By Peter Mandel
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, April 20, 2003

What's so scary about a sauerkraut ball? Deep-fried cabbage blobs are what people eat for snacks in Columbus, Ohio -- or in its cobblestoned German Village, anyway. And I am determined to bite into one. I am going to taste the cream cheese, sausage, mustard, bread crumbs, all the condiments.

But first, bartender, can you bring over another mug of beer?

It's the first warm day of spring and I am holed up at the Hey Hey Bar & Grill. Bar talk buzzes around the fact that I am from out of town. How do I like the historic brick and sandstone homes?

I think they are fine.

Have I been to Schiller Park and seen its man-made miniature hill, built for sledding?

Not yet. Not yet.

And, well, what about those tasty chunks on my plate? When am I going to dig in?

Columbus is the kind of town you visit for a particular reason, not just on a whim. Maybe you are touring Ohio in 2003 -- the state's 200th birthday. Perhaps you've come to look at the house where writer James Thurber grew up. Or maybe you are an alum of national football champ Ohio State, which sits on the northern edge of town.

As for me, I happen to like old sections of cities. I am told that Columbus's 19th-century German Village neighborhood covers more than 230 acres. That it is the largest privately funded historic district in the United States. And that it is a mecca for good sausages, pastries and pilsner beer.

Susan Chirac, from the village's preservation group, is leading me through Beacon Hill-like streets and alleyways. Here are fancy Italianate mansions, and over here a group of 1840s cottages, all in brick. Is that a grape arbor? Yep. And here are stables that have been converted into garages, as in Manhattan's Washington Square Mews.

Everywhere we walk we step on patterned cobbles, and most of the churches and houses have slate roofs. "If you climb up into the attic of one of these," says Chirac, "it's like a planetarium. Between the slabs of stone are little pinpricks of light, like stars."

Windowsills and lintels show off Alpine-style curly patterns, and at one of the limestone stoops in front of 130 Jackson St. I make Chirac stop. "Those are fossils in there," she explains. "That's a snail that was embedded when the stone was quarried. That's a sand dollar -- Ohio was once an ancient inland sea -- and that looks like some kind of shell."

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