Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The “real” Fergus Falls as viewed by a Minnesotan December 28, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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A view of downtown Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.


IF YOU LIVE IN MINNESOTA, New York or Germany, you are likely familiar with the case of a now-fired Der Spiegel journalist who visited Fergus Falls and fabricated a magazine story about this west central Minnesota community and its people. If there’s one thing we Minnesotans don’t like, it’s lies about who we are. How this writer thought he could pen such a piece of fiction and get away with it is beyond my comprehension.


The iconic Dairyland Drive In in Fergus Falls. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.


If you’re unfamiliar with the story, click here to read a post on Bob Collins’ NewsCut blog at Minnesota Public Radio. He offers a good summary. Fergus Falls folks set the record straight with their own investigation of Claas Relotius’ claims in a particularly humorous piece. It’s worth your read.


Visitors to the Kaddatz Galleries in downtown Fergus Falls peruse the art of Charles Beck. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


I’ve been to Fergus Falls. Several times. And I’ve found it to be an artsy community with a lovely downtown and equally lovely people.


The most unusual place my poetry has been published, on billboards as part of the Roadside Poetry Project in Fergus Falls. This is the last of four billboards featuring my poem. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.


Heck, I even had a poem posted on billboards there back in 2011 as part of the (now-defunct) Roadside Poetry Project.


The iconic The Viking Cafe with its vintage booths and lunch counter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.


I visited several places that endear Fergus Falls to me—The Viking Cafe, Dairyland Drive In, Kaddatz Galleries, Otto the Otter statue and top of my list, Victor Lundeen & Company. Then third-generation print shop owner Paul Lundeen gave me a personal tour of his second floor print shop, showing me lots of vintage art and type. You can bet I was an appreciative visitor given my interest in all things print.


Victor Lundeen & Co. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


This is the Fergus Falls I saw. Not some backward, gun-toting community of hicks, as portrayed by the German magazine writer.


The Otto the otter statue in Adams Park in Fergus Falls. The Otter Tail River runs through this city where the Fergus Falls High School mascot is the otter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Take a look at my blog posts for my view of Fergus Falls. It’s nothing like Relotius’ fabricated version. And that’s a good thing.











TELL ME: Are you familiar with this story and how would you react if a foreign writer negatively fictionalized your community? Have you been to Fergus Falls? If yes, what’s your perspective of this Minnesota community?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


22 Responses to “The “real” Fergus Falls as viewed by a Minnesotan”

  1. You’re famous!! A billboard?!! 🙂 Lovely pics, Audrey.

  2. Littlesundog Says:

    Wow! I loved this post, Audrey! What a great job you did with photographs! It’s all perspective you know. Every town or place has a story to be told. There are nuggets of interest everywhere, one just needs a sense of adventure and a desire to investigate and understand. Your photos alone would lead me to wander the streets and have a bite to eat at the Viking Cafe! And what is wrong with being a hick or a redneck anyway? I love that we’re called rednecks down here… what a story THAT makes!

    Brilliant post, Audrey! Relotius didn’t know the Scandinavian spirit of Fergus Falls, but I bet he does now!

  3. CravesDad is from Kandiyohi County and spent time in the Wilmar, St. Cloud, Brainerd, Detroit Lakes area growing up. I have to say very nice and welcoming people in those areas and open to shooting the breeze over a cup of coffee or a beer. Small town feel with BIG HEART 🙂 Happy Day – Enjoy!

  4. Got your hackles up on this one, didn’t it? I thought of you when I read the whole account of the article. Silly man! Who did he think he was?

  5. Valerie Says:

    I had not heard this story…wow…I am surprised, and now glad he has been “caught”. Very interesting.

    It’s fun your poetry made bill boards! That’s huge…(no pun intended…well maybe a little bit – HA)

  6. Great post. Writing a fictional story as truth, is the same as having prejudgement of people of a particular race or religion. Not acceptable.

  7. Gunny Says:

    Well, maybe the writer was goofing off and wanted his editor think that he had uncovered a sensational story. I ran into someone who told me that they spent a lot of time in a town telling me all kind of tales.

    When asked if that person’s story was correct or had basis in fact, I told my companion that the story was made up by a very imaginative mind. He asked how I knew. I stated the locals do not pronounce the name of their town they way the story teller did.

    Just came through a Texas town of Navasota (or is it Navisota?). I found an old Krum Kake gridle in an antique store labeled as a “Crepe Maker”. It was made by Alfred Andresen & Co in Minneapolis.

    I always wanted to go to Fergus Falls to visit. I would swear that the Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoon show has a location called Frostbite Falls which I would swear was a rendition of the real Fergus Falls.

    Congrates, Audrey. You are now right up there with Burma-Shave!

    • Question for you, Gunny: Did you buy the crepe maker/Krumkake griddle?

      I believe Frostbite Falls refers to International Falls, so-called icebox of the nation, or at least Minnesota.

      Burma Shave, huh? Sort of like that, I suppose.

  8. Love the billboard! I love Fergus Falls. My son was born in Lake Region Hospital there. A lovely little town.

  9. Brenda R Says:

    What an interesting story! I read all the links and am amazed at the audacity of the German writer to so blatantly lie about Fergus Falls and it’s residents. So glad the truth has been found and publicized! I have never been in the city, but from your pictures it looks like we should stop in on our next trip that direction.

  10. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    Interesting! I had not heard of this but I haven’t had our tv on a lot lately and I have cut back on my time on the internet. I needed some time to turn off all of the noise for my own sanity.

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