German-named villages in Minnesota: Bergen

Welcome to Bergen

After a brief hiatus due to non-column related commitments, we are now back on track to start you on the tour of the German-named villages in Minnesota. We’ll start off with the first town on the list, which is more of a village than a town, but in any case it is worth a visit if one wants to take a small one mile detour off US Hwy. 71 going from Jackson north to Windom in southern Minnesota. Bergen is one of the smallest villages in Jackson County, yet it does have a unique history that is worth noting to the tourist. The village was founded by Norwegian immigrants in 1895 and became the center of dairy commerce in its own locality with the opening of the cremery in 1897. This meant that farmers in the northern and eastern part of the county could bring in their milk for processing and sale.  While it was in business for only 40 some years, the village became popular with the Bergen General Store, which started the same time as the cremery. It provided food and clothing to nearby farmers, and it later included a gas station and a post office. It was and still is to this day the only store in the village with a store-front window. It is still in business today as it now sells antiques and collectible items, something that would entice someone to turn off the main highway and stop in for a few minutes. After that, one can go across the county road going through the village heading north into Bergen Bar and Grill, a small tavern and restaurant that is a popular place for the 30+ inhabitants and nearby farmers to this day. While I have not been in there because it was closed at the time of my visit on a cold but blue December afternoon, one could imagine a nice meal with a glass of Grain Belt beer while sitting outside, talking to some friends, watching the cars pass by and having a nice view of the village and its small but noticeable stream meandering its way past the village to the south, Elm Creek. That is- when it is in the summer time.

The Bergen Store: Photo taken in Dec. 2010

About a couple kilometers to the west of Bergen is the Bethany Lutheran Church, which can be seen from the highway looking west. While the brick building has existed since the late 1920s, the congregation was one of three in the locality that had existed since 1867, but eventually consolidated into one by 1920. The church still serves the village of Bergen and all points to the east to this day and provides one with a picturesque view of the landscape; especially along Elm Creek. Bergen is one of those forgotten villages that is tucked away in the valley where no one can see it. This is partly due to the fact that the main highway, US 71 was rerouted more than 60 years ago and what serves the village now are two county roads. However, follow the signs and head a couple kilometers down hill and you’ll see a village that is still intact and anchored with businesses one may never hear about unless you are told about it by some locals or you figure it out for yourself. In either case, this Norwegian town is one place that is worth a stop, even if it’s for a few minutes’ rest.

Bethany Lutheran Church: Photo taken in Dec., 2010

This leads to the first of many Richard Halliburton Geography Guessing Quizzes. A couple weeks ago, I posted a true and false question which stated: There is only one other Bergen in the world and that is the one in Norway.

The neighborhood of Bergen: Photo taken in Dec., 2010

If you answered false, you are right. There are 13 countries in the world where Bergen exists, apart from the most popular of them in Norway, which is the second largest city behind Oslo, with a population of 260,000 inhabitants. One can find a Bergen in Poland, Czech Republic, Canada, Belgium, Austria, Australia, New Zealand, The Netherlands, and Canada, just to name some of the countries mentioned here. Interesting enough, one can find as many as 16 towns in Germany carrying the name Bergen. This includes five in Bavaria, two in Saxony and Lower Saxony respectively, and one near Frankfurt on the Main  in Hesse. The last one was the scene of the battle of Bergen, which took place between the French under Marshall de Contades and the Allies (British and the Kingdoms of Prussia and Brunswick) under Herzog Ferdinand on 13 April, 1759. Unfortunately, the Allies lost the war to the French but there would be many more battles to come as it was part of the 7-Year War between the French and the Allies. Bergen later merged with Enkheim and is now part of the city of Frankfurt with its main feature worth seeing being the Marktstrasse- with its typical old-fashion buildings- and the city hall. The Nazi Concentration Camp Bergen-Belsen, where Anne Frank died shortly before the British liberated the camp in 1945, was located near Bergen in the district of Celle in Lower Saxony. The largest of the 16 towns known in Germany is the one on the island of Rügen in Mecklenburg Pommerania. With the population of 23,000 inhabitants, it is one of the oldest in the state, dating as far back as 1232 when the Slavic tribes settled in the town on the island. After being conquered by the Danes, the Swedes, and the Prussians, Bergen became part of the German empire under Kaiser Wilhelm I when it unified in 1871, and despite being part of the German Democratic Republic during the Cold War, it is now part of Germany since 1990, together with the rest of the former East Germany. Much of its architecture dating back to 1200s exist today and it is one of the major stops enroute between Binz and Stralsund; especially thanks to the Stresalsund Bridge, which opened in 2004 to relieve the traffic congestion along the dam, located nearby.

