Bergen, Minnesota

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.

RICHARD HALLIBURTON GUESSING QUIZ ON THE NEXT VILLAGE TO VISIT ON THE TOUR: NEW TRIER

Question 2. Which country sought to conquer the city of Trier (in Germany) many times and eventually suceeded? Please include the year it happened!

a. Poland

b. France

c. Denmark

d. Spain

e. None of the above

Richard Halliburton Geography Quiz Nr. 1

RICHARD HALLIBURTON GEOGRAPHY QUIZ NR. 1:

In connection with the first entry on one of the German-named villages in Minnesota, here is the first question:

1. While there is a Bergen in Minnesota, there is only one Bergen in Europe and that is in Norway. True or False? If false, in which European countries can a person also find a town bearing this name?

Please respond to this question through the comment section by no later than Saturday 15 January, as the commentary will be written that day, and the results will be tabulated and included along with the correct answer. Good luck  and looking forward to your answers.

Sea of White

Sinking in over a foot of snow (if not more) and being tranformed from a living fuctional unit into a statue made of ice, winter in Minnesota can best be described as an odessy in itself. Fighting through drifts, digging out of the driveways that are buried three feet deep, and not seeing anything because of high winds picking up the snow and sending it flying around mother nature can show its true colors at her own convenience, as we end up locked in our homes, waiting until the coast is clear to go back out there and resume our lives as it was before the storm hit. That is, until the next storm comes and strands us somewhere where we don’t want to be stranded.  Winters can leave scars on the landscape just as much as the spring thaw, when the fields, once covered in drifts, become huge puddles that are just as deep as the snow. This is the beauty of winter in Minnesota; especially in the rural areas, where it is flat and is only dependent on agriculture.

During my last trip to my place of origin known as southern Minnesota, a place resembling a cross between Siberia and Schleswig-Holstein because of its sparse population and flatness, I had a chance to take some photos of one of the most brutal winters on record, and happen to meet some freaky encounters worth being put in the album to share with those who are interested. This is one that really caught my eye and not worth a miss. A small story accompanies the photos enclosed:

Going as far as the eye can see, for miles upon miles, it is a trip into the unknown where you are taking an awful risk, dealing with the waves that are white in color and grainy enough to suck you in if you go in too deep. It is just as bad as it is if you go through the fields covered in pools of water during the spring thaw, for you get sucked in by the really thick mud that accompanies the great flood. Wave upon wave, you cannot see any sight of land unless it is in a form of a line of road that is barely above water, a patch of land resembling a farm that has long since been abandoned, or a corn processing plant which produced toxic fumes one can smell for miles upon miles, while producing ethanol for cars in an attempt to cool down the Earth (which we’re doing the opposite, of course). With no help in site, you fight, on thinking about every step through the icy cold winds and bone-chilling temperatures that reddens you first before you turn to white and disappear together with the foot prints you leave behind by the wind, as you go through every drift thinking it is your last. Eventually you are rescued after a long journey, but not before facing the constant variable that is well known as you go through the walks of life to know about yourself until your end is near. And in the end, what you leave behind are the foot prints from your journey through the sea of white; not physically, as it disappears over time, but spiritually in the hearts and minds or those who must carry on your legacy through the waves and the wind.

From the files, until next time…

Going Home

Home is where your heart is. It is where the warmth and tenderness of love that you get from the people who care about you can be found. It is where you can reexamine your identity and who you are, while at the same time, either reacknowledge who you are and where you came from or reinvent yourself in order to become better than you were. It is where family and friends meet to either catch-up on what is going on, reminisce about the past, help each other in the present when it is badly needed, and guide you to your future and what you want to make of yourself.

For me apart from what is mentioned above, home is where I have an opportunity to look at the past while dealing with the present so that I can look forward to the future and make sure that my daughter has a prosperous future, mainly because of the experiences her father has gathered to date. This can all be done just by reconnecting with people from the past and connecting with people I don’t know now but will befriend in the future. Home for me serves as the crossroads because of the uncertainties that will occur, but can be regulated based on personal actions to myself and others.

