A great gingerbread adventure leads back home

Frosting, candy, and gingerbread—oh my!

Pepperkakebyen in Bergen, Norway, is the world’s largest gingerbread city and was the inspiration for Lori Ann Reinhall’s great gingerbread adventure.

The Norwegian American

I have to admit that gingerbread was not a big part of my family’s Christmas traditions when I was growing up. Sure, we had gingerbread cookies, but my grandmother’s almost legendary spritz cookies so surpassed them that we tended to think of little else when it came to holiday baked goods. We were, however, once very lucky to be given a gingerbread house by one of our neighbors, Helen Lewandowski, who had spent several years in Germany, where her husband was stationed in Nuremberg, after World War II. I was only 5 years old then, and somehow I came to associate gingerbread with Germany and the Lewandowski family, who were of proud Polish extraction.

It was just four years ago when I visited Bergen, Norway, when this childhood perception got straightened out. As the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister Association, I was invited to tour Pepperkakebyen, an extraordinary exhibit filled with houses modeled on Bergen’s most famous buildings. It is the largest display of gingerbread houses in the world. I was blown away. Gingerbread was not just German, but it was indeed very Norwegian! Gingerbread was now very high on my radar, and I went looking for it in other places.

Photo courtesy of Norway House
Gingerbread Wonderland at Norway House in Minneapolis is always a highlight of the holiday season in the Twin Cities.

It was actually gingerbread that led me to Norway House in Minneapolis. Exploring online, I discovered that it is home to an annual Gingerbread Wonderland, inspired by Pepperkakebyen in Bergen. At Gingerbread Wonderland, you can find all kinds of gingerbread houses modeled after local Minnesota landmarks, as well as famous Norwegian sites.

The town of Solvang in California’s Santa Ynez Valley is home to the Solvang Bakery, known for its selection of gingerbread houses for the holidays.

I started to follow the Gingerbread Wonderland contest and made sure that it made the newspaper, and through this initial outreach, I was able to get to know the staff at Norway House. Was gingerbread indirectly responsible for The Norwegian American eventually joining forces with them? It is now a tradition for the paper to cover the events surrounding Gingerbread Wonderland, and this year, I will have the honor of serving on the adjudication team for the contest—and I can’t wait!

More recently, my quest for gingerbread led me to Solvang, Calif., with our travel editor, Cynthia Elyce Rubin. The town of Solvang looks like a real-life Danish gingerbread town, built in an architectural style reminiscent of Hans Christian Andersen’s Odense of 19th century Denmark or a fairy-tale village straight out of Disney’s Frozen. I learned that the Solvang Bakery was the place for gingerbread houses, but because we arrived too early for the annual Julefest, the full array of houses had not been put out. Nonetheless, I found a cute little cottage to admire. I am now motivated to go back to Solvang during December to see its gingerbread in all its glory.

Editor-in-chief Lori Ann Reinhall had fun decorating a house at Gingermania in the Crystal Ballroom at Seattle’s Washington Athletic Club this year.

But, alas, I was not out of luck. As often is the case, I learned that there is plenty of gingerbread to enjoy closer to home here in Seattle, in fact, very close, in our local grocery store right next door to the condo where I live. There, I found a Swedish gingerbread house kit, so I bought it and tried my luck. The walls were pre-baked, so it really was only a question of assembling them and putting on the decorative touches.

This first attempt didn’t go badly and prepared me for a much bigger event, Gingermania at Seattle’s Washington Athletic Club. My husband was brave enough to attend with me, along with hundreds of children and their parents. We first fortified ourselves with a wonderful brunch at the club’s restaurant, where the buffet included—of course—gingerbread, then got to work on our pre-assembled gingerbread house. The practice at home helped, and we were satisfied with our new structure. With so many happy kids surrounding us in the club’s beautiful Crystal Ballroom, it was a magical holiday experience.

I have since discovered that Seattle is a true gingerbread town, with houses for sale in its many bakeries and even at some of the more exclusive grocery chains.

Gingerbread Village at Seattle’s Sheraton Grand Hotel brings together the city’s top bakers, architects, and master gingerbread builders.

My most recent stop on my great gingerbread adventure was at Seattle’s Sheraton Grand Hotel and its Gingerbread Village. For this fundraiser for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the city’s most prominent bakers, architects, and master gingerbread builders come together to put on a truly grand exhibit.

What can I say? Gingerbread is simply downright good in so many ways. I hope you will soon head out on your own gingerbread adventure and wish you very happy holidays.

All photos by Lori Ann Reinhall unless otherwise indicated.

This article originally appeared in the December 2, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.