A visit to Minnesota German country is a visit to New Ulm, a lively festival town about an hour and 45 minutes southwest of Minneapolis. That’s what they tell me, anyhow — a surprising number of people, in fact, beginning first thing this morning during a chance encounter with a fellow customer at Panera, who recommended I visit New Ulm due to its unusually strong and entertaining German character. Then, all day while sitting at my vendor table at the International Germanic Genealogy Conference, quite a few roving genealogists extolled the virtues of New Ulm. One gentleman in particular went on for quite a while, about how New Ulm is known as the “Polka Capital of the Nation” and features the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame. How the town erected a 102-foot tall statue in honor of the German victory over the Romans in … wait for it … 9 C.E. That’s right, folks, that long ago, 9 years after the death of Christ. Oh, and New Ulm has a Glockenspiel, and the August Schell Brewing Company.
Given all that salient detail, not one New Ulm enthusiast bothered to warn me about the four masked characters who came dancing through the vendor area late in the afternoon. I felt both attraction and revulsion at the sight of them (masks have always freaked me out). The two little girls who joined in the fun earned a gold star for bravery, in my opinion. It wasn’t until the dance was over and one of the masked figures handed me a button that I learned these were the Narren of New Ulm, “the relatives everyone has, but nobody wants to own.” Needless to say, I’m leaving the light on when I go to bed tonight.