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Culture

New Ulm/Minnesota: A German Town on the Prairie

A small town on the banks of the Minnesota River is steeped in German heritage.

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"Herman the German" towers over New Ulm

Highway 15 is a four lane road that passes through New Ulm, a small town on the banks of the Minnesota River. People just driving through probably won't notice anything out of the ordinary in this town: they'll pass two gas stations, three fast food restaurants, two motels and some supermarkets. At first glance, New Ulm looks much like any other small town in the US.

But those who look closely will see some striking differences: the street lamps in town are decorated with flags depicting Herman the Cheruscan, who united the German tribes to fend off the invading Romans in 9 AD. The local shopping center in New Ulm is called Marktplatz, there's a bed & breakfast by the name of Deutsche Strasse, and Veigel's Kaiserhoff restaurant serves authentic German food.

Walking along the streets of New Ulm, you can hear familiar German tunes, when the town's bell tower or Glockenspiel rings out old favorites like "Rosamunde" three times a day.

New Ulm calls itself 'The City of "Charm and Tradition"'. It's proud of its German roots, dating back to the mid 19th century. Immigrants from south-western Germany and from the Egerland region, which today is part of the Czech Republic, founded this little town on the prairie.

Each year, thousands of tourists flock to New Ulm to celebrate German-American heritage festivals and to experience a part of "Germany" in the heartland of the US.

The town of New Ulm originated in the 1850s. Many of its historic buildings are beautifully preserved, explains the town's mayor Arnold Koelpin. He draws attention to grand old villas and the 'Ratskeller'. This German-style pub is located underneath Turner Hall , the old gymnasium which was originally called 'Turnerhalle'.

The Ratskeller and Turner Hall were built in the late 19th century by democratic activists from Germany's Württemberg region. They had left their home country because the German revolution of 1848 had failed: The monarchy in Germany was strengthened and their goal of achieving more democratic rights in their homeland was crushed.

The New Ulm 'Ratskeller' still bears witness to some of their hopes and dreams of a better Germany. Mayor Arnold Koelpin explains that the murals on its walls show German castles like Heidelberg or the Wartburg in the town of Eisenach: "They painted them so that they would be reminded of Germany whenever they came down here to drink their beers. People still enjoy being here because it's so gemütlich."

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