Bavaria Meets Minnesota...
I've finally left South Dakota and entered my eighth state, Minnesota. South Dakota must have been ready to be rid of me. After a couple days of battling headwinds, I was greeted by a tailwind the day I left the state. And not just any tailwind, but a strong 20mph doozy that had me flying down the road. Rather than struggling to average 9mph, it was refreshing to make 16mph without really trying.
I'm now in New Ulm - the German capital of Minnesota. The city was founded by German immigrants in 1854 and still keeps a hold on its German heritage. Known as the polka capital of the country, German polka music is piped over a speaker system throughout the downtown district. There's even a radio station that has a daily polka hour. Many business names and signs are in German rather than English and I've seen as many German flags flying as I have Stars & Stripes. New Ulm is really one of the nicest small towns I've been to on the trip. With about 15,000 people, it seems to have a lot more going on than its size would suggest. The neighborhoods are filled with beautiful old Victorian homes with well-manicured lawns along big tree-lined streets. Many of these homes were built after what is locally called The Dakota Conflict of 1862.
The Dakota Conflict is a Minnesota-nice way of saying Indian Wars. By 1862, the Sioux tribes had mostly been relegated to reservations in areas that couldn't support their population. By treaty, the US government was to support the tribes, but of course, they didn't always come through on their promises. Starving, the tribes decided to fight back. In August 1862, they attacked settlements all along the Minnesota River. At New Ulm, they laid seige to the town and managed to burn most of it to the ground before US Calvary reinforcements could arrive. By December 1862, the conflict had ended. It was then that 38 captured Sioux warriors were hung at the same time in nearby Mankato in what was the largest mass execution in US history. There is an infamous drawing of the executions that shows thousands of local residents on hand to watch the hangings. That part of the story doesn't seem to be mentioned on any of the historical placards around town.
But that dark piece of history doesn't stop area residents from celebrating their German heritage throughout the year. Of course, they celebrate Octoberfest in the fall and they have a Maifest in spring. I'm lucky enough to be here during the city's summer 'Bavaria Blast' festival. Two tents of non-stop music, including a brass oompah band, an all-concertina (think accordion) orchestra, yodeling, lederhosen, bratwurst, schnitzel, spaetzle and, of course, beer!
Beer is actually what drew me to New Ulm as it is home to the Schell Brewing Company. Founded in 1860, it is the second oldest family-owned brewery in the US. It's still owned and operated by 5th generation descendents of the founder, August Schell. Schell makes some very good beers which can be sampled in most bars and restaurants around town as well as in the tasting room after taking a guided tour of the brewery. Make plans now to attend their 150th Anniversary celebration next year! :-)