German towns in Pennsylvania depict the story of the United States’ greatest ethnic community. More than 50 million Americans claim to have ancestors from Germany.
Moreover, 3.5 million live in German communities in Pennsylvania, making it the state with the highest concentration of German Americans. Many of them are fully assimilated, and many of them do not even speak German.
On the other hand, some people have a strong sense of belonging to their homeland and make an effort to express it in the towns where they live.
German immigrants established what is known as German Towns, in which they worked hard to preserve their culture, history, and language. Seeing such cities is similar to visiting Munich’s downtown.
Because so few of us will ever have the opportunity to visit genuine Germany, why not immerse ourselves in Germany right on your doorstep? It’ll be a lot cheaper and just as enjoyable.
Did you know that Germans were the pioneers of kindergartens, hot dogs, hamburgers, and even the Christmas tree tradition in the United States?
German History in Pennsylvania
What drew the Germans to Pennsylvania? According to history, many Germans were forced to flee their homes in the 1700s and 1800s to avoid severe religious persecution.
And it’s not just Germans. We now refer to as German Americans or Pennsylvania Dutch (no, they are not Dutch from the Netherlands) originated in southern Germany, specifically Bavaria, Saxony, Switzerland, Italy’s Tyrol, Belgium, Luxemburg, and other European areas where German was spoken.
Most of them began their lives in Pennsylvania’s southeast corner (today Northampton, Lancaster, Berks, Lehigh, Bucks, Montgomery, York, and other counties).
They were free to speak their native tongue and follow their religion there. The majority were Anabaptists — Amish and Mennonites – but German Reformed, Lutheran, Moravian, and other faiths were represented.
Farmers and artisans were among the earliest Germans to settle in Pennsylvania. They toiled away to keep their culture, religion, language, and way of life alive.
Others, particularly the younger generation, became entirely Americanized and stopped speaking their tongue, German.
With the freedom to do so in the Land of Freedom, several German Americans recreated miniature versions of their home towns, much to the joy of visitors, German and non-German alike, with historic architecture, music, food, and festivals.
German Towns in Pennsylvania
Here is a list of German towns in Pennsylvania. Let’s get this party started, shall we?
Kutztown is a small town with roughly 5,000 people that grew on land purchased by George Kutz in 1755. The majority of the population are of German descent, and much of the town retains its Old Country charm.
A group of 160 Old Order Mennonite families live in Kutztown. They refuse to use contemporary conveniences and live a primitive life. Don’t be surprised if you see them travelling about town in a horse and buggy.
The Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center at the University of Pennsylvania and the Kutztown Area Historical Society are the best places to learn about the town’s past. It is both a library and a museum, and it is housed in a wonderful old Victorian structure.
At the Saucony Creek Craft Brewery & Gastropub, try some beer prepared in the classic German way. It complements their port tots and pierogi fries perfectly.
The greatest time to visit is in July when the Kutztown Folk Festival celebrates local culture, arts, and cuisine.
If you plan on staying overnight, the Main Street Inn, a tiny boutique hotel in the heart of Kutztown and just a short walk from the Kutztown University of Pennsylvania campus, is a good option. It is housed in a beautifully renovated 1870s mansion.
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Stoudtburg Village in Adamstown is a privately planned home development modelled after the historic German town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Everything is meant to look antique, real, and ancient, even though everything is brand new. Even throughout Germany, it’s conceivable that you won’t find another town quite like this one. Stoudtburg Village is known for having some of the top antique shops in the area.
Old shady trees, pubs, and little stores line charming, quiet lanes selling everything from wine, chocolates, and coffee to dolls, games, crafts, and presents. The Robot and Music Box Museums are worth a visit. In the village, automobiles are not permitted.
Take a stroll through the village to take in the unique buildings and beautiful gardens. Relax at the village plaza, where the local mascot, a cherub named “Peaches,” cools the air and soothes the soul.
There are no hotels in Stoudtburg Village, so you’ll have to hunt for a place to stay in adjacent Adamstown unless one of the locals offers you to stay with him.
Germantown, a delightful tiny European enclave in Northwest Philadelphia, was founded in 1683 by German, Mennonite, and Quaker families. It was once a separate borough, but it was eventually merged into Philadelphia.
Take a stroll down Germantown Avenue to take in the rich history and see gorgeous 18th-century houses and authentic German pubs. Modern boutiques and popular cafes are frequently housed in traditional storefronts dating back 300 years.
The American oldest rose garden, located at Wyck House, and the exquisite Pink Cherry blossom trees, are not to be missed.
The greatest time to visit is in the summer when the Cliveden estate hosts the Revolutionary Germantown Festival, which commemorates the 1777 Battle of Germantown, which took place in the mansion’s backyard.
Stay at La Reserve, a historic Philadelphia B&B comprised of two 1850s townhouses that are wonderfully preserved and located three blocks from the core of old Philadelphia.
Ephrata has always been regarded as a tourist town due to its famous healing spring waters. That history continues at the Mountain Springs Hampton Inn and Suites.
With its lovely stores and bars, the main street truly reflects the town’s personality.
Ephrata’s identity has always been shaped by its religious heritage. The Ephrata Cloister (shown above), America’s earliest religious communal community, is located in the town.
The cloister is a national historic site. Tourists flock to the city for its unique art, architecture, and music, especially during yearly festivities like Apple Dumpling Days in early October.
The greatest time to visit is in September, when the Ephrata Fair, Pennsylvania’s largest street fair.
If you plan to stay overnight, the exquisite old Smithton Inn, housed in a magnificently restored 1763 property, is a must-see.
