History and culture combine to provide a fun-filled weekend in New Ulm. The southwestern Minnesota community has an interesting history, from German immigration in the mid-1800s to being part of the Indian Wars in the early 1860s.
The town defended itself against two attacks by the Dakota tribe. The tribe had a reservation near the outskirts of town. However, in 1862 – during the American Civil War – the federal government stopped making its annual payments to the tribe for land it had “purchased.” Suffering from hunger and with little supplies, Dakota tribal leaders lodged their complaints about the situation. Some local businessmen weren’t sympathetic, including one who said the Native Americans could eat grass or dung.
Upset by their treatment by townspeople and the government, some members of the Dakota waged an attack on locals one August morning. About 300 Native Americans attacked the town, burning buildings and killing a few people. Residents responded to defend the town.
A second attack involved about 600 Dakota members. Locals had reinforced New Ulm, and were able to hold the town. Eventually, military units and others arrived to support New Ulm.
Some tribal members fled the area, ending up in Canada or other parts of the region. The ones who were in the area – about 1,600 – were captured and imprisoned at Fort Snelling near St. Paul. Another 38 Dakotas (allegedly part of the battles) were executed in nearby Mankato. The war was the beginning of the end of the Dakota in Minnesota. Tribal members were eventually relocated to the Santee reservation in northeast Nebraska. These people were my ancestors. I believe I am discovering a new part of me when we visit places that have a connection to my personal history.
The story of the 1862 war is discussed at the Brown County Historical Museum. The third floor is dedicated to the war’s story. The museum is located in a former post office building. The exterior is beautiful. It has a unique design. The building was constructed in 1910.
The museum includes a look at early life in New Ulm. A variety of items are displayed, with everything donated by locals. An early ice cutter was used on the Minnesota River in the 1920s. Ice was delivered to several farms in the area.
We enjoy checking out items at local museums. They tell an area’s history. The area’s German history is displayed through a variety of dishware and dolls.
New Ulm is home to the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame. The Hall includes internationally known performers, such as Prince, Bob Dylan, Judy Garland, the Andrews Sisters and Eddie Cochran.
Hall of Fame inductees range from a variety of music backgrounds, including polka, country and western, rock and roll, as well as Christian. A photo of the Lundstrom family performing brought back childhood memories of seeing them in Oakland, Nebraska.
Whoopee John was a popular polka performer during the 1920s. The New Ulm native toured with his band and performed on the radio.
Overlooking the city is Hermann. The German statue is part of a 102-foot tall monument that overlooks New Ulm and the river valley. Hermann is considered a symbol of honor and pride. The statue was commissioned in 1887 to resemble one in Germany. During summer months, visitors can climb a set of stairs for view of the area from near Hermann.
Downtown New Ulm should be a priority when visiting. You get a taste of history, culture, art and great food. The downtown area is about six or seven blocks long, so it makes for a nice leisurely stroll.
You never know what you may find when visiting new places. A giant footprint outside the visitors center is rumored to be that of Hermann. It’s believed that touching the footprint will make you have more fun. Since we had a fun time during our visit, it must be true.
The buildings range from the 1800s to more recent renovations. The Grand Hotel has been in New Ulm since 1875. It’s currently a wine shop.
The Kiesling House is the lone wooden structure to survive the US-Dakota War of 1862.
We fell in love with a German-themed store. Guten Tag Haus has a great collection of German beer steins and mugs. We actually saw a few that we have at home from my tour in then-West Germany with the Air Force.
The store has an impressive collection of nutcrackers and smokers. Smokers are used to burn incense. Additional items that can be found in the store are Christmas ornaments, chocolates and candies and souvenirs.
A second German store – Domeiers – is also popular with tourists and locals.
New Ulm is home to one of the few freestanding carillons of its size. A 45-foot tall Glockenspiel has 15-minute musical performances at noon, 3 and 5 p.m. daily. A three-figure polka band is located beneath the clock. Twelve figurines representing New Ulm’s history and culture rotate on a platform. The Glockenspiel was dedicated in 1980.
The downtown area is home to a variety of restaurants, such as Lola’s, New Ulmer and Kaiserhoff. I was in the mood for traditional German food, so we agreed to dine at Kaiserhoff. I enjoyed a delicious meal of wienerschnitzel, red cabbage and spaetzle. I had a cup of sauerkraut soup to start off the meal.
We love public art and New Ulm created a new look for fire hydrants. Each fire hydrant was painted to represent a character or theme throughout downtown. Of course, Hermann the German was represented. So were a leprechaun, sock monkey, dalmation and “Peanuts” characters. On a more serious note, a couple of hydrants were painted with patriotic themes, including an American flag.
Mosaics of historic German flags are located alongside a downtown building. They represent four periods from 742 through 1832.
I am a fan of monuments and memorials. I believe they honor residents and a city’s history. A monument honoring the people who fought in the Dakota attacks – The Defender monument – is located a few blocks from downtown.
A statue honors the German-Bohemian immigrants to the area. It’s located in the German Park, a block from downtown.
A memorial recognizes Brown County residents who have served in the military. A path featuring bricks with veterans names on them lead to the monument, whose design features an outline of the state with an eagle above a globe over it.
I fell in love with German bier during my tour of duty in the Air Force. So, the opportunity to tour the Schell Brewery was one I jumped on quickly. The tour differed from others we’ve been on, as the guide spent time discussing the brewery’s ownership history – from August Schell to his great-grandson Ted Marti.
The brewery tour took us around the grounds, including the old brewhouse. Following the tour, we sampled six beers. A couple brought back memories of German beer.
Since we’re on the subject of beer, let’s transition to wine. We visited Morgan Creek Winery (not right after our brewery tour). We sampled a flight of four wines – two white and two red. The white wines reminded me of the wines in the Rhein region, near where I was stationed. I’m not a fan of red wine, but I enjoyed the ones we sampled at Morgan Creek. We plan to make a stop next time we’re in the area.
History, culture, food and art converged at Turner Hall. The Turners – a German society – believed in a healthy mind and body. Gymnastics was common at halls. Today, Turner Hall still offers gymnastics on the second floor, while the first floor is home to a restaurant and bar. Murals of German castles surround diners.
New Ulm was home to a couple of well-known historical figures. John Lind was the 14th governor of Minnesota and the first Swedish-American to serve in Congress. He also served as the American ambassador to Mexico.
Wanda Gag is known for writing children’s books, such as “Millions of Cats.” Her childhood home was designed by her father, Anton. Anton was a photographer and designer.
Catholics have had an influence in New Ulm religion. The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity is a beautiful facility. It has large ceiling and arches. The stained glass windows accent the light colors in the church. I loved the altar area, with a mural of God looking over heaven.
The priest encouraged creating the Way of the Cross, an outdoor tribute to Jesus Christ as told in through the Stations of the Cross. The walk is located on a slight incline in a wooded area. A small park is located nearby, with a statue honoring the Rev. Berghold.
Our weekend in New Ulm included a stay at the Best Western Plus. The hotel’s exterior design has a German feel. The hotel has a conference center. Our room was comfortable. We enjoyed the hotel. Our breakfast options were impressive each morning. We enjoyed our stay at the hotel.
New Ulm has a lot to offer visitors. Besides the attractions we visited, the area offers recreation areas, such as lakes and hiking trails.
New Ulm truly combines history and culture to tell its story. We enjoyed our visit and recommend spending a weekend or a few days here.
For more information on New Ulm and its attractions, please visit www.newulm.com.
Disclaimer: Thank you to the New Ulm visitors bureau for the complimentary tickets, meal and hotel stay. However, all opinions and views are ours.