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Welcome to Frankenmuth, the bizarre ‘German’ city that could swing the US election

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Visitors to the bizarre city of Frankenmuth are greeted by a colorful sign bearing the German word for welcome, ‘Willkommen’.

There’s toytown Old World architecture and plenty of beer, bratwurst and lederhosen. Outside Cheese Haus, owned by the same family for generations, locals carve blocks of cheddar into towering sculptures at a festival each June. 

You’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve stumbled across a quaint European city. But Cheese Haus is not in rural Germany, it’s on Main Street in heartland America because Frankenmuth is slap bang in the middle of key election swing state Michigan

Known as Michigan’s Little Bavaria (after the German state) and home to about 5,000 residents, the city is famous for its Oktoberfest – which holds the honor of being the first official celebration of the festival outside Munich.

Joe Biden comfortably won Michigan in the 2020 election but Donald Trump holds a narrow lead in the polls there for November’s rematch. Frankenmuth is Trump country – and if Trump is to return to the White House he needs the kind of dominant win there that he managed over Hillary Clinton in 2016.  

The majority of Frankenmuth's residents have voted for Donald Trump in the past two elections - but greater Saginaw County, an electoral bellwether, is far less predictable

The majority of Frankenmuth’s residents have voted for Donald Trump in the past two elections – but greater Saginaw County, an electoral bellwether, is far less predictable

Frankenmuth is a uniquely German-themed city nestled alongside the Cass River in Michigan

Frankenmuth is a uniquely German-themed city nestled alongside the Cass River in Michigan

The name Frankenmuth itself is distinctly German - with 'Franken' serving as a nod to the region of Franconia and 'mut' meaning 'courage'

The name Frankenmuth itself is distinctly German – with ‘Franken’ serving as a nod to the region of Franconia and ‘mut’ meaning ‘courage’

Biden took 33% of the city’s vote against Trump but Clinton managed only 26% – that helped Trump claim the state of Michigan by a tiny 0.23% margin in his 2016 triumph.

Saginaw County, where Frankenmuth is based, could barely be tighter in electoral terms. Trump won by about 1,000 votes in 2016 and lost by only 300 votes in 2020.

Considering Michigan’s history as a swing state, Trump’s success in counties with inconsistent voting records could be pivotal to his chances come November.

Since 1992, Saginaw County’s residents has selected the statewide winner in every election, making it an electoral bellwether.

Among the 24 cities in Saginaw, Frankenmuth is arguably the most distinctive. 

It is nestled on the banks of the Cass River, roughly 90 miles northwest of Detroit, and has taken its history very seriously for centuries.

The area was settled in 1845 by a small band of Germans led by the Reverend August Craemer. 

The municipality is home to the Frankenmuth Cheese Haus and themed events like an annual Oktoberfest celebration and open-air Christmas market

The municipality is home to the Frankenmuth Cheese Haus and themed events like an annual Oktoberfest celebration and open-air Christmas market

The city's architecture features archways, towers and timber frames, all staples of Franconian design

The city’s architecture features archways, towers and timber frames, all staples of Franconian design 

The area was settled in 1845 by a small band of Germans and has preserved its rich history ever since

The area was settled in 1845 by a small band of Germans and has preserved its rich history ever since

Winters also have a cosy German feel, with an enormous Christmas tree adorned with 32,000 lights that blink in time to festive music

Winters also have a cosy German feel, with an enormous Christmas tree adorned with 32,000 lights that blink in time to festive music

On January 3, 1854, residents formally organized as a township. The Village of Frankenmuth came into existence in 1904, and the municipality achieved city status on October 1, 1959.

Since then, Frankenmuth has preserved its history, including its distinctive name – with ‘Franken’ serving as a nod to the region of Franconia and ‘mut’ being the German word for ‘courage.’

Most striking of all is the city’s architecture, featuring archways, towers and timber frames, all staples of Franconian design.

‘The City of Frankenmuth is proud of its Bavarian heritage, traditional small town appeal and strong downtown development pattern,’ read guidelines laid out in a city ordinance.

‘Bavarian architecture is not required, however, incorporating accurate Bavarian architecture in new buildings, renovations or expansions is welcomed and encouraged.’ 

The guidelines dictate that at least half of the front façade of any street-facing ‘principal building’ must be constructed of brick, stone, or cut concrete block.

Frankenmuth is also home to some uniquely German events. Every May, the municipality hosts the World Expo of Beer, Michigan’s largest beer sampling event.

This is not to be confused with Oktoberfest, which has been celebrated in the city for over 30 years.

Following an official proclamation from the German parliament in 1996, Frankenmuth’s Oktoberfest became the first to operate with the blessing of the original celebration in Munich.

With the proclamation, Munich’s Hofbrauhaus brewery also began shipping their beer to the United States for the first time in history. The brewery became the event’s official beer sponsor in 1997.

Every May, the city hosts the World Expo of Beer, Michigan's largest beer sampling event

Every May, the city hosts the World Expo of Beer, Michigan’s largest beer sampling event

The Frankenmuth Cheese House celebrated its reopening in 2018 with a 1,375-pound cheese sculpture

The Frankenmuth Cheese House celebrated its reopening in 2018 with a 1,375-pound cheese sculpture

Frankenmuth is also known for its chicken dinners, and two restaurants - Zehnder's and the Bavarian Inn - turn out more than two million of them each year

Frankenmuth is also known for its chicken dinners, and two restaurants – Zehnder’s and the Bavarian Inn – turn out more than two million of them each year

The chicken is served alongside buttered noodles and old-fashioned German stuffing

The chicken is served alongside buttered noodles and old-fashioned German stuffing

The municipality of roughly 5,000 residents is billed as Michigan's 'Little Bavaria'

The municipality of roughly 5,000 residents is billed as Michigan’s ‘Little Bavaria’ 

Frankenmuth is known for its chicken dinners. At the aptly named Bavarian Inn Restaurant, families crowd in to eat traditional chicken dishes with sauerkraut, gravy, buttered noodles and old-fashioned German stuffing. 

Frankenmuth’s open-air Christmas market, or Christkindlmarkt, is a staple that draws tourists from across the country. It includes more than 80 vendors and glühwein, warm German spiced wine.

For the annual Bavarian Festival, polka bands and costumed entertainers take to the downtown streets. The event features a traditional maypole, which is the centerpiece of many European folk festivals.

Attendees people dance around the pole, which is adorned with flowers, tethered by long ribbons affixed to the top of the pole.

The Cheese Haus has been in the town since 1968. It has a 1,375-pound cheese sculpture and a 74-foot tower where tours about cheese-making are given by animatronics clad in lederhosen and other traditional attire.

Frankenmuth boasts two indoor waterpark hotels and in the winter, a Christmas tree adorned with 32,000 lights that twinkle in time to festive music.

‘Willkommen. In German it means welcome. An offer to come and join in,’ reads the city’s official website.

‘When we need to simplify the agenda, when we need to spend the whole day with our kids, instead of just hearing about it right before bed, stop by and feel the warm welcome of Frankenmuth, where you are sure to find the simple joys of life.’



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