As far as I could tell, Germans haven’t discovered Wisconsin Dells. At least, I didn’t notice any German spoken in any of the tourist destinations we visited in that famed tourist trap… I mean, mecca. An absence of spoken German is usually a pretty good sign that Lufthansa isn't bringing them over by the planeload for their American experience in that particular place, as described in their Reiseführer.
I don’t bring this up to be especially critical of Germans for going where their guidebooks tell them. I’ve certainly used enough guidebooks in my time, sometimes more than strictly necessary. More interesting is the question of what’s considered worthy of inclusion, and why a place like Wisconsin Dells – about as American as you can get, if you asked me – doesn’t seem to make the cut for German editors.
Which reminds me of my favorite German tourist moment. Back in ’97, we visited the Grand Canyon. One of our party wanted to take a helicopter tour, which we didn’t, so we waited for her at the heliport during her short flight. Also waiting were a group of Germans, one of whom seemed to be trying Dr. Pepper for the first time, as much as I could tell from my meager German. But I didn’t need any language to understand the look of distaste, and mystification, on the man’s face that said, Why would anyone drink this?
I heard no German among the other people riding the same Original Wisconsin Duck with us on August 6. I did hear a lot of talk from our driver, about 18 years old, who followed the tradition of drivers in tourist destinations by telling bad jokes:
“There was this family of tomatoes on the trail, dad, mom, and baby tomato. The baby tomato fell behind, and dad tomato got angry. He went back and whacked baby tomato: ‘Ketchup!’ ”
Never mind the jokes. I recommend the Ducks. Former amphibious vehicles in military service, they now have a civilian purpose. A trail in the countryside near Wisconsin Dells has been cut for them, and the narrow, white-and-Army green Ducks take riders lurching along these paths -- winding, sometimes up-and-down through forest but also charming fern dells and a couple of small gorges.
Twice along the way, the Duck enters the water. Once the Wisconsin River, famed at that point for its sandstone banks, and later the less-interesting manmade Lake Delton, though the guide had a story about the lakeside mansion (“Dawn Manor”) of the man who created the lake, and the eccentric woman who later bought it. Or maybe the man was eccentric and the woman created the lake. I forget the details, which weren’t as compelling as the ax-murders at Taliesin.