Fredericksburg: The German Soul of the Texas Hill Country

Of all 6 communities we have visited in the Texas Hill District, Fredericksburg is the most German and therefore the best organized.

Of all 6 communities we have visited in the Texas Hill District, Fredericksburg is the most German and therefore the best organized. Any tourist who has traveled with the help of the best tourist organization in Europe, the GNTO, will understand that. Yes, Fredericksburg is touristy and has a small city feel to it rather than Small Town America but it’s a fun trip, easily laid out by the visitor center with excellent free maps and brochures.

If you have a bucket list of what you want to see here in Texas, it’s easy. Here’s what you do in this town of 10,000 Texans that has 150 shops, 80 restaurants, 30 wineries, and 20 art galleries.

Check in first at the Visitor Center with its vast free parking facilities behind its location. Wander the visitor center picking up tourist information and watch the brief movie about the German immigrants.

Pick your hotel. There are plenty many close to Main Street. We chose the Inn on Barons Creek, 2 blocks from the National Museum of the Pacific War Complex, which, with its tribute to Admiral Nimitz who was born here, and its additional Bush Gallery, is the jewel of the tourist attractions in town, in our opinion.

Pace yourselves. Take your tourist brochures to any of the cafes on Main and plan your time.

Suggestions: if you have 2 days, assume a couple of hours for the Pacific War Museum and perhaps an hour or 2 in the Pioneer Museum. Allow time; we left for the replica of the town’s church on Market Square, the Vereins Kirche Museum, too late in the day and it had closed.

It’s less than a mile west on Main Street from the Pacific War to the Pioneer museums. But both, plus the walk up the street exposing you to very interesting shops and places, could easily take up a full day.

Next day you could take your car out of the hotel parking and explore east on Highway US 290. Start farthest out—14 miles—at the LBJ State Park if politics is your thing, then head back to town. You might want to use your smart phone’s GPS and search for the little remote dot on the map of that is Luckenbach, TX. Way back in 1977 Waylon Jennings made it all sound so great when he recorded his song and told us that “Out in Luckenbach, Texas, Ain't nobody feelin' no pain.”

Having taken the wrong side road for “Tuscany in Texas” Grape Creek Vineyards, we were moseying along when we suddenly found we were looking at the old Luckenbach school that taught students from 1905 to 1964—so we were no longer lost. Boy, there are remote places in Texas!

On Highway 290 you will pass many of the 24 wineries that made Wine Enthusiast Magazine say the Texas Hill Country is “One of the Top Ten Wine and Travel Destinations in the World.” Why are there so many wineries? A town joke is that when locals go on a trip out of town the first question on their return is “How many new wineries have we added?” The growth is partly the terroir of the place, and Texas experimentations with varietals and investor money to finance it all.

Certainly about 10 miles from town you will find on your left Grape Creek Vineyards and a couple of miles farther, on your right, a fun place, Wildseed Farms. Go on 5 more miles back towards Fredericksburg and take a moment to hang loose at the partial restoration of Fort Martin Scott then you’re back in town with some of the day still left for exploration.

Are you hungry? Our choices for travel writers on the run twice included sandwiches at the deli section of the HEB grocery store. We had never heard of this store that we now know began when Florence Butt invested $60 to get started in Kerrville in 1905. Her son, Howard E. Butt expanded the store group in 1920 and now it has 307 stores in Texas and Mexico. It’s the largest privately held company in Texas and when you ask locals what HEB stands for they are astonished you don’t know. Main Street has many restaurants, many of course specializing in German or TexMex cuisine.

Walking Main Street and Meeting the Texans

Der Kuchen Laden: John Lopez, general manager

Mr. Lopez manages “the best little kitchen store in Texas for the little chef in all of us.” The building is housed in the historic property built in 1909 by Albert Keidel, MD, the son of Fredericksburg’s first physician, Wilhelm Victor Keidel, MD. The younger Keidel died in 1914 and the Keidel Memorial Hospital closed when the new Hill Country Memorial Hospital opened in 1971.

Mr. Lopez stands beside a former gurney now laden with kitchen equipment. The store has had to negotiate around items in the former hospital too heavy or awkward to move like autoclaves and elevators although the Gillespie County Historical Society has safeguarded the more movable items. Do we know any doctor who collects old autoclaves?

