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“Hermann the German” Monument

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Color image of the Hermann Monument, New Ulm, 2011. Photograph by Adam C. Smith.

The Hermann Monument, New Ulm, 2011. Photograph by Adam C. Smith.

On the bluffs above New Ulm stands a statue of Hermann, a first-century German chieftain who triumphed over Rome. This copper-sheet sculpture reflects the pride the early German American immigrants to Minnesota felt in their cultural background. Built in 1897 with funds raised from Sons of Hermann lodges all over the country, the monument is now owned by the City of New Ulm.

Known locally as “Hermann the German,” the heroic figure stands ready to fight atop a dome in Hermann Heights Park in New Ulm. A member of the Cherusci tribe of Germania, the historical Hermann (or Arminius, as the Romans called him) served in the Roman Army. According to Roman sources, in September, 9 CE, Arminius led three Roman legions into a trap and defeated them. The Roman army suffered terrible losses. As a result, Rome gave up trying to conquer German lands east of the Rhine. Arminius brought together several tribes under his rule until his death about a decade after his victory.

In Germany, Arminius gained folk hero status (and the name of Hermann) over the centuries. Songs, plays, and poems celebrated him. By the nineteenth century, Hermann had become a symbol of a strong, united country for Germans eager to define a national identity. In 1875, sculptor Joseph Ernst von Bandel completed a large monument to Hermann near Detmold, Germany, where he thought the battle had taken place. (Evidence now points to Kalkriese, a hill in Lower Saxony, Germany, as the site of the battle.)

The Detmold sculpture inspired Germans on the other side of the Atlantic. Julius Berndt, one of the founders of New Ulm, persuaded a German American group, the Sons of Hermann, to fund a similar work to show pride in their ethnic heritage. An architect and founding members of the Sons’ New Ulm chapter, Berndt designed the monument himself. Sculptor Alphonz Pelzer of the W. H. Mullins Manufacturing Company in Salem, Ohio, made the statue from copper sheeting over a steel frame.

After debate over the location, a cornerstone was laid in New Ulm on June 24, 1888. Although completed in 1889, the sculpture sat in storage for several years while Berndt raised enough money from individuals and Sons of Hermann lodges to finish the base.

On September 25, 1897, the Sons of Hermann dedicated the monument at its national meeting, held in New Ulm. The town celebrated with weeklong events and a special beer, Hermann’s Brau. Special trains brought crowds to New Ulm for the festivities. Speakers extolled Hermann as a freedom fighter, in part in response to the growing prohibition movement, which disapproved of the German tradition of beer drinking.

The foundation, base, cupola, and statue together reach a height of 102 feet. One of the largest copper-sheet statues in the United States, Hermann looks out over the town of New Ulm, a sword in his right hand, a shield in his left hand, and a foot placed firmly on a Roman helmet. Only New York City’s Statue of Liberty (151 feet) and Portlandia (almost thirty-four feet) in Portland, Oregon, are taller than Hermann (thirty-two feet from sword tip to toe). Ten pillars circle an open base with a spiral staircase in the middle that leads to the cupola. From a platform beneath Hermann’s feet, visitors can view the Minnesota River Valley. The base houses a small museum on Hermann and the history of the monument.

In 1929, the City of New Ulm took over the site from the Sons of Hermann. The structure underwent significant repairs in 1999 with support from the Minnesota legislature. Jesse Ventura cited this project, which he viewed as government waste, as one of the reasons for his decision to run for governor. New Ulm has continued to restore the monument, adding four cast iron lions, part of Julius Berndt’s original design, to the base in 2001 and removing the statue in 2004 to make further repairs.

Placed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1973, the Hermann Monument was designated as a symbol of the contributions of Americans of German heritage by the 106th U.S. Congress in 2000. Back on his pedestal in 2005, Hermann kept his watch once again, providing German-Americans with a link to their cultural past.

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Hermann Monument files
Manuscript Collection, Brown County Historical Society, New Ulm
Description: The files include newspaper clippings, documents relating to the funding of the monument and its repairs, letters, photographs, and memorabilia from the dedication and other public events at the monument. See especially the Julius Berndt letter regarding the Hermann Monument, 1885, translated by Don Heinrich Tolzmann.

Bordewich, Fergus M. “The Ambush that Changed History.” Smithsonian 36, no. 6 (September 2005): 74–81.

“City To Be Offered Hermann Heights.” New Ulm Journal, February 1, 1929.

Fuchs, Stephan. “History and Heritage of Two Midwestern Towns: A Toponymic-Material Approach.” Journal of Historical Geography 48 (2015): 11–25.

“The German Hermann Monument.” Art Journal (1875–1887), new series, vol. 1 (1875): 123.

