Columbus, Ohio German Village
Excerpt from a past edition of OhioTraveler by Bram Fulk
A literal stone’s throw from the heart of Ohio’s capital, German Village is one of Columbus’s oldest and most beloved historic areas. German or not, both visitors to and residents of the Village are, through its shops, restaurants, and overall period feel, able to relax and enjoy a moment apart from the life outside.
What is now known as German Village was in fact the far southern end of Columbus when the city became the capital in 1812. Settled in the early part of the 19th century by wave after wave of German immigrants, the Village served as a sort of ‘home away from home’ through both the good times of economic prosperity and the not-so-good fears and prejudices that accompanied two World Wars.
German Village as it exists today came about in the 1960s when a man by the name of Frank Fetch spearheaded a movement that established the German Village Society and eventually awarded the Village a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Restored entirely from private funding, German Village was granted by the city the ability to review and approve or deny all aesthetic amendments to the area’s exterior. This allowed the residents of German Village to preserve the traditional look and atmosphere that the area has become known.
The main draw of German Village is its distinctive collection of shops, entertainment, and eateries. All throughout the Village, visitors can find stores like the Golden Hobby Lobby, Franklin Art Glass Studios, and The Red Stable that offer a vast array of skillfully-created arts and crafts unique to the German Village area. A landmark in and of itself, The Book Loft is a 32-room, block-long book store packed so full it would take days to see everything properly.
In the summer, a group of players known as the Actors’ Theatre continuously presents a healthy dose of Shakespeare, free of charge at the outdoor amphitheatre located in beautiful Schiller Park. Local restaurants such as Juergen’s Bakery and Cafe, Katzinger’s Delicatessen, and the Old Mohawk are all known for serving up both time-honored treats and contemporary classics to placate your hunger. But, when it comes to traditional German food, there is really only one place to go.
Schmidt’s Restaurant und Sausage Haus began as a meat packing plant in 1886. Founded by a German immigrant, the J. Fred Schmidt Packing Company supplied all sorts of beef products and German sausages to customers and grocery stores alike as it was handed down, generation to generation, until the plant’s closing in 1966. In no way willing to give up the family business, the very next year third generation brothers Grover and George F. Schmidt decided to open a traditional German eatery in an old livery stable just off of Kossuth Street where customers could not only still purchase sausage made on premises from the Schmidt family’s classic recipes, but grab a bite to eat while their order was being prepared. The rest, as they say, is German Village history.
Instantly, the restaurant side of the business took off for two simple reasons: the environment and the food. The building itself has a welcome feel of casualness and comfort. The inviting interior is filled with art from both well-known German painters and local talent (including several incredible pieces by the restaurants founder, George) as well as bits and pieces of decoration from the old packing plant and other keepsakes highlighting the history of the family business.
As far as the food goes, for the German staples of bratwurst, knockwurst, sauerkraut, hot potato salad, or a half-pound vanilla cream puff, Schmidt’s really can not be beaten. In fact, fourth generation Schmidt and current operator Geoff takes pride in the fact that there are not a ton of other German restaurants around.
“There’s only one restaurant in Columbus that anybody considers German,” comments Schmidt on the lack of competition. “We’re sort of tickled to death that we’re the only kid on the block, at least in Columbus and central Ohio.”
With both growing out of the area’s revitalization in the 1960’s, it is pretty safe to say that neither Schmidt’s nor German Village would be quite the same without one another. Geoff Schmidt acknowledges this important, almost-symbiotic relationship that they share. “Schmidt’s sort of compliments German Village [and] German Village compliments Schmidt’s,” states Schmidt. “It’s so important that we always try to package the village and Schmidt’s together. It is a full deal. German Village is truly one of the more interesting areas [of Columbus] because of two things: it’s beautiful and it’s done by the individuals. It’s not a government project and I know the people who live here take pride in that.”
Even with the buildings of downtown Columbus just over your shoulder, when your tires (or your sneakers) hit the well-worn, brick-paved streets that mark the edge of the Village, you will realize you have found something special. From the look of the houses and the gardens to the experiences of food and fun, there really is no other place around that is so thoroughly infused with the feel of the Old Country’s culture than German Village.