Frankenmuth, Michigan
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Must Love Dogs

Finding romance at the festivals of Frankenmuth, Michigan

By Alex Fontaine

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Horse hooves clopping, the horse-drawn carriage rolled through downtown Frankenmuth, transporting me back to more than a year ago. My friends, Mandy and Lia, had talked me into spending Memorial Day Weekend with them in Frankenmuth, Michigan’s “Little Bavaria,” for the annual Dog Bowl. I was recovering from a recent breakup, and they thought a weekend of fun with our dogs would help eliminate the post-breakup funk.

For the love of dogs

For the love of dogs

Frankenmuth’s Dog Bowl is the world’s largest Olympic-style event for dogs. While Mandy’s dog, Rex, stopped to investigate a smell, my yellow Goldendoodle, Ginger, pulled me with the crowd toward the Pet Parade starting point. Chatter and happy barks filled the air as everyone milled around waiting for the parade to start. I spotted Lia and waved my hand to catch her attention, accidentally loosening my grip on Ginger’s leash. She was gone in a flash!

Racing after her, I saw her fluffy body suddenly lifted high in the air. “Who belongs to this little lady?”

I made a beeline for Ginger and the man holding her. “I’m so sorry!” I said, taking Ginger into my arms. As the man grinned at me, I was struck by a pair of deep green eyes and a flash of dimples. I realized I was staring and my face grew hot. “This is Ginger,” I said quickly. “Thanks for catching her. She’s a runner.”

“My pleasure,” the man said. “This is Fritz.” He indicated his little brown, wire-haired dachshund, looking very dapper in a plaid collar.

“Is this your first time attending the Dog Bowl?”

“Yes,” I said. “You?”

He laughed. There were those dimples again. “I came with my family as a kid, and now I come with Fritz,” he said. “It’s a blast!” He turned those green eyes back on me, twinkling. “You should come watch the Weiner Dog Races. Fritz and I are planning to win this year,” he said.

Just then, the announcer declared the parade was starting.

“There you are!” Lia was suddenly beside me as the crowd surged forward, and I lost sight of Ginger’s rescuer and Fritz. I hadn’t even gotten the man’s name.

The pet parade headed down Main Street, trailed by the regally arrayed Dog Bowl King and Queen. Many dogs wore costumes for the contest after the parade. Later, we watched dogs performing silly tricks and amazing agility stunts.

But I was waiting for the Wiener Dog Races. When that was announced, it wasn’t long before I spotted little Fritz among the wriggling, barking dogs and heard the announcer call, “On your marks. Get set. Go!” And they were off!

Well, some of them were off. Fritz shot forward, stopped and looked back. I could see the man I’d met earlier, waving his arms wildly to encourage the dog toward his friend waiting at the finish line. Instead, Fritz calmly trotted back to the man. I watched him scoop the pup up into his arms and hug Fritz's tiny, brown body. Fritz gave his owner a lick. The man looked up then, and caught my eye from across the field, giving me a little “Oh well” shrug. I smiled back at him.

“Too adorable!” Lia said next to me.

They were too adorable.

Within seconds, however, the crowd swallowed them up. And I didn’t see them again.

Romance at Oktoberfest

Months later, I met Mandy and Lia at Frankenmuth’s Oktoberfest. Frankenmuth’s event was the first Oktoberfest officially sanctioned by Munich in 1996. Frankenmuth was also the first U.S. destination to receive exports of Munich’s world-famous Hofbräu beer. The festivities evoke the sights and sounds of Munich’s Oktoberfest, with German food and beer, authentic entertainment, polka dancing and…another Wiener Dog Race?

“Yes,” Lia laughed. “Remember how funny it was at the Dog Bowl?”

I did. And I wondered if Ginger’s rescuer and Fritz would be here. Unbelievably, I spotted them a few minutes later. Fritz’s owner looked as handsome as I’d remembered. This time, Fritz, with short legs flying and oversized ears flapping, he won!

“Isn’t that the same dog that didn’t finish at the Dog Bowl?” Mandy asked.

“Yes,” I said. “I…think I’ll go say congratulations.” I turned back, but incredibly, they’d disappeared. Again!

It was ridiculous to feel sad, after all I didn’t even know him. But I was. I sighed and offered to get us a round of beers.

Up at the counter, I said, “Can I get three Hofbräu—”

While another voice said simultaneously, “Can I get a Hofbräu—”

And there were those magic green eyes, widening at the sight of me.

“You!” we both said at the same time, and laughed.

I learned that his name was Chris. He joined my friends at our table and we spent the rest of the day together. Chris knew how to polka, and whirled me around the dance floor. We laughed and danced and talked until the event ended at midnight.

Happily ever after

I broke out of my reverie as the carriage came to a stop in front of Zehnder’s restaurant.

“What are you thinking about,” my new husband, Chris, asked, helping me from the carriage.

“I’ll tell you later,” I said. “Right now, I’m starved!”

The elegant white façade of Zehnder’s restaurant was inspired by Mount Vernon, the home of President George Washington. Zehnder’s is known for its family-style chicken dinners, so that’s what we ordered. We enjoyed fried chicken and multiple courses of authentic German fare.

Afterwards, while strolling hand-in-hand through downtown, Chris said, “Hey. You never told me what you were thinking about before…?”

I smiled. “I was remembering how we met,” I said.

“Ah yes, our famous Frankenmuth festival flings,” he replied, dimples flashing.

“Say that three times fast,” I joked.

Instead, he kissed me once, slow.

I think I know where we’ll be celebrating our first anniversary.