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A Different Iowa in the Amana Colonies

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Upon arriving in the Amana Colonies, you’ll notice a different feel to this midwestern community. It’s reflected in the windows of the simple buildings. It’s highlighted in the beauty of the surrounding hills and waterways. It’s the echo of a simpler life in service to all. 

Originally settled in 1855, the Amana Colonies, a collection of seven villages in the heart of Iowa, were established to provide communally for hundreds of religious immigrants from Germany.  In 1932, after over 100 years of communal living, the colonists decided to leave the lifestyle. However, they saved a quality of life, food, and culture that was uniquely theirs, and found a way to share it with the outside world they were embracing. Now a National Historic Landmark, today’s Amana Colonies honor the past while welcoming visitors from all over the world.   

Different craftsmen provided living essentials for the original colonists, and many of the artforms are still evident to visitors today. The original Woolen Mill is still in operation, but now surrounded by the sophisticated boutique accommodations of the Hotel Millwright. Woodworking shops, like Schanz Furniture in South Amana, still craft onsite the original German-influenced furniture designs for your home. 

One usually associates beer with German heritage (and yes, they host an impressive beer laden Oktoberfest.)  But, wine is the historic beverage of the Amanas, evidenced by the grapevines still growing on trellises adorning the sandstone and brick buildings. In communal times, households would brew their own wines in their cellars incorporating all sorts of resources including rhubarb and dandelions. The unique recipes are still in production and available at Village Winery or Ackerman Winery, the oldest winery still in operation in Iowa.  

Locally owned businesses passed down through generations, like the Ox Yoke Inn, offer traditional German cuisine with schnitzels, pretzels, and bratwurst.  But, to truly immerse yourself in the culture, a traditional communal meal, complete with dumplings, served in the only surviving communal kitchen, is a must.  The Communal Kitchen in Middle Amana is now a preserved heritage site trimmed out with all the implements the cook and her helpers would have used.   

If grab and go is more your style, stop by the Amana Meat Shop and Smokehouse to stock up for your next awe-inspiring charcuterie board.  The meats are from cattle raised on the surrounding lands and processed right in the Amanas. Top off your culinary tour with a sweet apple strudel from the Amana Colonies Bakery or a handmade truffle from the Chocolate Haus. 

It’s hard to pick a best time to visit the Amana Colonies. There are natural wonders in the trails and waterways to enjoy in the summer and spirited decorations to brighten the winter holidays.  The locals love to throw great parties, festivals and themed weekends throughout the year. Each one highlights local food, drink and culture.  No matter the time of year, a warm and Wilkommen feel of the Amanas will delight you, leaving you with a new appreciation for Iowa.