MESSAGE TO FUTURE VISITORS: Hermann is great fun, unless you go too far

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by Jeff Noedel

CNL Publisher

Written in the last hour of Oktoberfest 2011 (5:30 p.m., Sun., Oct. 23, 2011)

I've tried to write the headline to this item so it comes up in search engines under the phrase "Hermann is fun."  For future visitors.  Because it is fun, and Hermann means for it to be fun, inviting, hospitable, memorable.  Hermann is a great place to visit AND to live.  And Hermann gets many, many return visitors.

Unfortunately, there seem to be a minority of visitors who perceive Hermann as a small town where just about anything goes.

Lawless, Hermann is not.

On a good Oktoberfest Saturday, up to 10,000 people may come into the town and have a great time.  Ten of those 10,000 people (1/10th of 1 percent) will be hauled to a holding cell in the Hermann Police Department, in handcuffs.  They'll be booked-in and charged.  They'll be given a date to come back to Hermann for municipal court, or worse.

I stood on sidewalks for many hours these four Saturdays, and I witnessed a number of those arrests.  In many cases, those being charged seem genuinely surprised that Hermann wasn't the "anything goes" place they heard.  They seem to be amazed they are sitting in the back of a police car, their arms behind their backs in handcuffs.

What they don't assume, or believe, is that the Hermann Police Department is run by one of the best police chiefs in small town Missouri.  Frank Tennant is a mix of country friendliness and big city toughness.  I call it "Mayberry meets Quanitco (FBI headquarters in Virginia)."  Because Tennant's gentle, good-humored Andy Griffith (right down to the Southern accent) personality belies his FBI training.

Tennant is not just a good cop; he's also a good politician.  He has carefully discerned the precise balance of kindness and toughness the Hermann community, including Hermann's important and powerful alcohol-centered businesses, want.

Every bus full of visitors who arrives in Hermann has to listen to a speech from a cop who boards the bus before the riders are allowed out.  In it, the officer says (paraphrasing) "You are a visitor here.  People live here.  You are a guest."  The officer says he hopes the visitors have a good time and stay safe, but he warns there are real limits.  But the officers are instructed to be very friendly.

That means on the sidewalk, you'll find Hermann Police officers (regular and reserve) to be incredibly approachable.  Ask them directions.  Even kid-around with them.  Take your picture with them (most of them will agree, not all). 

But some visitors seem to mis-read the friendliness of Hermann police as an indication of high tolerance.  And that's where the six to 10 arrests come-in.

Hermann does not have a public drunkeness law, so the police do not have a problem if you happen to stumble (unless you stumble into a car and get behind the wheel).

But Hermann is very serious about enforcing its laws against:

  • open containers
  • fighting
  • public urination and exposure
  • getting into creeks and ponds
  • property destruction or theft
  • drunk driving

Do any of these things, and you'll see Hermann Police are not nearly as cool as you thought they were.

And what are the chances you'll be seen doing these things?  Chances are high.  Tennant hires two-dozen of the best reserve officers in the region.  Every Saturday afternoon and Saturday evening of Oktoberfest, it's like the Who's Who of local law enforcement.  Hermann's reserve force includes former Hermann police officers, off-duty police chiefs from other jurisdictions, detectives, respected deputies, even the Sheriff of a nearby county.  To think of this temporary police force as "rent a cops" is a serious mistake.  This is a hand-picked elite reserve squad who feel honored to be asked by Tennant.  The return rate of Tennant's reserve officers is very high (in a field, law enforcement, known for high turnover).  Tourists enjoy coming back to Hermann, and so do Tennant's reserve officers.

On top of that, the beer garden in Sesquicentennial Park is staffed by several uniformed Gasconade County Sheriff's Department brass and deputies.

And if, by chance, one of these two-dozen-plus cops doesn't witness a crime take place, there are dozens of bouncers who might.  Failing that, citizens and even other visitors will be watching.

That's how Oktoberfest ended this year (2011).  In the final hour of the final day, a drunk Mizzou student allegedly grabbed a U.S. flag proudly hanging from a storefront on 1st St., ripped it down and broke the pole mount.  (Like most rural American towns, Hermann doesn't take well to disrespect to the U.S. flag.)  Citizens quickly called 911, gave a detailed description, and Hermann police went to work.  They found their man, witnesses identified him, and the police made the arrest.  As this item is being written, his bus is waiting while he is being processed and being given a court date.

He denies the alleged petty misdemeanor property damage.  He can make his case to the judge in February.

It is highly likely you are in the 99.9 percent of Hermann visitors who will come to Hermann, have a great time, and leave our little economy stronger than you found it.  We can't wait to see you (Hermann is also a great place for Christmas shopping, too!  And don't forget Shelbyfest, Maifest, and multiple Hermann Wine Trail events.)  Stay the night in one of 60-plus B&Bs, or bring a camper or a tent.  Plan to drink great wines and beers, and eat delicious food.  Shop our cool shops and tour our excellent galleries and museums.  Drink-in our well-preserved historic structures and incredible natural beauty (See why Hermann is often voted prettiest small town in Missouri).  Tap your toes to an extremely wide range of live music.  Hermann works very, very hard to give you a great tourist experience.  And keep this in mind: Hermann is one of the fastest-growing wedding venues in Missouri.  Not just for beautiful weddings, but a one-of-a-kind romantic setting for anniversaries!

If -- on the other hand -- you are in the 1/10th of 1 percent who thought Hermann was a great place to come and get away with things you wouldn't expect to get away with in other cities, now you know.  You probably won't.