My Disney Top 5 - Things to Love About Epcot's Germany Pavilion (Revisited)by Chris Barry, contributing writer
Welcome back to another Disney Top 5.
I've long stated that my articles here on MousePlanet aren't just Walt Disney World countdowns ticking off all the different things I love about the most magical place on Earth. Sure, that's the basic framework of each piece I write, but the underlying theme in each one of them is that they're all extremely personal. I don't just count down the 5 best things about whatever topic I've chosen that week. I try to dig deeper and talk about how significant my Disney experiences are to me and to my family and friends. Time and time again, I have used these articles not only to discuss the many joys in my fortunate life, I've also used them to work through some of the more difficult chapters as well. Just a few short months ago, my dad passed away after many years of battling many illnesses. Once the smoke had cleared, I found myself sitting at the old laptop looking for some sort of cathartic way to write about my father's passing and how it related to Walt Disney World. The result was a Top 5 list of memories I have of my dad and I at Disney. It's hard to believe that only four months later, I'm at it again trying to cope with yet another loss in our family. This time, about a week or so ago, it's my wife's dad who has now left us. Yes…2023, despite having its share of joyful moments, is really turning out to be a total drag.
Alfred Dobler was 87 years old when he quietly left us on July 22 with my wife, Diane, by his side. And that's saying quite a lot because for the past 30 years, a word I would have never used to describe my father-in-law would be quiet. Indeed, that is sometimes the dichotomy of a life lived. Some of us in the end, leave this world in a very different way then how we lived in it. Much like my dad before him, the Al that we had been blessed with having in our lives over the last few years wasn't really the same Al that we all knew and loved. Watching loved ones as they slowly succumb to the effects of illnesses is never easy. We want to remember them as they were in their prime. Al was always full of life and witnessing that life being drained out of him was difficult to say the least. I'd rather remember people like my dad and Al the way they were several years ago and that's how I've been getting through this terrible season of loss.
When I think of Al, there's one word that comes to mind instantly and that's German. If there are still such things as dictionaries out there, there should be a photo of my late father-in-law next to the word German. He had the accordion, authentic lederhosen and feather adorned Bavarian hat in his closet to prove it. He was the real deal. That Bavarian pride certainly rubbed off on his daughter, my wife, Diane. Both Al and his late wife Rita were straight from the old country, and they raised their kids with the German language, food and customs all intact right here in the good old U.S. of A.
So somehow, this all has to relate to Disney right? Well…sort of. I know Al took his kids to both Walt Disney World and Disneyland once way back when they were kids. From our discussions, he recalled that in Orlando, Epcot was still being built when they spent the day at the Magic Kingdom. That was it, though. Despite Diane and I being pretty much yearly visitors for the last 20 years, I never got to spend any time with him down there. However, that doesn't mean that I've never felt his presence down there. I certainly have. Everything that Al and Rita instilled in their daughter that makes her truly German, comes forth as soon as we step foot in that country's pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase. So, today, as I have an article due and I have my dear departed father-in-law heavily on my mind. I thought I'd spend some time and revisit an article I wrote back in 2017.
It would be perfectly feasible to say that when I married my wife, I became an honorary German. I never abandoned my own Italian/Irish heritage but it's next to impossible to not adopt some German ways and customs when you marry into such a traditional family. Diane is 100% German. Her family is predominantly still in Germany. The few that are here are very, very German. Considering all that and considering that we've been married for 21 years, sometimes I actually feel German by proxy and I'm perfectly all right with that.
Surprisingly, I've never actually been to Germany with my wife. She's been several times since we married, but I never seem to be able to make the trek with her. I have been with her on vacation in Austria, which as you might suspect is pretty darn close. There was one unforgettable moment in a mountain village outside Salzburg. We were staying in this incredibly charming Bavarian style inn. Diane found a bench outside nestled amongst some of the most beautiful bursting flower gardens typical to that region. She had some of that killer Austrian coffee and sat there soaking in a truly awe-inspiring view of the Austrian Alps. It was at that very moment where I saw my wife completely at home. She belonged in that spot. It was made for her. I imagine that when she's actually in Germany, she has that feeling everywhere she goes.
