Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A quick stop in the Minnesota German city of New Ulm August 3, 2017

Domeier’s German Store, snugged into a residential neighborhood for decades, is a must-see German import shop in New Ulm.

 

NESTLED IN THE MINNESOTA RIVER Valley, New Ulm has long been one of my favorite Minnesota communities. I love not only the sweep and rise of the valley and hills, but also the vibe of this definitively German city.

 

Nutcrackers peer out a window at Domeier’s.

 

My maternal family roots run deep in this region. Drop the surname Bode at the Guten Tag Haus in downtown New Ulm and a look of familiarity flashes across a clerk’s face. She knows the name. My ancestors settled just to the east in the farmland surrounding nearby Courtland.

Last weekend en route to a wedding in southwestern Minnesota, Randy and I scheduled time in New Ulm to peruse a thrift store and two German gift shops. I was looking for ethnic items for an upcoming Helbling family reunion. We’re having an Oktoberfest theme to celebrate my in-laws’ heritage. The mini German flags I needed as accents for bouquets of flowers in steins were elusive given the community’s recent Bavarian Blast. I found one at a price I was willing to pay. I need six.

 

The thrift shop Oktoberfest bier mug from Bismarck is perfect given the Helblings settled (and still mostly live) in that region of North Dakota. I found the last remaining 99-cent cotton German flag at the Guten Tag Haus.

 

Still, we scored, among other items, two bier mugs at the MVAC Thrift Store, German chocolate mice at Domeier’s German Store and that coveted German flag at the Guten Tag Haus, some at Crazy Days bargain prices. Success.

 

A snippet view of German Park.

 

This monument in German Park honors those who suffered in the US-Dakota War of 1862 which was centered in southwestern Minnesota.

 

Nearby a whimsical sculpture reminds visitors to keep the park clean.

 

In between shopping, Randy and I stopped for a picnic lunch and a respite at the beautiful German Park a block from New Ulm’s main drag. Here a fountain centers lovely gardens and pieces of art.

Whenever I’m in New Ulm, I feel comfortably at home. Sure, my ancestral roots are in this region. But it’s more than that. This southwestern Minnesota community works hard to preserve and present its German heritage in a welcoming way. I love that about New Ulm.

 

FYI: Click here to read a 2015 photo rich post I published on beautiful German Park.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A must-see in New Ulm: German Park August 3, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS HAS THE LAKE HARRIET Rose Garden. St. Cloud has the Munsinger/Clemens Gardens. Chaska has the Minnesota Landscape Aboretum.

A view of German Park from the street-side steps that lead to the park at the bottom of the hill.

A view of German Park from the street-side steps that lead to the park. There’s also access at the bottom of the hill so you don’t need to take the steps.

And New Ulm has German Park, centered by a replica of the Bethesda Fountain in New York City’s Central Park.

Stroll the paths and enjoy the flower gardens.

Stroll the paths and enjoy the flower gardens. Or sit and contemplate.

If you haven’t discovered this park in the heart of Minnesota’s most German community, then you need to visit this oasis just a block from New Ulm’s downtown business district. I came across German Park a few years ago and revisited it on the Fourth of July while en route to a family gathering an hour farther west along U.S. Highway 14.

The Angel Fountain centers the park which features an abundance of plants and flowers.

The Angel of the Waters Fountain centers the park which features an abundance of plants and flowers, a picnic shelter and other amenities.

Here, in a tranquil setting of fountain and flowers, my husband, son and I lunched on sandwiches and fruit while delighting in the beauty of this place. There’s a reason the New Ulm tourism website lists German Park as one of the “Top Ten Things to See.” This place, this park, is poetic and pleasing, and just plain lovely.

Gigantic urns overflow with flowers.

Gigantic urns overflow with flowers like these petunias, lilies, marigolds and more.

This is a flower lover's delight.

This is a flower lover’s delight.

These roses, which remind me of the wild roses that grew in road ditches when I was growing up, were nearly done blossoming.

These roses, which remind me of the wild roses that bloomed in road ditches when I was growing up in southwestern Minnesota, were nearly done blossoming.

The pathways are designed to allow visitors a close-up look at the flowers.

The pathways are designed to allow visitors a close-up look at the flowers.

