Why New Ulm? After many hectic days of long drives and one-night stands (camping), itâ€™s time to stop for a few days and regroup. We could go to any small town within a reasonable dayâ€™s drive of Bloomington, as long as it had the basic amenities. The Mercedes enthusiasts convinced us to head to New Ulm because this weekend is a festival honoring Hermann, the Cheruscan chief who spearheaded the struggle to defend Germanic tribes against the Roman imperial army in 9 A.D.
You see, if Hermann hadnâ€™t successfully repelled the Roman onslaught, instead of driving Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and Volkwagen, car enthusiasts would all be driving FIATs. At least, thatâ€™s the logic behind bringing 100+ German cars here as part of the weekend festival. And so we picked New Ulm over Austin, MN — the triumph of bratwurst over SPAM.
On the way here we paused at Jimâ€™s Apple Farm, a highly visible roadside stand along Rt 169 that features apple bakery items, candies, dozens of different root beers and licorice, and many other things. Itâ€™s a good stop before you disappear into the seemingly endless corn and soybean fields on the way to New Ulm.
New Ulm is a quiet little town of about 13,000 people. It is regarded, we are told, as â€œthe most German of all Minnesota communities.â€ Up on the hill the townspeople have erected a huge monument to Hermann, and he stands atop the monument in statue, larger than life, with his cloak waving in the breeze and his sword triumphantly raised. For $1.50 you can climb the stairs to the top of the monument and get the best view of New Ulm there is. Or, for free, you can walk on the grass around the monument and get the second best view of New Ulm.
Weâ€™ve set up camp at Flandrau State Park, directly bordering town, on the assumption that cell phones would work there. They do, sort of, but the campground sits in a bowl which inhibits the signal and so calls have to be made standing outside the Airstream. Our cellular Internet works only intermittently. This often happens when we camp in state parks, and so I always have a Plan B for getting online.
In this case, Plan B was the Mega Wash laundry about three miles away, near the Super Wal-Mart. â€œFree Wireless Internetâ€ said the sign, and so while Eleanor did the wash I parked myself at a table and got a bunch of real work done at broadband speed. Iâ€™m used to seeing signs that say â€œBroadband Wireless Internetâ€ and then discovering that it doesnâ€™t work or is tediously slow, but the Mega Wash didnâ€™t let me down.
New Ulm has a lot of minor tourist attractions, which we briefly checked out in the late afternoon when work was done. In addition to Hermannâ€™s monument, thereâ€™s â€œthe first free-standing carillon tower in North Americaâ€ downtown, lots of German restaurants, and Schellâ€™s Brewery (â€œthe 2nd oldest family owned brewery in the USâ€).
Schellâ€™s is worth a stop even if you donâ€™t do the tour. The tiny brewery features a nice garden with peacocks wandering around, a little visitor center and gift shop, and a beautiful brick mansion (not open to the public, alas). We arrived too late for a tour but might check it out again today, after we pay homage to Hermann at the festival.