The closest I've ever seen her capture that moment on American soil is…surprise, surprise…when we're in Epcot's Germany pavilion. So, it's no surprise that when we're spending time in World Showcase, the wonderful German pavilion gets much of our attention. It's become one of our favorite spots in Walt Disney World and it would feel completely wrong if a trip passed by without time spent in this beautiful pavilion. Let's take a deeper look with my Top 5 things to see in Epcot's Germany pavilion.
5 – Saint George Fountain
The main focal point of the Germany pavilion's plaza is the impressive statue of St. George fighting the dragon that towers over a picturesque fountain. This has long been my favorite spot to sit in Germany, more often that not with a cold Altenmunster Oktoberfest beer in one hand and a hot pretzel in the other.
Take the time to sit here and watch the ducks that sometimes hang out in the fountain while you look across the platz at the classic German architecture that makes this pavilion so special.
4 – Der Teddybar
This may very well be my favorite shop in World Showcase. I've always been a sucker for a toy store and not the giant Toys R Us variety, but the smaller, more traditional toy store that you might find in a quaint village somewhere. The inside of Der Teddybar fits that description just perfectly.
This is the place to get some unique toys like Playmobil, Smurfs, dolls, and most importantly, Steiff stuffed animals. You are probably familiar with the classic Steiff bears that have the metal button in their ears. It's become a tradition for me to buy Diane a new Steiff each year that we visit Walt Disney World. Don't be too impressed with me just yet. I have yet to buy her one of the $500 stuffed animals. You can buy those at Der Teddybar, but you can also buy the $29 variety as well. The expensive ones rotate and there have been some awesome ones over the years including classic Disney characters and my favorite Steiff of all time, Kermit the Frog.
3 – Kunstarbeit in Kristal
This would have to be my wife's favorite shop in the pavilion. That honor used to go to Glas Und Porzellan, the shop which sold Hummel and Goebel figurines, but that's been taken over by the yummy caramel shop. She'd rather have Hummels. I have to admit, I rather enjoy the caramel! That said Kunstarbeit in Kristal has always had a special place in our lives.
Diane has amassed an impressive collection of German blue crystal from Kunstarbeit that can only be purchased in the United States at this shop and the Arribas Brothers shop on Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom. We've all bought things from Kunstarbeit over the years whether its Diane's crystal, my daughter's glass princess figurines, or my pewter Disney train set. It's not a Disney trip unless we spend some time in this shop even if it's just to look at the $37,500 crystal Cinderella Castle.
2 – Biergarten
No visit to Germany would be complete without a meal in the Biergarten. Arrive hungry because it's an all you can eat buffet and German food has never been known for its lightness. It's definitely not all about the food though. Biergarten scores high points in World Showcase for its truly unique setting. Much like the Mexico pavilion's San Angel Inn, it's eternally nighttime at Biergarten. You sit in what appears to be an outdoor dining plaza at large tables of 8—even if your party is smaller than that. This is a "get to know your neighbors" kind of place, much like an actual Munich beer garden. Once the German band starts playing, you've left Florida behind and arrived in Bavaria.
The food at Biergarten is some of my favorite in World Showcase. Try the sausage salad, bratwursts and sauerkraut, spätzle, roasted potatoes, German potato salad, schnitzel, pretzel rolls, and my favorite the leberkase or German meatloaf. No self-respecting German restaurant would be complete without two things, a delectable apple strudel for dessert and beer. Make sure the monorail is taking you home and order an entire liter of delicious German beer—I suggest the Schofferhofer Weizen—and your night at Biergarten will be complete.
1 – Epcot's Garden Railway
One of the real treasures in World Showcase is the Epcot Garden Railway, just to the right of the Germany pavilion. Originally installed for the 1995 Epcot Food & Wine Festival, the trains proved so popular that they became a permanent part of the pavilion. The miniature train and village is one of Disney's true small wonders, packed with details and fun to explore.
