A Different Iowa in Amana – by Stacey Colledge
Rolling into Amana, you’ll notice right away there’s a different feel to this midwestern village. It’s reflected in the windows of simple buildings highlighting the beauty of surrounding hills and water ways. It’s in the grace of a warm meal prepared by many hands. It’s the echo of a simpler life in service to all.
Originally settled in 1855, the seven Amana Colonies are a collection of small German heritage villages in the heart of Iowa. They were established to work the land, and provide for hundreds of religious immigrants. But time changes all things. So, when change is at your doorstep, what do you choose to save and what do you let go? The forefathers of Amana faced that question in 1932 after over 100 years of communal living. What they saved was a quality of life, food, and culture that was uniquely theirs, and they found a way to share it with the new world they were embracing. Now a National Historic Landmark, today’s descendants of the original colonists honor their past by welcoming visitors from allover the world.
The Colonies relied on many different industries to provide for their residents and many of them are still evident to visitors. The original Woolen Mill is still in operation but now surrounded by sophisticated boutique accommodations called the Hotel Millwright. Furniture shops still craft onsite the original German-influenced Amana designs for your home.
And, while one usually associates beer with a German community (and yes, they host an impressive beer laden Oktoberfest,) wine is the historic beverage of choice in Amana. Many of the residents still propagate grapevines on trellises adorning the sandstone and brick buildings. In communal times, various households would brew their own wines from these grapes in their cellars and compare batches among their neighbors. Always ingenuitive, these Germans made wine from all sorts of resources including rhubarb and dandelions. The unique recipes are still in production and available at Village Winery or Ackerman Winery, the oldest winery still in operation in Iowa.
Locally owned businesses passed down through the generations, such as the Ox Yoke Inn, offer traditional German cuisine with schnitzels, pretzels, and wursts galore! But, to truly immerse yourself in the culture of Amana, a traditional communal meal, complete with dumplings, served in the only surviving communal kitchen, is a must. The Communal Kitchen in Middle Amana is now a preserved heritage site trimmed out with all the implements the cook and her helpers would have used.
If grab and go is more your style, stop by the Amana Meat Shop and Smokehouse to stock up for your next awe-inspiring charcuterie board. The meats are from cattle raised on the surrounding lands and processed right in the Amanas. Top off your culinary tour with a sweet apple strudel from the Amana Bakery or handmade truffle from the Chocolate Haus.
Even though the community sees seasonal tourism fluctuations, it’s hard to pick a best time to visit the Amana Colonies. The villages are still a living, breathing community. There are natural wonders in the trails and waterways to enjoy in the summer, and spirited decorations to brighten the winter holidays. The locals love to throw a great party. Several festivals and themed weekends are hosted throughout the year. Each one highlights a different aspect of food, drink or culture; whether that’s bratwursts, wine, or artistry. No matter what time of year the warm and Wilkommen feel of the Amanas will surprise and delight you, leaving you with a new appreciation for Iowa.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.