For over 120 years, the Hermann monument has cast a shadow over New Ulm and is now synonymous with the city.
Few communities in the United States are as strongly identified with an image as New Ulm is linked to Hermann.
The monument is located in Hermann Heights Park overlooking the city, but the images of Hermann are everywhere. His image is sold as a souvenir, his shadow is on road signs, and he even appeared in the Journal header.
Every year in September, the HermannFest celebration takes place in the parks surrounding the monument. With so much attention paid to Hermann the Germann, it can be easy to forget that the statue wasn’t always there.
The history of the Hermann monument in New Ulm begins over 2000 years ago with the real Hermann, born circa 16 BC. AD His father was the chief of the Cherusci tribe. Shortly after his birth, Hermann is taken hostage by the Romans. Hermann became a Roman citizen and was admitted into the Roman army. He secretly conspired to unite the German tribes against Rome.
In AD 9, he ambushed a Roman legion in the Teutoburg Forest. The battle lasted for three days and ended on September 11. Eventually, the Roman legion was wiped out. This battle and Hermann’s subsequent victories prevented Rome from expanding its empire into Germany. Historians believed that without Hermann’s victory over Rome, there would be no German culture as we know it today.
Over the centuries, Hermann has become a symbol of German nationalism through poems, plays and songs. In 1838, a German sculptor named Ernst von Bandel began work on a memorial to Hermann located in Detmold, Germany. The creation of the monument took decades. The cornerstone was laid in 1841, but it was not completed until 1875. The memorial instantly became a symbol of German national unity. Less than 25 years later, a second Hermann monument would be erected in New Ulm, Minnesota.
The new Hermann monument in Ulm was the idea of Julius Berndt. Berndt immigrated to the United States when he was young and settled in New Ulm in 1857. Berndt was a founding member of New Ulm’s Sons of Hermann Lodge.
In 1881, Berndt began to suggest the creation of an American version of the Detmold monument. In 1885 he began to actively campaign to create the monument in New Ulm. The national organization of the Sons of Hermann agreed, but placing him in New Ulm was controversial.
Big urban cities like Milwaukee and St. Paul have campaigned for this. At the time, some viewed New Ulm as a community on the edge of the wilderness. The population of New Ulm was less than 4000. Some members of the lodge believed that the monument would be seen by more people if it was placed in an urban area.
However, Berndt had secured an acre of land on a hill in New Ulm to build the monument, which ultimately prompted the national organization to place it in New Ulm. Later supporters of the New Ulm location cited the community’s German heritage and resilience through hardships such as the war between the United States and Dakota as the reason it deserved the monument.
The sculpture of Hermann of New Ulm began in 1889. Construction of the statue was completed by an Ohio company a year later and it was shipped to New Ulm.
The first page of a June 1890 edition of the New Ulm Review featured a sketch of the completed statue of Hermann. The sketch contained a brief article describing the statue. The maker of the statue described it as “the finest work of its kind ever attempted on this side of the Atlantic.”
New Ulm owned the statue in July 1890, but no stone foundation to place it. In 1893, a tax of eight cents was imposed on Sons of Hermann members to cover costs. Eventually the fundraising paid off and the base was complete with the majority of the money coming from other Sons of Hermann lodges and other German organizations.
In 1897, the Hermann monument was completed and the Sons of Hermann held an inauguration ceremony on September 25 of the same year. The National Lodge also held its annual convention in New Ulm. The community of less than 4,000 saw an influx of thousands, many of them from the various lodges, but also high-ranking state officials, including the then governor. David Clough.
A committee was formed to prepare for the consecration. The new inhabitants of Ulm were invited to decorate the community. Newspaper articles asked anyone with a car to help transport lodge members arriving at the station to various events in the community.
The September 15, 1897 edition of the New Ulm Review reported that the National Sons of Herman Lodge would begin its annual session. The magazine would present detailed coverage of the convention and the inauguration ceremony. The newspaper estimated that between 15,000 and 20,000 people were in New Ulm in the two days preceding the dedication of the monument. A large parade took place through the city with men dressed as German warriors followed by Roman-style floats.
Although the monument was dedicated in 1897, it was not officially completed. The monument’s original plan included four lion statues at the base of the museum. It will be over 100 years before the lions are established. Cast iron lions painted to match Hermann’s patina were added in September 2001.
In 1929, the Sons of Hermann donated the monument to the city of New Ulm. For over a century, New Ulm maintained the monument, making necessary repairs.
One of the most significant projects took place in the 1950s when a cement-like coating was placed over the limestone foundation. Another restoration was completed in 1973 and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Hermann would undergo the most important restoration after suffering significant damage in a windstorm in 1998. One of the wings of Hermann’s helmet fell in the storm. Further examination of the statue revealed several structural issues, including a rotten right foot, cracks and bullet holes.
In February 2003, the statue was taken down for repair. For over a year, Hermann was absent from the top of his perch. A total of 32 different holes were repaired, the wing of the helmet was put back in place, a new right foot was attached, and his right shoulder was repaired. The renovated statue was replaced on top of the monument in November 2004.
In 2013, a special celebration was held near the Hermann Monument to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the New Ulm Battery and the 125th anniversary of the construction of the Hermann Monument.
The festival took place on the anniversary of Hermann’s victory in the Teutoburg Forest. The double celebration proved popular and in 2014 the community turned it into an annual tradition called Hermannfest.
Hermannfest is New Ulm’s newest festival, but it celebrates one of the community’s oldest residents. The Hermann statue will likely reside in New Ulm for centuries and remain a symbol of the community.