metal roller skates to give roller skating a whirl. Down the hall we pass a full bathroom complete with tub/shower, every detail has been seen to right down to the Stag after-shave powder.

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The next room belongs to the little boy in the family, the Roy Rodgers inspired curtains and bedspread are awesome. A young boy sits on the floor playing with Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys, they don’t even need batteries. At the end of the hall is the Master Bedroom, I feel like I’ve just walked into my grandmothers bedroom; the vanity is built-in, vintage jewelry, hat boxes and a brush and mirror set are laid out for us to see. Closet doors slide open and closed, one is open to reveal what mom and dad would be wearing. This is a hands-on exhibit, we are welcome to try things on, sit on the furniture and play. In the main living area the dining room table is set for dinner, a cart acts as a portable bar complete with liquor bottles, ice bucket and glasses. The kitchen is a world all its own; magnets hold recipes to the metal walls, cabinets are filled with cool vintage dishes, a single-handle white Frigidaire keeps the food cold, the most interesting appliance is the combination dishwasher—-washing machine. Yes, that’s right folks, with the turn of a dial you can go from washing your dirty clothes to cleaning the dinner dishes! We pass through the laundry room complete with a clothes wringer and ironing board on our way to the backyard. 

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This was the ideal of what every backyard was supposed to look like in 1950; a picnic table and bbq are in the back corner, Jarts and Hula-Hoops encourage family fun and then there’s the hatch leading to the bomb shelter…. Lustron built homes from 1948 until 1950 when the company went bankrupt, a total of 2,498 were built, few remain, which is why it is such a treat to be able to see the real thing in person. We walk through the rest of the exhibit with its examples of life in the 50’s; tricycles, rocking horses, a coke machine, cigarette machine and juke box, have I mentioned aprons were a big thing? One vignette shows what a bride and groom would wear to their wedding along with examples of gifts they would receive. It has been fun traveling back in time.

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Kris drives us over to the German Village neighborhood where we have booked a room for the night through airbnb. This is where we will be spending the rest of our time in Columbus and it is absolutely the most quaint part of the city. Our host has arranged everything for our arrival including a parking permit that allows us to park right by our door, hooray. The house is located on Schiller Park, we are mere steps away from the tranquil setting and within walking distance to restaurants, shops and cafes. Our room is lovely, the home was built in 1814 and retains its historic charm, the fresh roses and chocolates make us feel welcome.

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It’s late and we have yet to have dinner. After freshening up we head out on foot in search of food. We meander down uneven brick streets, leaded glass windows glow with light from within, gas lanterns and lampposts illuminate many of the old-fashioned homes, flowering trees perfume the air. When we reach Mohawk Street we head to The Old Mohawk (naturally).  The building has operated as a tavern since 1933, the current owners have been here since 1977. This is definitely a neighborhood joint, patrons all seem to know one another as well as the staff. The interior is cozy with its brick walls, tin ceilings and horseshoe-shaped bar. First out of the kitchen is an order of corn nuggets: dollops of creamed corn deep-fried and served with house made salsa, I love these! The burger arrives soon after, a half-pound patty topped with sautéed mushrooms, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, served with a side of fries. It doesn’t take long for the food to disappear.

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We step outside to a mild night resembling summer more than spring. Walking through German Village the patio of Lindey’s is still lively; patio tables are lit by candles, a fountain trickles in the distance, cocktails anyone? Crossing through the patio gate we take a table fountainside, cocktail menus are delivered along with glasses of ice water. I sip on a chocolate martini, Kris savors his Old Fashioned, it’s 10 pm on a Friday night in April and we’re sitting outdoors having drinks, life is good.

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COLUMBUS: Deco, Dirt Bikes and Dining

29 Apr

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Every Spring, just before Easter,Kris and I make a trip down to Columbus Ohio.   This trip we had a specific destination in mind: the Ohio Judicial Center. We have been driving by this extraordinary building each time we come to the city, this time we wanted to tour the inside. That meant we had to hop on the freeway instead of taking our usual leisurely route, that’s ok, this place is worth it! The official name of the building is The Thomas J Moyer Ohio Judicial Center, it is home to the Supreme Court of Ohio and it’s affiliated offices, along with the Ohio Court of Claims, the Ohio Judicial Conference and the Law Library. It is SPECTACULAR!! Really….The building opened in 1933, it was referred to as “Ohio’s Pride”,  with good reason. Once inside we were greeted at the front desk, we inquired about looking around the place and were told we could. We handed over our driver’s license, copies were made and badges created, ah yes, the post 911 world. Next up security; we placed our metal objects on the conveyor belt as we ourselves walked through the metal detector, no beeps, we were free to roam!

