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Little Germany

Destination: Fredericksburg

By Robert Macias

Travel time from:

  • Austin - 1.5 hours /
  • Brownsville - 6.25 hours /
  • Dallas - 4.25 hours /
  • El Paso - 7.5 hours /
  • Houston - 5 hours /
  • San Antonio - 1.25 hours
  • Lubbock - 7 hours

In the B&B capital of Texas, you’ll find lazy mornings, fine wine, good fishing and one confused rooster.

As I stared at a statue on Fredericksburg’s main square that depicts a German settler receiving a peace pipe from a Comanche chief, it occurred to me that both men must have felt somewhat lost. The Native Americans and the Germans had seen their worlds turned upside down. Many of Fredericksburg’s first residents were sons of aristocrats, well-educated but largely lacking the skills needed to survive on the frontier. In keeping with European tradition, the first son normally received the father’s entire inheritance. The second and third sons, well, they moved to Texas.

The first band of Germans arrived in 1846 under the leadership of John O. Meusebach, who worked for the Adelsverein, a controversial group of German noblemen who sought to encourage mass emigration of Germans to Texas. While the group maintained that the effort was largely philanthropic — a bold attempt to open up a new land of opportunity for Germans — critics asserted they were mostly interested in creating new markets for German goods. Also known as the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas, the Adelsverein never realized its grand vision of a new Germany in Texas, but it was instrumental in the establishment of New Braunfels and Fredericksburg (which was named for Prince Frederick of Prussia, an influential member of the Adelsverein).

One key to the German immigrants’ survival was their ability to forge peaceful relations with the Comanche tribe. Local historians say that the Meusebach-Comanche Treaty may well be the only treaty between white men and Native Americans that has never been broken. The early immigrants also benefited from the arrival of a splinter group of Mormons who settled in the community of Zodiac, four miles east of Fredericksburg. Many of the Mormons were skilled carpenters, building one of Austin’s first city jails and numerous saw and grist mills throughout Central Texas, according to The Handbook of Texas.

Each new arrival in Fredericksburg received two plots of land, one in the city and one in the country. It was customary at the time for European farmers to live in the city and travel each day to their fields. Instead, the city’s early settlers built their primary residences on the farm and constructed second, smaller “Sunday houses” in town. They would work all week on the farm and spend the weekends in town, where they’d run errands, socialize and go to church.

Many of the former Sunday houses are now charming bed- and-breakfast inns. In fact, virtually every square inch of spare living space has been converted into a bed and breakfast. Some are in former garages, backyard cabins, extra bedrooms or one half of a duplex — you can’t walk 50 feet in this town without someone offering you a hot cup of coffee and a fresh muffin.

I stayed in high style in the Hemingway room at the A.L. Patton Suites on Main. Basically a huge one-bedroom apartment, it’s in the top floor of a historic building above the Cottage Café. It’s perfect for anyone seeking total privacy. I never saw the proprietors. I picked up the keys at First Class Bed & Breakfast, and it was my own little hideaway for the next few days. Of course, that also means that the second “B” was a little lacking; breakfast consisted of coupons that could be redeemed at local eateries. Because of its central location, however, several restaurants, breakfast joints and shops of all kinds are a short walk down the road.

At one of those shops, Chocolat, I discovered one more reason why the Atkins diet is fading into oblivion. Owner and founder Lecia Duke has dubbed them “liquid center chocolates,” but frankly, I think she could use a little marketing advice. That name just doesn’t do them justice. There’s a chocolate outer coating, a small crunch, and then your entire mouth explodes with the taste of the liquid contents. Flavors range from cognac to espresso to peach nectar. They should be called Choc-Splosion or maybe Choc-O-Mite. Upstairs in the historic home that doubles as a candy factory, Duke showed us the top-secret (no photos allowed) technique she invented to produce these little chocolate grenades. Let’s just say it’s incredibly labor-intensive. You can bet Duke and her minuscule staff put in mighty long hours.

After leaving Chocolat and wandering around the main drag for a couple of hours, I realized I’d caught a bad case of knick-knack neurosis. It’s a close cousin of highway hypnosis, and it appears to be brought on by gazing at too many neatly arranged shelves lined with small gift items and endless varieties of jam. It seems to disproportionately affect the male of the species. I could see fellow sufferers scattered around town, sitting on park benches and at sidewalk cafes, staring languidly into their coffee cups. In addition to a general sense of malaise, its symptoms include the irresistible urge to escape from any building where the primary activity is shopping.

Fortunately, I would soon find the cure a few miles away. Guide Dan Cone had agreed to give me a fly-fishing lesson on the Llano River.