Check out the Green Dragon Farmers Market & Auction in Ephrata, one of the largest farmers’ markets in the United States, which is open on Fridays.
Saxonburg, Butler County
In 1832, Saxonburg was founded as a German farming colony. F. Carl and John A. Roebling, German immigrants, built Saxonburg’s Main Street to resemble a little German hamlet.
The town is small yet charming, with many reminders of its long history and German roots. There are 34 historic buildings on Main Street, allowing Saxonburg to retain most of its original character and charm.
As you walk throughout town, you’ll note that practically every structure has a plaque explaining its history and origins.
The Saxonburg Museum and a historic general store are the greatest sites to learn about the town’s history.
The greatest time to visit Saxonburg is during the annual carnival, which takes place in August.
The Armstrong Farms B&B, housed in a beautifully renovated 1816 farmhouse, is a wonderful spot to spend a few days.
Harmony, Butler County
Harmony, a picturesque community of roughly 1000 people about 30 miles from Pittsburgh, was founded in 1804 by the Harmony Society of German Lutheran Separatists.
Harmony is Western Pennsylvania’s first National Landmark District, with wonderfully restored old brick residences and log buildings.
The lovely Landmark District in Harmony has a lot of the charm of an ancient German hamlet. It consists of more than 50 structures. The town’s historical society gives tours of the Harmony Museum, a beautifully preserved log house, and other fascinating locations.
Lunch or dinner in the wonderfully maintained Victorian mansion that previously belonged to the railroad president is not to be missed.
The best time to go is during the “In Harmony” Heritage Music Festival, which takes place in July.
Check out the Harmony Inn, a quaint inn, restaurant, and bar in the Harmony historic neighbourhood, to stay in the spirit of history. It is housed in a beautifully restored antique European-style home.
Lititz, Lancaster County
Lititz was named America’s coolest tiny town in 2013, and with good reason. Its little downtown is lined with magnificently restored 200-year-old homes that contain chic boutiques, cafes, and restaurants today.
Lititz was founded in 1756 by Moravian Church members. It was named after a castle in Bohemia, not far from Kunvald, where the Bohemian Brethren’s Church was established in 1457.
Lititz has a lot of history, but it’s been beautifully restored and conserved. Lititz Springs Park is a local meeting site with a 200-year history.
The Lititz Historical Foundation is housed in the 1792 Mueller House, which also houses the Lititz Museum and the Johannes Mueller House.
The museum guides are clothed in 18th-century attire and relate the tale of a family’s life in the 1800s.
Lititz, despite its antiquity and heritage, is a vibrant city. It is undeniably in the twenty-first century.
Thursday Farmers Market, Wilbur Chocolate Store, and Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery, the country’s oldest pretzel bakery, are all worth checking out.
Treat yourself to a stay at Lititz Springs Inn & Spa, a historic inn founded in 1764, if you want to stay longer and explore.
MajorGerman Festivals in Pennsylvania
Let’s speak about the German festivals you can attend while you’re in Pennsylvania now that we’ve covered the German towns.
Oktoberfest in Pennsylvania
Oktoberfest is celebrated worldwide because it is so much fun that individuals from all walks of life have decided to participate. It’s impossible to resist a combination of a lot of beer, wonderful traditional German food, folk music, and dancing.
Naturally, places with a large German population do a far better job, or at the very least a more accurate job. Certain Pennsylvania communities go to great lengths to attract tourists and share German traditions with them every year.
There is plenty of German and local beer, traditional German food, competitions, folk dancing and singing, children’s activities, racing, and general enjoyment. The majority of festivals are free to attend.
Oktoberfest may be found in almost every German community in Pennsylvania. You can bet your lederhosen that every brewery will be hosting an Oktoberfest celebration. Many churches do as well. Here is a list of a few towns you should consider visiting during Oktoberfest.
To learn more about a town, go to its official website by clicking on its name.
- Teutonia Mannerchor Oktoberfest
- Oktoberfest at Cannstatter Volksfest-Verein, PA
- Bucks-Mont Oktoberfest in Warminster, PA
- Boyertown Oktoberfestin Boyertown, PA
- Pennsylvania Bavarian Oktoberfestin Canonsburg, PA
- Lancaster Liederkranz Oktoberfestin Manheim, PA
- Ardmore Oktoberfest– Ardmore, PA
- St. Paul’s Oktoberfest– Glenside, PA
- Oktoberfest Bethlehem– Bethlehem, PA
- Mifflinburg Oktoberfest – Mifflinburg, PA
Kutztown Folk Festival
The Kutztown Folk Festival is America’s oldest folk festival. The celebrations last nine days and attract tourists from all over the world.
It entertains families while also providing a valuable peek into Pennsylvania Germans’ customs, culture, and way of life.
There are numerous activities for children at the festival. Visitors can attend the quilt auction and sale, which is the largest of its kind in the United States, throughout the festival.
German Heritage Festival
The German Society of Pennsylvania hosts the German Heritage Festival in their events hall in Philadelphia.
Other parts of German culture celebrated at the festival include contemporary histories, such as German reunification and the collapse of the Berlin Wall and Renaissance and medieval history.
Food, beer, music, folk dancing, and even some education are all part of the celebration.
Visit the German Society of Pennsylvania’s official website to learn more about this event.
Visiting Pennsylvania’s German communities is both interesting and educational. There is a strong feeling of history here, as well as a desire to retain ethnic identity.
Of course, visiting a German town during one of its major festivals is the greatest time to do so. There’s no better way to get to know someone than by sharing their cuisine and drink.