Every Day is Oktoberfest in New Ulm
Every Day is Oktoberfest in New Ulm
By Andrew Parks
Schell’s Brewery may be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of New Ulm, but it isn’t the only slice of Central Europe you can find there. The modest, Southern Minnesota town is named after a German city on the border of Bavaria for a reason. Several reasons, actually, including its Old World architecture, residents with roots that reach all the way back to the 19th century and a nearly universal love of polka music. (New Ulm’s popular Polka Days festival hasn’t been held since the ’70s, but KNUJ Radio still unloads rare CDs like Babuskas, Bellows & Beers from its Polka Parade shop near Schonlau Park.)
Here is how you can make a day of visiting this Brown County beauty, whether it’s Oktoberfest season, Bavarian Blast, or any other time of year.
1. Survey the scene alongside Hermann the German
Fall is your last chance before a winter break to climb a winding staircase up to the massive 4,000-pound monument that’s loomed over New Ulm since the late 1800s. A nod to the tribal leader (his real name was Arminius) who helped liberate Germany from the Roman Empire in 9 A.D., it’s long been considered a 102-foot beacon of independence and pride among Germans worldwide.
Congress deemed it a “national symbol of the contributions of Americans of German heritage” in 2000. Whether you can relate to its cultural significance or not, there’s no view quite like it in Southern Minnesota — especially as fall colors begin to kick in.
2. Shop for sauerkraut and steins at Domeier’s
Ann Morris’s grandmother Agatha and her mother, Marlene, turned their general store into a traditional German shop after visiting Europe in the 1960s. Nearly every inch of its space is stocked with such imported specialties as holiday ornaments, garden gnomes, cuckoo clocks, hot curry ketchup, canned charcuterie and Morris’s personal favorite, chocolate-covered nougat.
Be sure to say hello to Heinz, Domeier’s unofficial mascot, on your way out the door; his merry concertina melodies are as much a part of Domeier’s makeup as its gratuitous pint glasses and Guten Appetit cookbooks.
3. Get some fresh air in German Park
Between its newly renovated amphitheater, gorgeous flower garden and Central Park-inspired angel fountain, German Park is one of the most picturesque spots for an impromptu picnic near downtown New Ulm. Walk past its Herbie the Hedgehog statue, and you’ll also find a pristine inclusive playground that was built in 2018. The second of its kind in the area — the other is in Hermann Heights Park — it features a fantastical Bavarian castle design, sturdy gravity rail, interactive musical instruments and a fully rubberized surface for absorbing any potential falls.
4. Crush a couple of lunch plates at Kaiserhoff
Local businessman Herb Knutson bought Kaiserhoff from its longtime owners (the Veigel family) in 2022 to ensure it’d stay the same beloved restaurant it’s been since 1938. Aside from such German staples as bratwurst, smoked pork chops and four kinds of schnitzel, Kaiserhoff is known for its deceptively simple Ray’s Salad (chopped lettuce, bacon, croutons, parmesan cheese and a rather delicious house dressing) and meaty ribs that have been served with a signature barbecue sauce since the very beginning. Not sure what to order? Stick with the sampler, which includes ribs, two kinds of sausage, red cabbage, German potato salad, sauerkraut and dark rye bread — nap not included.
5. Gather around the glockenspiel downtown
New Ulm’s 45-foot glockenspiel boasts 37 bells that ring out alongside rotating figurines — everything from a brick mason and flour miller to a beer drinker and three-piece polka band — at least three times a day. The big show takes place at noon, 1, 3, 5 and 6 p.m. between April 1 and Halloween, and noon, 3 and 5 p.m. between Nov. 1 and March 31. It’s right next to the long-running AM station KNUJ, too, which plays at least an hour of similar-in-spirit polka songs every day.
6. Take a self-guided tour of Wanda Gag’s childhood home
It took about 20 years for the Wanda Gag House Association to fully restore the Queen Anne-style building that Anton Gag built for his family in 1894. The multi-medium artist (his work includes the New Ulm Cathedral and a painting that hung in St. Paul’s capitol building for more than a hundred years) and his wife, Lizzie, raised their seven children there until his death 14 years later.
Before Anton passed away, he reportedly said, “What Papa was unable to accomplish, Wanda will have to finish.” And finish she did; Wanda became an award-winning author best-known for her iconic children’s book, Millions of Cats. Not only has it sold millions of copies since its original 1928 release; it also holds the distinction of being the oldest American picture book still in print.
7. Order beer and a brat at Minnesota’s oldest bar
Speaking of Anton Gag, he’s one of several artists who painted murals of Germany in The Rathskeller more than a century ago. A major point of pride in the historic New Ulm Turner Hall complex, it’s the oldest continuously operated bar in Minnesota and helps support the German-American gymnastic program that also got off the ground here forever ago.
8. Finish the afternoon in style at Schell’s
Even the most experienced beer drinkers need a break from boozy hop bombs and barrel-aged stouts sometimes. Enter Schell’s, a local landmark that has specialized in crisp yet complex German-style beer since 1860. That makes it the second oldest family-owned brewery in the U.S., right behind the Pennsylvania brand Yuengling. Not to mention the oldest and largest brewery in Minnesota now that Schell’s brews Grain Belt as well.
Firebrick super fans can book a private tour of the brewery by calling 800-770-5020, or swing by on Friday, Saturday or Sunday for a first-come, first-served look at the entire Schell’s campus. If you simply want to sample a beer or two, Schell’s Bier Halle pulls $5 pints every day of the week in a spacious taproom that features patio seating and fresh pours of everything from Schell’s easy-drinking Deer Brand lager to a Märzen-style Oktoberfest.
Looking for something you’ll only find in New Ulm? Head over to Schell’s other taproom, Starkeller, on Friday or Saturday to experience one of Minnesota’s only dedicated sour beer programs. Think: left-field blends of fruit with a serious bite and bubbly carbonation not unlike champagne.
9. Spend the night at Bingham Hall Bed and Breakfast
After taking cooking classes in Mankato and briefly considering opening a restaurant, Shannon McKeeth decided to go the B&B route with her husband, Todd, in 2006. Formerly the home of five separate apartments, Bingham Hall now has four guest rooms that have attracted visitors from as far away as China and Australia. That, and Shannon serving a serious breakfast spread every morning.