Fall drives are an annual Minnesota tradition, and the ones we’ve selected include everything you need to make the most of the season.
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Celebrating Oktoberfest in New Ulm
We didn’t know about the pool. We didn’t know that the rooms at the Holiday Inn–New Ulm form a faux-Bavarian courtyard around the pool, or that during Oktoberfest the pool is covered with a dance floor and, once the accordionist starts in, the glass doors of all the rooms slide open and stay open for a kind of family reunion that is at least as much about small-town America as Germany.
Instead, my wife and I make our first Oktoberfest-weekend stop at Schell’s Brewery on the edge of town, a two-hour drive from Minneapolis into the rolling corn country of the Minnesota River Valley. A grandmotherly chauffeur hauls us in a minivan from the parking lot to the antique red-brick buildings where a female tour guide in lederhosen shows us around. An enormous tent, as though for a revival, awaits merrymakers, including the couples from Nebraska and Ohio who had recently been to Brat Days in Sheboygan, Wisconsin—sausage groupies.
For dinner, we head downtown to Veigel’s Kaiserhoff, a circa-1938 throwback known, strangely enough, for its barbecue ribs, the entry lined with photos of Minnesota celebrities who have enjoyed them. Each booth has its own mini-jukebox, and at the bar sits the owner, an Ed McMahon type, fingers studded with rings, listening to Bing Crosby Christmas tunes. I order the German sampler: ribs, two sausages, warm German potato salad, and a brain-size platter of sauerkraut.
In other words, we blew it. The Holiday Inn, we soon discover, has a chalkboard menu listing seven or eight kinds of sausage, which, if I’d played my cards right, could have been the world’s greatest prix fixe. But all I have room for by then is the apple strudel.
The music had already started, cuing dancers in sweatshirts to hurtle over the pool to polka as teens in jeans hung back by the root beer. A second band was playing in a conference room with rows of long tables, an ad-hoc rathskeller. And around 10 p.m., the fools arrive: Die Narren, they’re called, über-Oktoberfesters in enormous exaggerated peasant masks who parade among the tables then chat with their friends about the kids, the crops, the weather.
It’s raining the next morning as we make our way downtown to the small bandstand sheltering Dain’s Dutchmen, a family polka outfit led by a 20-something concertina player in a seed cap and beard (not the ironic kind). We huddle together with dairy farmers watching as old men spin young women around the pavement in a pageant that could only unfold here, in Minnesota’s most German town.
Where to Stay
Holiday Inn New Ulm (2101 S. Broadway, New Ulm, ihg.com) is ground central. Don’t plan on going to sleep early. Deutsche Strasse Bed and Breakfast (404 S. German St., New Ulm, deutschestrasse.com) has all the gemütlichkeit you can handle.
Where to Eat
You can’t do better than the homemade grub at Otto's Feierhaus and Bierstube at the Holiday Inn: spaetzle, brat, sauerkraut, and warm German potato salad. But don’t miss Veigel’s Kaiserhoff (221 N. Minnesota St., New Ulm, 507-359-2071, kaiserhoff.org) even if you only have room for the Weight Watcher’s Special: 1/3-pound broiled hamburger or chicken breast with cottage cheese, tomato, and egg slices.
What to Do
Polka, eat, buy a dirndl. The 32nd annual Oktoberfest is October 4–5, 11–12; newulmoktoberfest.com.