German Village

Melissa Kossler Dutton

The residents of German Village are used to sharing. They share parking spots, driveways and green spaces. So it's no wonder they're so willing to share their wonderful historic neighborhood.

Visiting "The Village" - as locals call it - is a chance to "step into being a part of history," said Sarah Harpham, a local shop owner.

German Village, located just south of Downtown, dates to the mid-1800s. German immigrants, who at one time made up one-third of the area's population, settled there and established businesses, schools and churches.

Visitors are always made to feel welcome, said Harpham, owner of Helen Winnemore Craft, a store offering a charming mix of distinctive handmade items from American artists. The shop, which carries everything from pottery to purses, is known for its drawers filled with jewelry and other treasures that shoppers are invited to explore.

Although most parents worry about bringing kids into the shop, Harpham welcomes them and sends them upstairs to check out her toy room, which is stocked with one-of-a-kind children's items.

Volunteers at the German Village Society Visitors Center can help create an itinerary that will suit any family. The society also sells walking-tour guides, which offer insights on the pedestrian-friendly neighborhood.

Visitors get their best views of the architecture and gardens while traipsing over the brick streets, said volunteer Jerry Glick.

The center also offers a free video, which is a great introduction to the neighborhood and its German roots.

It's still possible to sample the German history at Juergen's German Village Bakery, Restaurant & Cafe, which serves up authentic German sausages and pastries.

Children also will be delighted with cupcakes from Bakery Gingham, fudge from Schmidt's Fudge Haus, macaroons from Pistacia Vera and cacao-based goodies from Yosick's Artisan Chocolates.

"There's lot of sweets spots in German Village, which kids will love," said Allyson Morena, who has lived there for eight years.

For a more substantial treat, Morena's 6-year-old son, Cameron, recommends picking up a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich at the Brown Bag Deli and taking it to Schiller Park. The park, home to Actors Theatre's summer Shakespeare series, features a large playground and fishing pond. Ducks eagerly greet any visitor throwing bread.

A draw for locals and tourists alike is Katzinger's Deli, an authentic urban deli that serves up huge sandwiches, specialty foods and barrels of serve-yourself pickles.

Another fun stop in German Village is the Golden Hobby Shop, a converted schoolhouse that sells items made by senior citizens. It's a great place to pick up a unique baby gift. The store carries children's knitted and crocheted sweaters, doll clothing and furniture, and baby blankets and quilts. Another great shopping find is the Dog Works/cats2 shop for interesting pet items.

But no trip to German Village would be complete without a visit to The Book Loft, a 32-room, independently-owned book store with a fabulous children's section. Wandering the maze of rooms, filled floor to ceiling with books, is pleasantly disarming. Kids can find everything from classic tales to fun Star Wars items. The store also stocks stickers, activity books and craft kits.

Hitting multiple places in a day will require some walking but it's time well spent, said Amanda Ellis, owner of Bakery Gingham.

"It is spread out. But that kind of makes German Village what it is," she said. "You never know what a street is going to hold."

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