Deutschland in Minnesota

History, Iconic Communities, On the Road, Traditions
on October 8, 2000

For a taste of Germany, New Ulm is closer than Ulm.

To experience Germany without traveling to Europe, New Ulm, Minn., is about as close as youll get.

Founded in 1854 by immigrants from the province surrounding Ulm, Germany, this town of 13,438 in southern Minnesota has retained its German identity through two world wars and 150 years. Visitors can savor genuine German cuisine at the Heidelberg Restaurant and other eateries, hear polka music pouring from loudspeakers at specialty stores like the GutenTag Haus, and tour monuments dedicated to the towns German heritage.

The 102-foot Hermann Monument, a replica of a statue in Detmold, Germany, was built in 1897 as a tribute to Hermann of Cherusci, the Liberator of Germany who successfully fought off the Romans in 9 A.D. The monument on a bluff overlooking the town is undergoing a $1.4 million restoration.

Downtown, the Glockenspiel clock tower has a dozen animated figures illustrating the towns history, and the German-Bohemian Immigrant Monument lists by surname more than 350 of the towns first German settlers. Many were German-speaking people from what is today the Czech Republic.

Paul Kretschs ancestors were among them. Kretsch, whose family has lived in the New Ulm area for seven generations, says the community feels like home since he discovered his roots through the German-Bohemian Society.

Ive had opportunities to transfer, says Kretsch, a retired Kraft Foods employee. I decided not to go after those because I just like this area; Ive always felt comfortable here. A lot of my relatives are here.

New Ulm was founded by Frederick Beinhorn and followers of a German social movementthe Turnvereinwhich stressed the importance of physical fitness and cultural participation. The Turners, as followers were commonly called, laid out the town with broad avenues and symmetrical streets, numerous parks, and plenty of space for the homes and gardens still evident today.

Turner Halle was a part of the original town design as a social and cultural site for banquets, dances, lectures, and gymnastics instruction. The original wooden building burned down, but it was rebuilt with brick in 1865 and now hosts gymnastics training for area children.

Turner townsites are very unique, remarks Darla Gebhard, a research librarian for the Brown County Historical Society. Researchers come from all over to study the history of our community design.

Over the years, New Ulm has maintained strong ties with its namesake in Germany. Officials from Ulm and New Ulm remain in contact through a Sister City program. In 1984, Ulms mayor made a gift of 17th- and 18th-century German furniture now on display at the Brown County Museum. Young professionals participate in a cultural exchange facet of the program, living with host families as they learn about their sister city.

People come looking for a specific part of German heritage, but they find much more, says Terry Sveine, tour coordinator for the New Ulm Chamber of Commerce. They find a lovely American town full of friendly people.

New Ulm is home to 18 churches serving numerous faiths, the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, and such manufacturers as 3M Corp. and Kraft Foods. The Lind House, former residence of Minnesotas 14th governor, John Lind, also is here.

Every year the town hosts annual festivals celebrating its German heritage, including Fasching, a German-style Mardi Gras, and Bock Beer Festival in February; Heritagefest in July; and Oktoberfest in October.

The events draw thousands who consume large amounts of bratwurst and sauerkraut, German potato salad, apple strudel, and locally brewed beer amidst ethnic folk music performed by the likes of the Concord Singers, a German-language male chorus. Dubbed New Ulms Ambassadors of Good Will, the singing group travels throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe, entertaining and giving audiences a taste of New Ulms culture.

Its surprising how much German is left, says Dr. W. Withos, a visitor from Aschaffenburg, Germany. It feels like home.