ISD Road Trip: West Bend, home of the ‘8th wonder of the world’

The Grotto of the Redemption is a large piece of art built in honor of the Virgin Mary. It is a composition of nine separate grottoes, each depicting a scene in Christ’s life.

Frances Myers

For this week’s road trip, the Daily ventured to West Bend, a town known for having what is sometimes called “the eighth wonder of the modern world.” A religious monument, the Grotto of the Redemption took more than 42 years to build and is the largest man-made grotto in the world.

Made up of nine individual grottoes, each part of the Grotto of the Redemption contains a scene from Christ’s life hand-carved from Italian Carrara marble. This monument covers an entire city block and is  famous for having “the largest collection of precious … rocks, minerals, fossils and petrifactions concentrated in any one spot in the world,” according to the West Bend website.

The history of the Grotto is a unique story in itself. According to the Grotto’s website, a young seminarian, the Rev. Paul Matthias Dobberstein had become critically ill with pneumonia. Fighting for his life, he prayed to the Virgin Mary to intercede for his life, and in return, he would build a shrine in her honor.

Dobberstein’s illness passed and he completed his studies and came to West Bend as Pastor in 1898. For more than ten years he stockpiled rocks and precious stones and began actually building the grotto in 1912.

According to the website, “The designed purpose of the Grotto is to tell, in silent stone made spiritually eloquent, the story of man’s fall and his redemption by Christ, the savior of the world.”


As usual, we had to grab a bite to eat on our trip. West Bend has a handful of local cafes but as it was a Sunday when we visited, many of these were closed. However, there was one that was open: the Grotto Café, located conveniently next to the Grotto of the Redemption.

With oldies music playing on the speakers overhead, cardboard cutouts of classic cars lining the counters and Coca Cola antiques, the place had a ‘50s vibe to it. The menu consisted of ice cream, sandwiches, cheeseburgers, chicken, hot dogs and salads, among other things. For breakfast, it offers many options such as pancakes, eggs, burritos and cinnamon rolls.

The town has many historical places to visit. The Villager is a store that has an old-fashioned soda fountain as well as a gift shop. There is also a historical museum in West Bend as well as a sod house and a one room school house and historical post office.

West Bend also offers recreational activities with eight golf courses within a 30-mile radius, camping and fishing opportunities with six different lakes in the area as well as the Iowa Great Lakes only an hour away.

Other activities include an outdoor swimming pool available to the public during the summer and little league softball and baseball.