In the summer, Minnesotans head north to the lake cabin. In the winters, we try to head south to find heat. Maybe driving just two hours south of the Twin Cities isn’t any warmer than anywhere else in Minnesota, but in the town of New Ulm, the German traditions, cozy downtown atmosphere, and smiling gnomes will give you that gooey warm feeling inside—even in November.
When I was a figure skater in my grade school days, my mom and I drove down to New Ulm every November for a figure skating competition held at the New Ulm Civic Center. When we weren’t in the rink, or in the parking lot trying to figure out how to get my mom’s car keys out of the locked trunk, we loved exploring New Ulm. Even after the first year of visiting, it felt like home.
On our first afternoon getting to the know city, we drove around to admire the fall foliage and make a stop to see the Hermann warrior statue, a monument with a spiral staircase and a view of the valley at the top. The staircase was closed, but we still walked away giggling as we tried to say “Hermann the German” as many times in a row as we could.
Continuing our drive, we went below the speed limit to look at people’s yards. We heard from a local at the ice rink that residents keep gnomes in their yards to support the town’s German tradition. This turned out to be true. We saw even more gnomes at Domeier’s German Store, along with a ton of Christmas décor.
Domeier’s, along with GutenTag Haus and other stores, carry traditional German gifts and trinkets like cuckoo clocks, little wooden guys wearing lederhosen, intricately crafted beer steins, and other items that you’re not used to seeing at typical gift shops.
Surprisingly, my favorite part of our New Ulm excursions was simply walking around town, listening to loud, but musical, afternoon performances of the glockenspiel. It seems there are monuments and plaques everywhere, telling stories of the people and history. It’s satisfying to know that a town has been able to make its past such a big part of its present.
I’m not a history buff, but I loved going to the Brown County History Museum where we learned more about the German’s settlement in New Ulm, the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, and I’m not sure if it’s still there, but my skating friends and I loved the shoes exhibit, displaying the progression of walking shoes over time.
There’s no better way to experience the German history than by taste, so we stopped at Veigel’s Kaiserhoff where I had the best bratwurst (in New Ulm, you must pronounce it with the “v” sound). After eating, when you step outside on Minnesota Street, you will find that the streets are quieter and shops have closed. The town may have an early bedtime, but I hear during Oktoberfest season, the town is wide awake into the wee hours of the night. I’ll have to check this out for myself sometime and create new New Ulm traditions.