“A Hearty Welcome.” New Ulm Review, September 22, 1897.

The Hermann Monument. New Ulm, MN: City of New Ulm Park and Recreation Department, 2007.

Hermann Monument Society.
http://hermannmonument.com/

“Herman Statue is Presented to City By Hermann’s Lodge.” New Ulm Review, February 20, 1919.

Hoisington, Daniel John. A German Town: A History of New Ulm, Minnesota. New Ulm, MN: City of New Ulm, 2004.

Koelpin, Arnold J. The Hermann Monument: A Prairie Tale in the Annals of Americana. New Ulm, MN: City of New Ulm, 1988.

McCallum, Laura. “Ventura Proves His Popularity.” Minnesota Public Radio, September 7, 2001.
http://news.minnesota.publicradio.org/features/200109/07_mccalluml_ventura/

“New Ulm Gets the Monument.” New Ulm Review, July 21, 1886.

Sponholz, Lisa. “New Ulm: Germany in Minnesota.” Undergraduate thesis, University of Minnesota, 1995.

“Taken by Storm.” New Ulm Review, September 29, 1897.

Tolzmann, Don Heinrich. “Appendix II. The Hermann Monument: A National Symbol of the German Heritage.” In New Ulm in Word and Picture: J.H. Strasser’s History of a German-American Settlement (1892), translated and edited by Don Heinrich Tolzmann, and Fredric R. Steinhauser, 49–55. Indianapolis, IN: Max Kade German-American Center, Indiana University—Purdue University at Indianapolis and Indiana German Heritage Society, 1997.

Ubl, Elroy. “Location, Money Problems Plagued Building of Hermann Monument.” New Ulm Review, March 20, 1980.

U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Hermann Monument and Hermann Heights Park. Report (To Accompany House Congressional Resolution 89). 106th Congress, 2nd Session, October 3, 2000.

Winkler, Martin M. Arminius the Liberator: Myth and Ideology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Related Images

Color image of the Hermann Monument, New Ulm, 2011. Photograph by Adam C. Smith.
Color image of the Hermann Monument, New Ulm, 2011. Photograph by Adam C. Smith.
Black and white photograph showing the construction of the Hermann Monument, New Ulm, ca. 1888–1897.
Black and white photograph showing the construction of the Hermann Monument, New Ulm, ca. 1888–1897.
Black and white photograph of Julius Berndt, ca. 1890.
Black and white photograph of Julius Berndt, ca. 1890.
Colorized Hermann Monument postcard, ca. 1908.
Colorized Hermann Monument postcard, ca. 1908.
Hermann Monument colorized postcard, ca. 1910.
Hermann Monument colorized postcard, ca. 1910.
Black and white photograph of Hermann’s Monument, New Ulm, ca. 1910.
Black and white photograph of Hermann’s Monument, New Ulm, ca. 1910.
Black and white photograph of the Hermann the German Monument, New Ulm, ca. 1973.
Black and white photograph of the Hermann the German Monument, New Ulm, ca. 1973.
Color image of a Hermann's Monument beer can, ca. 1980.
Color image of a Hermann's Monument beer can, ca. 1980.
Color image of the Hermann Monument, New Ulm, 2001.
Color image of the Hermann Monument, New Ulm, 2001.

Turning Point

In 1897, the Sons of Hermann dedicate the completed Hermann Monument at their national convention in New Ulm.

Chronology

1840

A fraternal organization, the Order of the Sons of Hermann, forms in New York to counter discrimination against German Americans.

1875

Hermanndenkmal (the Hermann Monument) is erected in Detmold, Germany.

1881

Julius Berndt proposes that the Sons of Hermann build a monument to Hermann in New Ulm.

1885

The Sons of Hermann approve the idea of a Hermann monument project at their national convention in Philadelphia.

1888

The cornerstone of the Hermann statue is laid in New Ulm.

1889

Pelzer sculpts a clay model of the Hermann statue. From this model, workers from the W. H. Mullins Company create a statue made of copper sheeting over a steel frame.

1897

The Sons of Hermann dedicate the Hermann Monument at their national convention in New Ulm.

1907

Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany donates an engraving to the Hermann Monument. (The engraving was taken down during World War I.)

1929

The Sons of Hermann turn the Hermann Monument over to the City of New Ulm.

1973

The Hermann Monument is placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

1999

The City of New Ulm undertakes a major Hermann restoration project.

2000

The 106th Congress designates the Hermann Monument as a national symbol for all Americans of German heritage.

2002

Four statues of lions are added to the monument’s base, completing Berndt’s original design.

2004

The Hermann statue is removed from the monument for repairs.

2005

The Hermann statue is placed back on the monument.