New Ulm, Minnesota

New Ulm, a city of 13,522 residents in 2010 is located in Brown County in the south-central part of Minnesota. It was established in the fall of 1854 by the Chicago Landverein (Chicago Land Society) and named after the city of Ulm in southwestern Germany and thus represents a toponymic transfer from Europe to America. Soon after stacking their claim, the Chicago Landverein faced financial strains and was joined by a well-financed group of Turners from Cincinnati. Both wanted to create a safe and exclusive haven for German immigrants on the American frontier, which is for example reflected by 94 percent of New Ulm’s 1310 residents being German-born or dedescendant in 1870. German ancestry (about 60 percent) and heritage still predominate in the community today.

New Ulm, Minnesota in the American Midwest

New Ulm’s German background is represented by several sites, monuments, and festivals. Upon entering the city, for instance, drivers used to be greeted by welcome signs featuring Hermann the German on a backdrop of the German flag and a vintage-lettered text in English 'Welcome to New Ulm'. When leaving the community, the backside showed the German farewell greeting of 'Auf Wiedersehen'. They were replaced in October 2011 by new stone markers with the plain text of 'Willkommen – New Ulm, est. 1854'. The signs' text and design deliberately fuse the town's name with specific local characteristics and developments through time. Hermann, for example, represents an iconic figure expressing local as well as ethnocultural pride and legacy. Additional memorials and sites, such as the Defender’s Monument, German Street and Park or the Schell’s Brewery, as well as local festivals, such as the annual Oktoberfest or Bavarian Blast, further express and foster New Ulm’s German reputation, which is also tied to ethno-tourism as an important source of local revenue.

Historic & Commemorative Sites of New Ulm, Minnesota

Texts & Cartography: Stephan Fuchs; see also basic map of historic & commemorative sites

In sum, New Ulm’s naming and material culture provide unique access to patterns of memory and heritage construction in the context of specific local developments. The city’s German background reverberates in its symbolic landscape, demographic character, and economic structure. You can learn more about New Ulm in the video and literature below.

Presentation - German Places, Identity and Heritage. New Ulm and the Midwest. New Ulm Public Library, September 14th, 2014

Further Reading

Fuchs, S. (2013): German(ic) Toponyms in the American Midwest. A Study of Place, Identity, and Heritage. Erlangen: Fränkische Geographische Gesellschaft.

Fuchs, S. (2015): Germany in the Midwest. Deutsche im Amerikanischen Mittelwesten. Geographische Rundschau 67 (3), pp. 29-35.

Fuchs, S. (2015): History and Heritage of two Midwestern Towns: A Toponymic-Material Approach. Journal of Historical Geography 48, 11-25.

Hoisington, D. (2004): A German Town. A History of New Ulm, Minnesota. New Ulm: The City of New Ulm.

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