Elm Creek south of Bergen: Photo taken in Dec., 2010

Bergen is one of the most popular used names for a town in the world. However, these towns vary in their history and population and they are worth visiting when you get a chance. While there is a theory that stated that Bergen is associated with the Norwegian or even Scandinavian culture and their influence, based on the historic background and in the case of Germany and the Benelux Region (Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands), the geographical location to their northern neighbors, more research is needed to confirm that the Scandinavians had their influence on the region, even though some of that is proven already; especially with the one in Minnesota.

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German-named villages in Minnesota: New Trier

St. Mary’s Church in New Trier- Photo taken in December 2010

Coming back to the tourism scene and the coverage on German-named towns in Minnesota, we will take a look at the next town on tour, which is located near Hastings and Faribault. Albeit a really small town with a population of roughly 120 inhabitants, it is one of the oldest existing towns in the state and has a history that is enriched with triumph and tragedy. This village is called New Trier.

Named after the city located along the Mosel River on the border to Luxembourg, the settlement of New Trier started in the mid-1850s, with records dating as far back as 1855, when immigrants from the western part of Prussia and Luxembourg found a plot in the northeastern part of present-day Dakota County. Most of them had fled the region in Europe for it was besieged by warfare between Prussia and France, including the 30-Year War and the Revolution of 1848. Some of them actually originated from Trier, which was ransacked at least a dozen times by three different empires (France, Spain, and Poland) until the French finally conquered the city during the Revolution of 1794. Prussia later recaptured the city in 1815, while chasing Napoleon’s troops over the Mosel and back into France.

Most of the settlers in New Trier had once lived in Washington County; especially in Stillwater. However after months of earning money for hard labor in the industries they worked, they eventually found plots of land and incorporated the village. The majority of families living in New Trier today have ancestors who helped incorporate the village, including Schaffer, Gores, Landsberger, Siebenaler, Kranz, Moes, Doffing, Tix, Thien, Riplinger and Schweizer, just to name a few. Some of them contributed a great deal to the community in a certain way. For example, the Gores and Siebenalers were known assisting or even leading the congregation in the church, while the Schaffer clan was known for carpentry and masonry work, which was started by John A. Schaffer in 1855, mainly because his farm was located next to the quarry. Some of the members of the Kranz family would eventually establish the present-day town of Kranzburg in eastern South Dakota. Another interesting fact worth noting about New Trier is the fact that the decision to name the village did not take place until the middle of 1856, for there was a division between those who wanted to have the village named (New) Luxemburg and those who wanted it named New Trier. Finally the decision was made in favor of New Trier on 15 May, 1856 by the first pastor of the church, George Keller. This was important for not only did the church needed to be built later that year, but the community itself needed an identity that would satisfy everyone. Surprisingly, a Luxemburg was eventually established later on as a settlement in Stearns County in central Minnesota, only 10 miles from present-day St. Cloud.  More information on its origin will appear in the column on that particular town.

