A Culture Preserved in Brick
Don’t all urban brick roads echo the clippety-clop of horse and cart merchants? When we come across one today, it’s like glimpsing a rip in time. In Columbus, Ohio’s German Village, an old world collides with the new. It’s where the Letgo or Nextdoor App meets the rag-and-bone man who called out, “rag n’ bone!” And people would run outside to throw second-hand goods into his cart.
There’s something poetic about a stroll in German Village of Columbus. From one block to the next, the environment can go from bustling to a standstill, chitter-chatter to silence, car tires to bicycle pedals. In the shadows of downtown Columbus’ skyscrapers, buildings in the village are roofed at three stories, tops. The brick roads blend as easily with the brick walls as the storefronts do with the residential porches. And the old-world density of it forces parallel parking to get out and do what modern man has primarily forgotten to do – walk. Do it for a few blocks and try not to smile along the breezy sidewalks comingling with oak roots. And for those who are up for a type of scavenger hunt, follow The Brickline. It’s a trail from plaque to plaque throughout the village, each with its own story to tell.
German Village offers various staples for any interest, from coffee houses to neighborhood pubs, bakeries to restaurants, and mom-and-pop shops that have operated under the same family shingle for generations. But there’s an old stable, independent bookstore, sausage haus, and ice cream stand that need to be a part of any itinerary.
There’s a term, discovery shopping experience. The place for it is The Red Stable. Here, over one hundred artists’ creations are waiting to be a one-of-a-kind purchase.
Before it was a gift shop, this little red building (made of wood, not brick) was a horse livery. Then it became a wagon repair shop (not the Radio Flyer type). It even spent time as an ice house. Then came the dark ages when a combination of anti-German sentiment after the world wars and the highway system all but killed the pulse of the village. Fortunately, the German Village Society was formed to help revitalize the historic neighborhood. During this phase, The Red Stable seeded what is flourishing today. Local artist Phil Keintz opened an art studio and gift shop there and featured Ohio artists.
Today, The Red Stable, German Village Souvenirs & Gifts, features Cuckoo Clocks, candles, cards, stationery, bath and body products, plants, jewelry, clothing, gifts, and pieces of art.
A brick skips away in a former brick livery stable is five generations of German hospitality served at Schmidt’s Sausage Haus und Restaurant.
The Schmidt family name is well-known in the food industry. Their label is in the aisles of many grocery stores. Although their meatpacking house had been open for decades, their first nibble into the concession and restaurant business began with a stand at the 1914 Ohio State Fair. And it is now the second-oldest food booth at the state fair. It wasn’t until 1967 that Schmidt’s Sausage Haus opened its restaurant doors in the heart of German Village. It has been the talk of the Central Ohio food scene ever since. Be sure to try their Jumbo Cream Puffs, Alpine Chicken Spatzel, or Weiner Schnitzel und Gravy. The atmosphere, hospitality, and menu hit the trifecta in German authenticity.
To walk off a hearty meal, head over to one of the nation’s largest independent bookstores, The Book Loft.
Inside this place alone, the walk spans a city block after eight different expansions. Even for the non-reader—Willkommen! Enjoy the adventure of wandering a labyrinth of books through 32 connected rooms, each with its theme, spanning two stories. That’s after navigating the flowers, fountains, and park bench scene outside. The place is so big and windy; there are maps at the counters. Large as it is, its red awnings, red brick walls, and red brick sidewalks and patios create an ambiance of coziness. Curl up in the courtyard or a nook or cranny inside and open the pages to another world. The central courtyard displays “hurt” books at steep discounts for a bargain among the bargains.
Next door, fittingly, is Stauf’s Coffee Roasters. Take a seat and begin reading over a cup of Columbus Underground Roast.
Perhaps it’s the simple side of German Village that walks off the stress of the outside world. Walk long enough, and fantasies of moving to the neighborhood fill the mind. After all of the walking, a sweet tooth will lead to an ice cream stand along the sidewalk. It’s not just any ice cream; it’s Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream.
This seasonal walk-up “Mini Jeni’s” is inside an old neighborhood barbershop near the historic Schiller Park. For those who have trouble deciding what to get, you may be pleased to find just four choices on the menu. Place an order at the window in the brick wall and have a seat at a patio table and chair lining the wall along the sidewalk under the giant shade trees, and people watch as pedestrians gather or walk by.
Look around at the brick and ironwork forged to stand the test of time. Its architecture is out of this world, and its culture is from a bygone era.
But you can visit it anytime.
By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun