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The Book Loft in Columbus, Ohio’s German Village is a crazy quilt of 32 overstuffed rooms, packed with bargain books and posters, CDs and DVDs.

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The original owner of Schwartz Castle in German Village added secret passageways and five levels of basement. It’s currently an apartment building, but worth a look from the outside.

Photos by Zofia Smardz • Washington Post,

In Ohio, a charming patch of Deutschland

  • Article by: Zofia Smardz
  • Washington Post
  • December 27, 2013 - 12:44 PM

It’s the little touches that make the tree-shaded, brick-lined streets of German Village in Columbus, Ohio, feel like Hansel-and-Gretel land.

Neat brick bungalows — a grander Federal or Victorian occasionally elbowing in among them — present tidy facades and immaculate front yards. Here and there, a lintel sports some carved curlicues, a chimney flaunts a little fancy brickwork, a porch leads to gleamingly ornate wooden doors. But for the most part, there’s not all that much gingerbread around.

Maybe the fairy-tale feel comes from those droopy evergreens that hug up against so many of the cottages, the kind that cast weird shadows and look as if they’re about to wrap their branchy arms about you. Or maybe the wooden post that rose out of one yard and looked googly-eyed right at me. Carved into the post is the fanciful face of an old man with a long, flowing beard that ends in a sort of spout over a rustic trough. It’s one of those kooky, kitschy woodsy things you’d find in some Teutonic theme park.

This 233-acre historic enclave in Columbus’ south end was, in the 19th century, the bustling home of mostly working-class German immigrants, with thriving breweries and beer gardens and businesses, and German churches and schools and cultural organizations. But then came World Wars I and II — and German heritage no longer was something to trumpet. Meanwhile, Prohibition shut down the breweries. The neighborhood went downhill, and from there it’s the typical urban tale.

The area went to seed, the city demolished a big swath of it, and then some hardy pioneer — in this case, a city employee named Frank Fetch — moved in and vowed to restore and preserve the past. And voilà — it’s now one of the most desirable neighborhoods in town.

Today, the German Village enchanted us, right from the top. Our B&B, the German Village Guest House, was like our own private cottage. There was no one around to let us in, just a lockbox that opens into a cozy, beautifully refurbished space fitted out with snazzy contemporary decor. We were all alone until 10:30 that night, when another couple walked in and disappeared straight into their bedroom. We enjoy our wine in the living room undisturbed. Our fellow guests were gone at the crack of dawn, so breakfast, too, was just for two.

Heading out to the main strip of S. 3rd Street, I spied a sign for the Book Loft that a friend had urged us to see. “It’s amazing,” she’d said. “It has all these rooms and goes on forever.”

And it’s open daily till 11 p.m. So after a lovely martini, and then a lovely dinner, we headed back up 3rd Street and into the terraced courtyard beside the store, complete with wrought iron benches and little seating areas. Just inside the entrance, I hit the gold mine at a sale table. A stack of Advent calendars (of course — it’s German Village; I can just imagine it there at Christmas) called out to me.

Indoors, it’s a crazy quilt of cramped and overstuffed rooms, 32 of them, packed with bargain books and posters and CDs and DVDs. We wandered around, up and down narrow staircases, and an hour later we were not sure whether we had gone through all the rooms or just doubled back through the same ones over and over. Perhaps some of Hansel’s breadcrumbs would have helped.

Late the next morning, we headed over to Schmidt’s Sausage Haus on Kossuth Street. This is the village’s signature restaurant and popular tourist draw. We, however, had come only to pick up some cream puffs for the road. This is what the place is best known for, but those fresh sausages in the deli case looked pretty amazing. The cream puffs, with filling at least 3 inches high, are to die for.

At the German Village Society headquarters in the old Moose Lodge meeting house, we picked up a walking tour map and set off on a cellphone-narrated look at a few highlights of the neighborhood. There’s the old schoolhouse that now houses a senior citizens’ craft shop, and graceful St. Mary’s Church, dedicated in 1868. A pair of modest brewers’ houses contrasts with a grander merchant’s home just up the street.

My favorite stop is Schwartz Castle, with its weird back story of local businessman Frederick Schwartz. Jilted by the German fiancée he’d built the grand manor for, he went a little crazy, constructing secret passageways in the house and supposedly five levels of basements. Also, he developed some odd personal habits, like jogging barefoot year-round and sunbathing nude on the turret roof — in the 1800s.

At restful, verdant Schiller Park, I took a look at the statue, cast in Germany and erected here in 1891, of the eponymous poet. Making my way back to the car through a throng of Canada geese feeding around the pond (one brazen fellow comes right up to me, searching for a handout, no doubt), I found my husband staring at some imposing homes across the street.

One sported a For Sale sign, so we looked it up on his smartphone. The price made our eyes bulge — $850,000! But this is Columbus, Ohio, we exclaimed. And then I thought, no, it’s German Village, a little marvel of German engineering.

If you go

Where to stay: German Village Guest House. www.gvguesthouse.comWhere to shop: The Book Loft, a 32-room shop filled with books, CDs and DVDs. www.bookloft.comWhere to eat: Schmidt’s Sausage Haus: www.schmidthaus.com

More information: For self-guided tours and a calendar of events, visit http://germanvillage.com

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