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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