The St. Mary’s Catholic Church, which is the main landmark anchoring New Trier, has been with this town almost since the time it was incorporated. The first church, built in 1856,  consisted of a log cabin. However, as the population grew, a larger church was needed, and it was subsequentially built in 1862. The third church followed in 1864 built mostly of stone brought in from the quarry. The rectory was added a year later. Both the second and third churches were in use until they were taken down in favor of a new church in 1909. Using quarry rock from the Kettle River region in northeastern Minnesota, and at a cost of $40,000, the new church was dedicated in 1912 and has been serving the community ever since. The majority of New Trier (about 90% of the population) are Catholic, which explains the fact that the  regions where their ancestors came from are predominantly Catholic; especially in Trier and Luxembourg, where the Holy Roman Empire dominated the area. The cathedrals and relicts from that period still exist in these two cities. St. Mary’s Church is the tallest building in New Trier, and one can see its steeple standing high in the sky when driving towards town on the main highway.

Despite the fact that New Trier was dependent on agriculture and it had its typical businesses, like the mercantile store and the saloons,  the biggest thorn in the city’s side was the fact that it was never serviced by a rail line during the period of railroad expansion between 1870 and 1915.  In fact, the nearest railroad lines ran east of town near Red Wing and to the west of town going past neighboring Hampton and heading towards Northfield and Faribault. The result of this was stagnation, both in population as well as commerce. Fortunately to this day, the city is served by it main highway, MN highway 50 between Red Wing and Hampton, which has helped businesses thrive in New Trier. Agriculture and commerce is still dominant in town.  It has two bar and restaurants- Trophy House and Dan’s Bar and Grill- as well as other businesses selling implements and providing services for farming.

While the population has decreased from an all-time high of about 220 in the census of 1873 to about 120 as of present, the heritage of New Trier still lives on to this day. Apart from the Catholic Church, one can see some of the relicts today, as a reminder of the town’s past. This includes a water tower built on a concrete cylinder foundation built around 1900, many houses dating as far back as the late 1800s including one just off Hwy. 50 that was built using the Schaffer quarry stone, and a small fire hall located across from the Trophy House. Some of the unique features you will find in New Trier include a dart throwing league, where the teams of the Trophy House and Dan’s Bar and Grill compete once a week with other teams from neighboring towns.  There is also the Euchre card game league, where Euchre is a rare card game but one which you can try yourself after clicking onto the link at the end of this column.  But the town also has a new tradition, which can serve as a remedy against cabin fever in the winter time, and that is the Schneetag festival. Created in 2005 by five women, the festival takes place every year in February, consisting of an outdoor softball tournament, a card tournament, and other unique events that draw a huge crowd to this one-day festival annually.

But apart from all the places and events that make New Trier unique, what especially stands out the most are the fourth and fifth generations of the original settlers and their families that still reside in and around the community and make up the majority of the population. Like their forefathers, they have maintained their traditions and contributed a great deal to the survival of New Trier, making it a unique little German town for people to visit and even live there.

This leads to the question of whether other communities originally settled by German immigrants have kept up the tradition that was either adopted from their former homeland or introduced at the time of their establishment, or if changing trends and other external influences have resulted in the loss of its original identity and its eventual integration into the American landscape.  According to research conducted by two professors at the University of Kiel (in northern Germany) back in the 1970s, it was revealed that despite the establishment of their community and their way of life as well as adopting the name from their German community they had once live in, most of these communities had lost their identities by the first half of the 20th century, resulting in the village just having the name but not having the typical resemblance.  We’ve already seen Bergen adopting to the changing environment while losing its identity despite being a farming community, but we have also seen a resistance to change and the fight to keep the identity, like with New Trier. What about the other German communities in Minnesota? Or in the USA in general?

Link to Euchre: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euchre

Additional Reading Source: Brown, Patricia  (ed.)  ” The Church of St. Mary’s  New Trier, Minnesota: 1856-2006″ Hastings, Minnesota: Graphic Publishing, 2006

One of the original houses in New Trier made of stone- Photo taken in December 2010
New Trier Fire Hall- Photo taken in December 2010
New Trier Water Tower- Photo taken in December 2010
Trophy House: One of two bar and restaurants serving New Trier- Photo taken in December 2010

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