The Amana Colonies are a little oasis of German culture in the rolling hills of Eastern Iowa, only 20 miles from both Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. Amana was formed in 1855 as a religious, self-sufficient farming community where property and resources were shared, and while much of the original society is gone, what remains provides a beautiful insight into America’s heartland. Whether you’re destined for Iowa or just passing through, save an afternoon for Amana and keep these tips in mind.
Arrive with an empty stomach. My personal favorite part of Amana is the food, both its deliciousness and ridiculous bounty. Go have a meal at The Colony Inn, built in 1860 to house the traveling salesmen who brought what little the colonists couldn’t make for themselves. The cozy Inn feels like grandma’s house (plaid tablecloth, decorative plates and all) and there’s nothing but comfort food on the menu, served family-style. They offer several types of bratwurst, schnitzel, and other German classics, but no matter what you choose, your table will overflow with side dishes: sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, cottage cheese with chives, salad with creamy dressing, the vegetable of the day, and fresh bread and butter. The folks who run the Inn are so nice, they’ll even hold your leftovers while you finish sightseeing and try a rhubarb pastry at the nearby bakery.
Think about your home furnishings. There’s plenty of useless kitsch for sale at Amana, but what they make best is practical stuff for the home (this is where Amana refrigerators came from after all). Visit the Woolen Mill for finely woven blankets and a little exhibit on the inner workings of the mill, which has been in continuous operation since 1857. At the Amana Furniture Shop they focus on wooden clocks as well as furniture (they’ll tell you which pieces were made on-site and which were imported from elsewhere), and you can walk through a viewing gallery to see the craftsmen at work.
Spread out among the villages. Amana is actually comprised of seven different villages. Most of the shops, restaurants, museums, and other activities open to the general public are located in Main Amana, but to see something a little less touristy, check out East Amana, West Amana, South Amana, Middle Amana, High Amana, or the Homestead, where there’s even a little hiking trail. Consult a map of the region here.
How was your experience at the Amana Colony?