I love these rustic urns, which are so large and heavy it would take several people to move them.

I love these rustic urns, which are so large and heavy it would take several people to move them.

A shady spot to rest.

A shady spot to rest.

The fountain

The fountain is a small reproduction of the fountain in New York’s Central Park. French sculptor Jules-Felix Coutan created this fountain purchased in 1998 from an auction house in Atlanta. It is a gift to the city from Barbara Sweasy Haroldson.

Be forewarned.

Be forewarned.

Splashing your hands in the fountain is not forbidden.

Splashing your hands in the fountain is not forbidden.

Water spills over the fountain cherubs.

Water spills over the fountain cherubs.

Angel of the Waters

Angel of the Waters, the focal point of German Park.

In another section of the park, greenery and benches, marked by lovely columns, offer a place of respite.

In another section of the park, greenery and benches, marked by lovely columns, offer a place of respite.

Imprinted on columns is information about what I assume to be park supporters. The August Schell Brewing Company is a major New Ulm attraction.

Imprinted on columns is information about what I assume to be park supporters. The August Schell Brewing Company is a major New Ulm attraction and on the list of “Top Ten Things to See” in this city.

German Park was obviously a community effort. I love when a community works together to create something stunningly beautiful like his park.

German Park was obviously a community effort. I love when a community works together to create something stunningly beautiful like this park.

Local history is imprinted on pavers.

Local history is imprinted on pavers.

Along the street above the park

This granite statue along German Street just above the park honors the German-Bohemian immigrants who lived in the section of New Ulm known as Goosetown.

A portion of New Ulm's downtown business district with the Glockenspiel, another of the city's "Top Ten Things to See," in the background.

A portion of New Ulm’s downtown business district along N. Minnesota Street with the Glockenspiel in the background.

FYI: German Park is located at 200 N. German Street, several blocks south of U.S. Highway 14 and a block from N. Minnesota Street. The Summer Concerts in the Park series at German Park continues every Monday through the end of August. Music starts at 7 p.m.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A fairy tale park in New Ulm August 3, 2012

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An overview of German Park in New Ulm, photographed last Saturday.

IF A PARK COULD BE WRITTEN into a fairy tale, then German Park in New Ulm certainly would serve as an ideal setting for a happily-ever-after story.

Descend the hillside steps into this picturesque park near New Ulm’s downtown business district, and you walk into an enchanting world of flowers and foliage, fountain and photographic opportunities.

I kept my distance from the bridal couple and their families.

However, on the Saturday of my visit, the happily-ever-after part of this story limited my photo ops. Not that I wasn’t tempted to write my own twists into the plot unfolding before me. But I figured the main characters, the bride-to-be and her groom being photographed here, would not appreciate me wedging my way into their storybook wedding day.

Columns add interest and a poetic quality to German Park.

So I skirted the edges of German Park, admiring the flowers and the fountain at a distance. I weaved among the columns, appreciating the beauty and charm of this place, all the while wishing I could photograph freely.

I kept a respectful distance in this, my closest shot of the bridal couple and their families.

At one point a nervous grandma hurried over to snatch up a camera bag as I approached with my camera bag hugging my hip, my Canon EOS 20D looped by a strap around my neck. I wanted to advise her that I wasn’t about to spoil the story, to wind my way up the path toward the happy wedding couple like a wily, wicked witch.

THE END

OK, I was a wee bit sneaky in including the bridal couple in this frame. But I liked how the  words tranquility, blessings and ordain from the Preamble to the Constitution seemed to fit the occasion.

One of numerous pavers which enlighten visitors about New Ulm, here the Hermann Monument.

This column informed me of something I never knew, that a deadly tornado ravaged the city on July 15, 1881. That event raised an awareness of the need for a local hospital.

FYI: To learn about the New Ulm tornado of 1881, click here to read an account published in the Saint Paul Daily Globe.

Click here to learn more about the history of New Ulm Medical Center.

Finally, click here to read an earlier blog post about New Ulm’s Goosetown.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Discovering New Ulm’s Goosetown, across the tracks and down by the river August 2, 2012

DISCOVERING SOMETHING totally unexpected rates, for me, as the plum, the prize, the most interesting aspect of travel.