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The interior is an Art Deco wonderland; floor to ceiling it is a masterpiece. The Grand Concourse is an architectural gem and a tribute to the craftsmen of the time. Marble lined walls run the length of the building. Bronze images of Ohio governmental leaders line the east and west walls. Meeting Room 102 is stunning; 11 murals swathe the walls. Scenes painted in bright colors tell us the story of Ohio’s growth and development. The courtroom is next; the room is ornate and complex, a mix of Rococo, Art Deco and Renaissance styles, it is best to look at it one feature at a time. The ceiling is the most ornate; divided into five sections it represents Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. Gold leaf sparkles on the coffered ceiling details, elegant light fixtures hang from above. 15 murals and walnut panels encase the walls, public seats are refurbished originals. Hearing room 106 is adorned with 11 murals titled The Progress of Industry, they have a bit of a Diego Rivera feel to them and again they are wonderful. To the elevator lobby; both ends of the stairwell feature lavish mosaics, elevator door panels are bas-relief bronze carvings, vestibule ceilings are embellished with murals, even the cornices are garnished! The ground floor decor is dedicated to Ohio’s American Indian history; again we have mosaic ceilings, carved elevator doors, and these fantastic bow-and-arrow light fixtures, a visitor education center tells the story of Ohio courts. The 11th floor is the home of the Law Library; oil paintings represent the evolution of law in western civilization. The Law Library reading room is another knock-out; here the murals represent the history of the printed word, Dale Chihuly blown-glass sculptures grace the east and west ends of the room. The light fixtures are fabulous, the wooden door frame is exquisite. There is a wonderful atrium on the 13th floor; from here you can gaze up to the 14th and 15th floors. In this particular area the decor leans more toward the moderne style; the light fixtures and decorative railings are superb. While we were up here we took advantage of the wonderful view of the city and the river.

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Click HERE for Deco slideshow

We had built up a hearty appetite, we decided to have lunch the iconic restaurant in German Village called Schmidts. The Schmidt family has been in the food business since 1886, the restaurant is located in a historic brick livery stable. When you step inside you are face to face with the desserts, most famous are the jumbo cream puffs; 1/2 lb of whipped filling stuffed inside a delicate pastry shell, save room for this one. The interior is much of what you’d expect from a traditional German restaurant; wood furnishings, German flags, traditional costumes, beer and of course German fare. For an appetizer we had the sauerkraut bratwurst balls, coated in a crispy batter and served with a mustard dipping sauce, they were delicious. For the entrée we chose the saurbraten; tender braised beef sliced and served with spatzel and the unique gingersnap gravy, there’s nothing like it.

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There was enough time in the day to make the short drive to Pickerington and check out the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum. The main floor hosts the Hall of Fame inductees; legends of the track, road and trails in the motorcycling world. Rotating exhibits fill the remainder of the floor space, it makes the experience new each time you visit. The new display was all about dirt-track racing in America; the photos are amazing. I was open-mouthed as I read the details of the riders feats and accomplishments. Kris is always excited to check out anything mechanical so this place is right up his alley. He fondly remembered the  uncommon dirt bikes of his youth; Hodaka, Yankee, Bultaco and Husquvarna, names he had long forgotten. Vintage Harley Davidson’s seemed to be everywhere; from dirt to street in every decade. The museum is laid out in an easy to follow manner, lots of bikes on display to ooh and ahh over, they do a wonderful job telling the story of the motorcycle community.

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After a little relaxation in our room we were ready for dinner. We headed to Haiku in the Short North District on High Street. They have a lovely setting for outdoor dining, but it was too chilly so we settled for the indoors.The vibe at Haiku is mellow, the decor modern Asian, the menu is large with a nice variety of items. There were a few special rolls for the evening, not knowing which to choose we asked the couple at the next table for their recommendation. With their suggestions and a couple of our own choosing we placed our order.  Service can be hit or miss here, this visit it was on the slow side. At last, our food arrived and everything was quite good. It had been a long day so we stopped for a nightcap before going back to our room for the evening. As much as we like the different districts in Columbus, we are always drawn back to German Village. This time we stopped in at Club 185 on Livingston Ave. The place is gorgeous inside; vintage everything from the spectacular and unusual tin ceiling to the red brick walls, hardwood floors and furnishings. Though it has served many purposes through the decades, it has been a bar since 1954. It has a great laid back and welcoming feeling, making it a popular destination; the photo booth is a fun addition. We sat at the bar and enjoyed our drinks as we talked with the bartender about the building and the city, it was the perfect ending to a great day.

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