Along the way, however, we briefly stopped at the Castell General Store, and the owner insisted on showing me his trained rooster. On cue, the rooster savagely pecked at a singing Billy Bass toy as it writhed on the floor. Oh sure, it was funny, but then it got weird. I’ll spare you the details, but as it turned out, the pecking was only, uh, foreplay.

I left this disturbing memory behind as I waded into the cool, gently flowing water of the Llano River. Cone soon discovered that I was to be a challenging student. You see, in my younger days, I knew only cane poles, push-button Zebcos and — serious anglers, please skip the rest of this sentence — I was once the proud owner of a Pocket Fisherman. The very idea of fly-fishing had never really penetrated my consciousness until the movie A River Runs Through It plunged fly-fishing into the mainstream, as it were. The movie made it look like a manly form of water ballet, the graceful whip of the rod, the gentle curl of the line, the fly landing silently on the water’s surface. It looked so easy.

As I stood in thigh-deep water, I could see fish all around me — we were surrounded by fish, including sizeable carp, gar and bass. When Cone told me to cast to a certain area, I would inevitably hit a spot about 10 feet to the right. After several sighs, Cone decided to move on and try to teach me how to “roll cast” and “false cast.”

Roll casting was the technique I remembered from the movie. You sort of whip the line in a rolling motion and the fly is supposed to land quietly at the selected location. At least this one I could do, although I still had trouble with accuracy. False casting is a showy method used to reach a mundane goal: eliminating slack in the line. You cast forward and backward in mid-air, slowly releasing the slack until it’s all gone. I was a little fuzzy on the mid-air part and kept slapping the water in front of and behind me.

Through it all, I somehow managed to catch two small sunfish. However, they seemed a little sluggish — I’d probably already smacked them on the head a few times during my spastic false casting.

I met up with the rest of the tour group back in Fredericksburg for lunch at Hondo’s, which is named after Hondo Crouch, longtime local character and self-proclaimed mayor of nearby Luckenbach. His daughter, Cris Crouch Graham, owns the restaurant, which also hosts first-rate live music from Thursday to Sunday. I opted for Hondo’s donut burger and onion strings. It was a ton of tasty food, and I was happy to keep my mouth full, because I didn’t really feel like talking about my embarrassing fishing misadventure.

Another site for great live music is a little further off the beaten path: Torre di Pietra Winery, east of Fredericksburg on 290, features local and regional acts on its expansive outdoor patio that overlooks a vineyard. And the wine’s not bad, either. One of their biggest sellers is the provocatively named Red Flirt, which was a little sweet for my taste. I preferred the Texas Merlot.

Continuing the wine theme, we topped off one evening at Cuvee, a downtown wine bar and restaurant. The slick interior at first seemed a little out of place, but the staff’s friendly, easygoing manner soon reminded us that we were still in small-town Texas. Owner Len White, a self-described wine geek, teaches wine classes at the restaurant as part of his mission to demystify wine. The upstairs attic lounge, with its overstuffed leather chairs, is an excellent place to wind down after a day of lamely attempting to learn how to fly-fish.

The next day, I felt completely within my element. After all, hiking to the top of Enchanted Rock is little more than a slightly strenuous walk, right? Well, it had rained the night before so the rock was perilously slick in places. But I quickly learned the trick of walking on a diagonal to maintain good traction. As we zigzagged up the enormous hunk of granite, I was amazed at how much greenery was growing in little cracks throughout the rock face. On top, there were even a few small oak trees, along with swatches of bluestem grass. It’s an oddly magical place, and it’s easy to see how people from ancient times to the present have become convinced that the massive dome has some sort of mystical power and is, indeed, enchanted.

For my last night in Fredericksburg, I felt obligated to have at least one German meal. I was not altogether enthusiastic about it, however, since I normally associate German food with bland sauerkraut and pallid sausage. At Der Lindenbaum, I ordered the konigsberger klopse, beef and pork meatballs in caper sauce. It was delicious, and my dining companions raved about the jagerschnitzel. After coffee and a giant piece of black forest cake, my anti-German-food bias was, once and for all, successfully vanquished.

From the city’s excellent restaurants to its rich history to its proximity to fish-filled rivers, Fredericksburg is a town that reveals new surprises every time you visit.

Details

  • First Class Bed & Breakfast Reservation Service
    (888) 991-6749, <www.fredericksburg-lodging.com>
  • Hondo’s on Main
    (830) 997-1633, <www.hondosonmain.com>
  • Torre di Pietra Winery
    (830) 990-9755, <www.texashillcountrywine.com>
  • Der Lindenbaum
    (830) 997-9126 <www.derlindenbaum.com>
  • Chocolat
    (800) 842.3382 <www.chocolat-tx.us>
  • Castell Guide Service
    (325) 423-0045, <www.llanoriverflyfishing.com>
  • Enchanted Rock State Natural Area
    (325) 247-3903 <www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/enchanted_rock>

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