In 1968, Helen was a dying lumber town; not many resources or funds. Three businessmen were visiting in a local empty restaurant, and looking out at their quiet roads and forgotten town. What could they do, they wondered, to “spruce the place up?” What would make people stop here, instead of traveling through on their way to other stops in the mountains? They involved a local artist in the discussion, one who had traveled through Europe while in the service. He said the area reminded him of Bavaria. He created drawings of Helen, as if she were a Bavarian village, in the Appalachians, rather than the Alps.
The remake of Helen is a combination of entrepreneurship, civic pride, pioneer initiative, and community hands-on. All the shop fronts on Main Street were painted, decorated, and the idea became reality. This was the 49th year of one of the biggest Octoberfests in the U.S.; the only one that isn’t part of an ethnic demographic. Waiters and waitresses dress the part year-round, horse-drawn carriages move tourists through the town. And there are plenty of tourists. Helen ranks 4th in the state of Georgia for tourism.
Tourism, agriculture, and wineries sustain the little town of 510. It’s about 2 square miles, with the Chattahoochee River winding its way through the center of town. In the summer, it’s filled with innertubes and kids screaming their delight when they hit the rapids in the middle of town, waving to diners on the porches along the way.
There are other things to see in the area beyond the Alpine architecture and German bier gartens. The Cherokee Nation has indelible history in Northeast Georgia, as well as lots of local artistry including pottery and gourd art, candy making, and glass blowing. There’s always a line waiting at Hansel & Gretel Candy Store for fudge! The Southern Worthersee, a Volkswagon and Audi event from Austria, brings 20,000 visitors every year. A hot air balloon race in June, fills the blue sky with brilliant color all the way to the coast. Fasching is a winter tradition here, as in Germany, complete with masks and parade. A big Christmas parade and a Santa Station, which sits in town year-round, is a storybook setting for photos.
Helen, Georgia, awaits you whatever the season.