New Ulm is primarily known as a destination for all things German, being named, after all, for a Deutsch city on the Danube. Founded in 1854 by German settlers, the lush Minnesota River valley town is located slightly more than 90 miles southwest of Minneapolis, and displays its heritage in everything from its German Restoration Revival architecture to a 45-foot glockenspiel in Schonlau Park. New Ulm is also home to Minnesota’s largest Oktoberfest festival, taking place this October 10 at August Schell Brewing Company (schellsbrewery.com), the second-oldest family-owned brewery in the U.S..
AUGUST SCHELL BREWING COMPANY, COURTESY EXPLORE MINNESOTA
But there’s more to the town than lederhosen, beer steins, and oompah music: A handful of contemporary shops, restaurants, and cultural centers in the historic downtown are helping to put the “new” in New Ulm. At the top of the list is Semblance (shopsemblance.com), a thoughtfully curated boutique that wouldn’t be out of place in the hippest corners of Brooklyn. The gallery-like shop features modern lifestyle magazines such as Kinfolk and Gather Journal merchandised alongside chic cowhide clutches, minimalist jewelry handmade in Israel, and one-of-a-kind clothing designs by Minneapolis designer Anna Chambers-Goldberg.
Courtesy of Gallery 512 Boutique
Other shopping highlights include Gallery 512 Boutique (facebook.com/gallery512boutique), which carries a trendy, contemporary mix of women’s and menswear accented by reclaimed-wood fixtures and raw brick walls, and A to Zinnia Floral and Gifts (a2zinniaflorist.com), a shop with a built-in greenhouse that sells a modern array of plants, home décor, and gifts.
After a morning of shopping, grab lunch at Lola: an American Bistro (lolaamericanbistro.com). While the charming café is known for its homemade scones and buttermilk biscuits, it also makes a delicious daily “farmer’s market” flatbread and roast beef po’ boy with grilled onions, roasted tomato, and horseradish served on a house-made baguette.
COURTESY PEPPERBOY WOOD FIRED PIZZA & BBQ
Two more fresh dining options include family-owned eateries the Pantry (nuchefspantry.com) and Pepperboy Wood Fired Pizza & BBQ (pepperboypizzaandbbq.com), located across the street from one another. The café-style Pantry has a menu dominated by fresh-caught perch—try it batter-fried for tacos with house-made slaw—while Pepperboy offers wood-fired pizza on par with the best in the metro. The “Nutty Italian” is a favorite, featuring an inventive and tasty blend of walnut pesto, calabrese salami, peppers, pepperoni, onions, and fresh mozzarella. In support of the local food movement, both restaurants source many of their ingredients from their own aquaponics farm and greenhouse located on the outskirts of town.
To enjoy a little evening entertainment, head to the Grand Center for Arts & Culture (thegrandnewulm.com), located in the former Grand Hotel. The historic building includes the 4 Pillars Art Gallery, artist studios, workshops and classes, and the Grand Kabaret, which features live jazz, bluegrass, and folk music—including the occasional polka tune—on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Classic New Ulm Favorites
Enjoy the new additions, but don’t forget these classics.
Rock the Garden
Tour the Schell’s Brewery and Gardens. Grab a brew or a house-brewed 1919 Root Beer at the bier garden (open through mid-October) and take a spin through the beautiful gardens that surround August Schell’s old family house. If you’re lucky, you just might spot one of the peacocks wandering the grounds.
Turner Hall, Photo by Images by Drea
New Ulm is home to the state’s oldest saloon, the Rathskeller Bar at Turner Hall (newulmturnerhall.org), founded in 1856. Originally composed of a gymnasium, a hall/theater, schoolrooms, a library, and a bar, the hall once served as the center of social life in the town.
Herman the German; Photo by Todd Buchanan
The Hermann the German statue is New Ulm’s most famous landmark, a symbol of German pride encircled by a spiral staircase that overlooks the town from hilltop.
If you’re after authentic German fare, it doesn’t get better than Viegel’s Kaiserhoff (kaiserhoff.org), which has been serving up some of Minnesota’s best bratwurst, schnitzel, and spaetzle—and its famous sauerkraut balls—for more than 75 years.
Cat Scratch Fever
The restored Queen Anne-style childhood home of author, translator, and illustrator Wanda Gág (wandagaghouse.org), best known for her children’s book Millions of Cats, features lithographs, photographs, memorabilia, and original artwork by Gág and her family.
A New Ulm Local’s Favorite Place: Morgan Creek Vineyards
Bobbi Baron, Semblance boutique owner
Courtesy of Morgan Creek Vineyard
“The Morgan Creek Vineyards are really fun. They do a grape stomp in the fall where you get in the big buckets and stomp around in the grapes like an I Love Lucy episode. It’s maybe 15 minutes out into the country, but worth the drive. The staff is great, the wine is great, and they have some great wood-fired pizza—plus live music.”
Navigating New Ulm:
1. Morgan Creek Vineyards
2. Hermann the German
3. Schonlau Park
4. Wanda Gág
5. The Grand, The Pantry, Pepperboy, Semblance, Viegel’s Kaiserhoff
6. Gallery 512, Lola
7. A to Zinnia
8. Turner Hall
9. Bingham Hall, Deutsche Strasse B&B
10. Schell’s Brewery