L. M. Easterling Custom Boot Company: Lloyd Easterling, owner

Lloyd Easterling prefers to use kangaroo leather. “It’s soft and subtle,” he says. He also likes ostrich leather, “It’s light, comfortable, beautiful and durable.” Custom boots are of course expensive. (We notice the price on a pair of black dress shoes he has made. $1,200.)

There are huge advantages in the value of custom made cowboy boots: First they will fit. Lloyd’s consideration of fit includes noting the size and height of the instep, and the size and configuration of the foot. Feet are not necessarily the same sizes left and right. Feet, Lloyd says, elongate as we get older. Getting wider shoes doesn’t help. We need longer shoes as we age. That would help to avoid hammer toes and bunions. A mold made for your feet when you are young will not be the same when you are older.

The second point is that custom-built boots or shoes show more durability to the season’s elements like rain, snow, sun, livestock excreta, and what Lloyd calls “barnyard acids.” He means urine. Custom boots should give 18 months of solid use and they can be rebuilt for a nominal fee up to 3 or 4 times, that is sole and heel.

The only down side is that quality cowboy boots are not for “throwaway America.” Women however are two-thirds of his clientele and men the other third. Lloyd was born in Tennessee in 1963 and worked first for the Acme Boot Company, a long-established company that began in 1929. He then was in charge of the Post Boot Company that started in Mexico. His father and grandfather were both from Tennessee, “But here I am in Texas; I finally came home!”

Agave Gallery: John Bennett, sculptor

Bennett has a magnificent statue of Annie Oakley and her dog on his front yard.

We ask Mr. Bennett about his small statue of Lady Bird Johnson we’d seen on a counter at the Visitor Center. “It was a labor of love,” he says, “I wanted to finish it as she approached her 100 years but she died in 2006. Her connection with Fredericksburg is strong. She went to church here and was shaped, as all of us are, by her environment. She was an ambitious journalism major and well educated. She was willing and intelligent and read a lot.

“She had a vision for the future. And she made LBJ possible!”

Every state that abuts the edge of the United States shows the contrasts on each side of the border. That is especially true in some parts of South Texas. Highway 290, for example, shows the simplicity of Mexican gardening clay pots and the elegance of new wineries that often seem to seek judgment on the basis of the extravagance of their architecture as much as the unique quality of their wine.

Admiral Nimitz’s parents owned the hotel here that they built like a steamboat. It is now incorporated in the Pacific War museum. An 8-foot-tall statue of Fredericksburg’s favorite son stands on Main Street. Our guide points out the accuracy of the sculptor’s eye. Early in Nimitz’s naval career the terminal digit of his left ring finger was traumatically amputated. His Annapolis graduation ring prevented more of the finger’s loss. Had it not done so Nimitz would have been permanently removed from a naval career.

Three exhibits in the Bush Pavilion at the Pacific War Museum almost overwhelm the visitor. A Japanese midget submarine captured outside Pearl Harbor exhibited as a background movie shows the horror of the scene: One of the 3 atom bombs not used but created as backup weapons if Japan needed more proof it should surrender; And an American flag that shows how the spirit of 3 men in the US Army incredibly kept themselves alive as Japanese POWs, and how they kept their county’s honor intact for 3 long years.

The story is recapped in detail in a press release from the senior senator from Texas. Summarized it is this: In 1942, 3 US soldiers Paul Spain, Joe Victoria, and Eddie Lindros were ordered to destroy the U.S. flag to prevent its capture by the approaching Japanese. Instead they removed the flag’s 48 stars and hid them in their clothing. And over the next 42 months, as the men were transferred to different POW camps and eventually to Japan, they kept the stars hidden.

Sensing their liberation was imminent, Spain, Victoria, and Lindros sewed the stars back together using parachute silk and an old sewing machine, and a rusty nail, which they converted into a sewing needle. When the American troops arrived at the camp on September 7, 1945, their “new” flag was flying proudly over the camp.

“Those 3 service members risked their lives preserving the very fabric of our nation. Because of these men, and the Americans who served before and after them, we enjoy our freedoms, our way of life, and our safety,” says the citation

Photography by the authors

The Andersons, who live in San Diego, are the resident travel & cruise columnists for Physician's Money Digest. Nancy is a former nursing educator, Eric a retired MD. The one-time president of the NH Academy of Family Physicians. Eric is the only physician in the Society of American Travel Writers. He has also written five books, the last called The Man Who Cried Orange: Stories from a Doctor's Life.