And you needn’t journey far to find these places. Last Saturday while driving to southwestern Minnesota, my husband and I stopped in New Ulm because I wanted to see the Defenders and German-Bohemian historical monuments. Well, we never did get to the Defenders marker.

The German-Bohemian sculpture and marker in German Park.

But we eventually got directions for and located the immigrant sculpture overlooking scenic German Park. As lovely and manicured as that park is, and I’ll share photos in a future post, it was not the highlight of our visit.

Rather, it was Goosetown which captured my fancy.

We drove across the railroad tracks and past the old Valley Grain Co. to reach Goosetown.

Goosetown is that side of New Ulm—across the tracks and down by the river—where mostly Catholic German-Bohemian immigrants began settling in the late 1800s. They were primarily farmers or retired farmers, of peasant stock. And they kept geese, which wandered and fed along the banks of the Minnesota River.

Goosetown residents worked at the local roller mills, including the Eagle Roller Mill. That mill and the New Ulm Roller Mill once made New Ulm the third largest milling center in Minnesota. The New Ulm flour millers had elevators in three states.

And so the name Goosetown became attached to southeastern New Ulm, specifically to South Front and South Valley streets. The immigrants who lived here labored in nearby roller mills and breweries and worked as carpenters, masons and cigar makers. Women supplemented the family income by making Klöppel lace and/or sewing feather-filled bedding. Families also gathered clam shells from the river for pearl buttons.

At first thought, it all seems rather romantic, this stretch of Gȁnseviertel next to the railroad tracks and river. But I expect life there was hard as families, many of them living in two-room houses, struggled to survive. I also expect, and New Ulmers can correct me if I’m wrong, that this area of town wasn’t always embraced by the community at large. You know that thing about “the other side of the tracks.” Every community seems to have that part of town perceived as less than positive whether due to poverty or people who are different from the majority. Riverside land (and Goosetown is no exception) was once the site of town dumps, which should tell you something, too.

Sisters Amber, 8, and Kiera, 4, pose with Gertie the Goose, a statue donated by Dr. Ann Vogel of New Ulm and located in Riverside Park.

I likely could have learned even more about the history of Goosetown had the Regional River History & Information Center, 101 South Front Street, Riverside Park, been open. The center is housed in the former Franklin School.

Kiera showed me another goose tucked into a flowerbed in front of the river center.

Today New Ulm embraces the heritage of Goosetown with a plaque and statue in Riverside Park. There’s also an occasional Goosetown reunion and Victor “Fezz” Fritsche, leader of the one-time Goosetown Band, was inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in 1991.

The logo for the Goosetown Roller Derby Girls who have names like Deutschland Dolly and SoUr Kraut.

Most recently, in January, a flat track roller derby team, Goosetown Roller Girls, was founded.

Goosetown Storage, once the home of Minnesota Seed Company.

A side view of Goosetown Storage, with signage pointing to its original use as the location of Minnesota Seed Company. Anyone know the history of Minnesota Seed?

At least one building is labeled Goosetown Storage and the New Ulm Fire Department has a Goosetown Fire Station next to the train tracks.

Engine House No. 3, commonly known as the Goosetown Fire Station, was established in 1890. The newer station pictured here houses two pumpers. A 47-foot drill tower (not shown here) stands nearby.

Even so, I was unaware of this ethnic treasure until we happened upon Goosetown on Saturday. New Ulm is best known to the touring public as the site of a major battle during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862; for the August Schell Brewing Co.; the Hermann the German Monument;  the childhood home of author and illustrator Wanda Gag; the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame;  the Glockenspiel; the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity; Way of the Cross stations; the home of Minnesota’s 14th governor, John Lind; and most certainly as a city that features all things German. You can see how historic Goosetown could get lost in that long list of New Ulm attractions.

If you’re like me and appreciate the lesser-known, less touristy aspects of a community, drive across the tracks and down by the river in Anytown. Perhaps you’ll discover a place like Goosetown, rich in heritage and sturdy brick buildings and stories stitched into the land, if only you knew those stories.

FYI: Please check back for more posts from New Ulm.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Goosetown Roller Girls image comes from the team’s website.