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Helen, Ga.: Alpine meets Appalachia

  • photo
    Buildings are painted to resemble an alpine German town in the city of Helen, Ga., in this file photo.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
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Helen, Ga., only takes up 2.1 square miles of Northeast Georgia, but the town manages to draw more than 2 million visitors annually for its festival, fall foliage and fun on the Chattahoochee River.

During the 1960s, this former logging town reinvented itself into a replica of an Alpine village, right down to cobblestone streets and old-world spires topping its Tudor facades. To cap its German homage, it began a fall Oktoberfest four decadesago that has become one of the Southeast’s biggest festivals for five weeks from September into October. The other 47 weeks of the year, it’s the pristine scenery that lures nature lovers and outdoorsmen to Helen.

— Compiled by staff writer Susan Pierce,

spierce@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6284.

Best kept Secret

International shopping in North Georgia’s mountains.

• Clothing, furniture, gifts and food in Alpine Village Shops along Main Street. 706-878-3016.

• Trim your tree with Old World German ornaments from Christmas & More. 706-878-1404.

•Have a stein etched at Damron’s Gifts, where glass engraving has been the family business for more than 100 years. 706-878-1486.

• Original Amish furniture shipped from Pennsylvania and Ohio is sold at Amish Red Barn. 706-754-8235.

• At Windmill Dutch Imports, everything is from Holland from Royal Delft to wooden shoes. 706-878-3444.

• Rock out at ZuZu’s Petals Rock Shop, which sells gemstones, crystals and rocks. 800-596-3397.

Source: helenga.org

BEST PLACE IN TOWN TO EAT AND WHY

Wilkommen!

Try German restaurants.

• Old Bavaria Inn: Reuben Sandwich, Schweine Haxen, Kasseler Rippchen

and Wienerschnitzel. 706-878-3729.

• Old Heidelberg: Jagerschnitzel, Rinder Roulade and Sauerbraten. 706-878-3273.

• Hofers Bakery and Cafe: Apple strudel, Jagerschnitzel. 706-878-8200.

Source: Helen Visitors Center, restaurant manager

Meet Helen

• Population: 510

• Biggest employer: City of Helen

• Landmarks or geographic features: 150-foot Anna Ruby Falls, Unicoi State Park

• Date founded: 1913

• History: First home to the Cherokee before 1800, the area was discovered by logging companies in the late 1800s, with the biggest, Matthews Lumber Co., operating there until 1931. When the forests were depleted, town leaders resurrected Helen’s economy with a zoning mandate that all exteriors replicate classic German

Bavarian design — and the Alpine tourist destination was born.

• Most famous residents: Settler John Nichols, who purchased the land where Anna Ruby Falls is located; Helen McComb, for whom the town is named; Pete Hodkinson, who led the reinvention of Helen into a tourist destination

• Unique traditions: Oktoberfest

• Fun fact: Helen is Georgia’s third most popular tourist destination, behind

Atlanta and Savannah.

Source: Roadsidegeorgia.com, Helen Chamber of Commerce