The reason for my 3-week hiatus from the Files and its sister column the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles was because I indeed headed home for the holidays. Home for me was southern Minnesota in a small town located between Albert Lea and Sioux Falls with a population of just over 3,400 inhabitants. But before that, I had to get there, which was an odessy in itself, but looking back at my trip, it was well worth the money, time, and effort to do this. It started out with dealing with overcrowded trains that arrived an average of two hours late, to a plane trip that did not have a memorable landing because of the runways being slick and covered with snow, to plowing through drifts as high as my knees (and I’m 6 ft. 2 in. or 1.82 meters tall) with my rental sports utility vehicle, to all the maniacs who passed me while travelling on these trecherous roads, only to end up in the ditch, some kilometers later.

But despite all the trials and tribulations, I ended up travelling for five hours through the fields covered in a sea of white drifts to my destination, where my family and friends were awaiting me and I had an opportunity to feast on everything in its path, from my mother’s almond bars (Marzipankuchen in German) to the traditional feast on Christmas Eve consisting of chili con carne, oyster stew, and all kinds of wonderful goodies. This was accompanied with a night on the town in a snowstorm which made the streets of the town’s business district look like the color of greenish yellow, which was the result of the street lamps lighting up the sky like fireflies. While touring the residential areas, oohing and ahhing over the colorful Christmas lights lining along the roofs of the houses, presenting various colorful expressions to those passing by, there were reunions to go to, where friends brought their loved ones over from Europe to show off to their families and friends, and it was capped off with some music and booze, quatsching (talking nonsense) and bickering, pondering and debating until three in the morning, when our minds were wondering off, as if we were off to see King Ludwig II. of Bavaria’s Neuschwanstein Castle, the artwork where he emptied the entire treasury in order to complete it, when in all reality, we had to find our way back home in the cold and snow.

When there were no gatherings and reunions, there was the look of beauty as the result of the new fallen snow and the thirst for knowledge as I passed through each town and city that would result in me spending countless hours either with my camera or with a sheet of paper and a pen and collecting the impressions that were right before my eyes. Despite all the changes that have taken place in my hometown and the surrounding area, for the first time, I saw the beauty of the area that I once knew and grew up in, and it made me appreciate what I still have in my life and what I can do to ensure that the next generations, including my daughter will appreciate the nature and history of the region as I do, as many people have walked away from the places they grew up without appreciating what they gave them, only to find when the hardships hit them, they have no place to go and they end up like wandering nomads, walking through the cold white drifts of grainy snow, roaming from place to place until they either settle down or vanish forever. My trip home helped me look at  my origins and what I can do to make the coming year be better than the last. After all, regardless if you had a really horrible year or if you had a successful one, it always gets better the next year, but only if you take a look at yourself and who you are. This can only be done when you head home at a special time like Christmas.

After seeing my family and enjoying their laughs, reuniting with friends- many of whom I had not seen in over 15 years- and rediscovering myself through my travels, it was time for me to return to my current home in Germany, where the students wait for my arrival in the classroom, where my friends over there await my arrival in Erfurt to share their Christmas memories in their hometowns, and people I met along the way will write to me asking for a date over a cup of coffee at one of the fancy cafés serving Italian ice cream and other pastries. But most importantly, my laptop has been waiting for its author to type out some columns like this one, as one of my New Year’s resolutions is to keep providing readers like you with high quality columns on topics dealing with travelling, sports, culture and foreign languages (esp. when comparing Germany and the US), and some impressions and food for thought that will get you to think about and/or discuss about things at the dinner table.

SO WITHOUT FURTHER ADO, WELCOME TO 2011!

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NOTE: Some commentaries pertaining to my travels in Minnesota are in the works and will come when they are finished. This includes the tour of the German-named villages, where 12 of them will be profiled and compared to the German counterparts. They include the towns of Cologne, Hanover, Hamburg, New Germany, New Trier, New Ulm, Fulda, Bergen, Luxemburg, Geneva, New Munich and Flensburg. The facts about these towns will definitely take you by surprise. So stay tuned… Until next time….