City spotlight: Hamtramck, Michigan

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Hamtramck (pronounced ham-TRAM-ik) may only cover 2.1 square miles, but for what it lacks in size, it makes up for in culture. Surrounded by neighboring city Detroit, and sharing a small border with Highland Park, Hamtramck has cemented itself as a historically rich city.

Established as a township in 1798 by Colonel Jean Francois Hamtramck, Hamtramck started as a German-American farming city of 500 citizens. With the creation of the Dodge brothers’ Dodge Main auto plant in 1914, the soon-to-be home of the first Dodge vehicle rolled out in November 1954, there was an influx of Polish workers that drove the village’s growth from nearly 3,600 to more than 46,000 people. This rapid growth was a catalyst for Hamtramck becoming its own city in 1922. While this city started with a predominantly Polish population, the Yemeni and Bangladeshi community has emerged as a majority group.

Hamtramck has a number of festivals and attractions that celebrate the diverse backgrounds that make up this amazing city. To get a taste of Hamtramck’s Polish heritage, check out the Polish Art Center for beautiful keepsakes and trinkets. There’s also the Boishakhi Mela’, a celebration of the Bangladeshi community.  One of the city’s top tourist attractions is the “Hamtramck Disneyland,” a folk art installation constructed over three decades by artist Dmytro Szylak.

Each March, the Hamtramck Music Festival unites music lovers with over 175 musical performances at various venues across the city.  This festival is fun with a cause – attendees get to hear great music and bands donate their time to charities and youth music programs. The Hamtramck Labor Day Festival, held Labor Day weekend, is the perfect summer send-off. This 30-year tradition unites Hamtramck residents and residents of surrounding cities, young and old. The Fowling Warehouse combines football and bowling, along with food, drinks (including over 180 beers) and good music, for a fun time for all. Stop by neighborhood favorite Polish Village Café or the Yemen Café for delicious Yemeni specialties.

One can’t mention Hamtramck without thoughts of its foodie staple…the paczki. This Polish pastry is often eaten on Fat Thursday (or Paczki Day), a time that ushers in the beginning of Lent. Paczkis contain four ingredients forbidden during lent – sugar, eggs, lard and fruit, which is why households would prepare paczkis to get rid of these items before the start of Lent. Patrons can be seen lined up for hours at hometown favorites like New Palace Bakery or the New Martha Washington Bakery to get their hands on this sweet treat.