One of the best things about it is that it's constantly changing. The Imagineers move the villagers and animals around. They even add details to fit in with the holiday season and topiaries during the International Flower and Garden Festival. It's a great way to spend some time in the Germany pavilion and would no doubt be a favorite of one of the biggest train buffs of all, Walt Disney himself.
When we make that turn into the plaza of the Germany pavilion to see the charming Bavarian architecture and we hear the traditional German music in the background, we all seem to get happy. Maybe it's my wife and the connection to her heritage. It's a part of her that I love and adore so much because it's at the very core of who she is. But I think it goes beyond that. It's just a very happy place. All of World Showcase is happy, as well as all of Walt Disney World for that matter, but there's just a little something extra special about the Germany pavilion.
The music, the flowers, the architecture, the delicious food—it all combines and ends up making you feel very happy and very at ease. I like to think that it would have become one of our favorite spots even if my wife didn't have a special connection to it. We always end our Epcot day watching Illuminations from Germany. You practically have to pry us away from the pavilion after the show ends. To us, it's that special of a place.
That's how I felt back in 2017 about the Germany pavilion and its importance has even become more significant since then. On the night before my 50th birthday we had Biergarten reservations for all 27 people traveling with us on that wonderful trip. My wife's mom had recently passed away, and she hadn't been back to the Germany pavilion since. She wasn't even sure she could walk into Germany never mind spend the whole night there. I was ready to back out myself and so was our daughter. But as she approached Germany, that look in her eyes started to take over. The word that best described it was home…she was home. Instead of leaving, she decided that this was going to be a great way to honor her mother's memory and from that moment on, that night took on a whole different feeling. Once that German band came on stage, half of our crowd, including my wife and yours truly, ran out to the dance floor and at that moment we were all Bavarian. It was the first and only time I've ever danced at Disney and it was amazing. What a great way to end the first half century of my life!
Some sort of German/Disney magic took over and helped heal a part of my wife that night. The same thing happened to us back in March of this year. I got word that my dad had passed while I was at Walt Disney World, with my mom no less. My wife and I took my mother down to see her grandsons during their Disney College Program stay. We couldn't get a flight out that night and had to stay, and as I wrote about in that article about my Dad, Walt Disney World opened up its magical healing arms that night and took amazing care of all of us. It was a special night that none of us will ever forget. I'll never forget that night dancing with Diane at Biergarten either. Disney has a way of giving you just what you need sometimes.
In a week, I'll be headed back down to move one of our sons out of the College Program. We will, of course, spend some time in Epcot and I'm wondering how I will feel walking into the Germany pavilion. With all that is going on at home, I don't think Diane is going to make it this time. Our other son is staying in the program until January, so we plan on going back for a long weekend in the fall. I'm hoping she will have her German moment then. But one thing is for sure. My sons are now 21 and I promise you this. The three of us will head to Germany. We will bask in the Bavarian atmosphere that is their heritage, and we will all raise a cold Konig Ludwig Weisbier and say, "Ich möchte einen Toast auf Alfred ausbringen! - I'd like to propose a toast to Alfred." I'm hoping that some of that Disney magic will come over my boys as we toast this amazing man that has meant so much to them for the last 21 years. And me? I will be toasting the man that brought my beautiful wife into this world, which ultimately gave me my incredible kids. I owe him a sincere debt of gratitude not only for that, but for all he has done for my family and for all I have learned from him these past 30 years.
Here's to you Al. The Italian in me offers, "Salute!" The Irish half says, "May you be in heaven a full half hour before the devil knows you're dead." And most importantly, my adopted German side simply says, "Prost!" I'll think of you fondly as I sit in that special place in Epcot's Germany next week and I hope that that mysterious Disney magic once again brings me some peace.
That's all for this time. As always, I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below, share your thoughts and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.