Ethnic Towns

  • A pocket of Norway

    Of all the immigrant groups, Norwegians perhaps are most sentimental. Generations later, they’re still painting bowls and stitching costumes in the old style and celebrating holidays with foods poor Norwegians ate in the 19th century.

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  • Truly Amana

    It's obvious from one look at the shop-lined streets of Amana, the largest of the seven Amana Colonies, that modern commerce is in full flower there. Even so, the first question asked about the villages is: Are the Amana people Amish? And no wonder — the people of the Amanas spoke German, lived simply and adhered faithfully to Scripture. Many still do. But no, they never were Amish.

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  • Kalona, naturally

    For the Amish, that's a lifestyle, not a movement.

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  • Troll-hunting in Mount Horeb

    In Mount Horeb, Wis., trolls are revered, not reviled. The little town west of Madison calls itself the Troll Capital of the World, for its many mascots — most wooden, but one live — and Norse traditions. It doesn't have the medieval Norwegian stave church that has been the town's pride and joy since 1937. The ornate wooden building has gone back to Orkdal, Norway, whose residents built it for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago and will reassemble it as an attraction for Orkdal.

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  • Swiss at heart

    In a verdant little glen in southwest Wisconsin, the 13th century makes a reprise appearance every year. It comes with pageantry, bloodshed and a whole lot of noble sentiments, courtesy of the 18th-century dramatist Friedrich Schiller. It also comes in German that’s as meaty as the Landjaeger sausages sold to spectators. As I arrived during the first act of "Wilhelm Tell,’’ a rich Swiss patriot was discussing the horrors of war with his wife.

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  • Where the Germans are

    There are few towns more conspicuously American than New Ulm, Minn. Laid out by the town founders, its wide streets follow an orderly grid toward downtown, where cars park at an angle in front of boxy brick businesses and meat-and-potatoes cafes. There are softball games and Friday-night fish fries and many friendly people. It's the epitome of small-town America — and yet this is a town famous for being German.

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  • In the land of Norwegians

    At first, the southeast Minnesota town of Spring Grove looks like any other town. There’s a café, an antiques store and a park full of statues. But Spring Grove isn’t ordinary. It’s full of Norwegians. In the park, two bronze men appear to be squabbling; they’re characters in a nationally syndicated comic strip written by a Spring Grove man 50 years before Neil Simon came up with “The Odd Couple.’’

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  • Syttende Mai in Stoughton

    In the small Wisconsin town of Stoughton, red, white and blue flags fly everywhere on Independence Day. Except here, the patriotic holiday is celebrated in May, and the flag is Norwegian, not American. Norway had been under Denmark's heel for more than 400 years when it signed a new democratic constitution on May 17, 1814, a day that became known as Syttende Mai.

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  • Tulip Time in Pella

    Even in a region rich in ethnicity, the Dutch stand out. In a town square in Iowa, lacy white hats shaped like pyramids, horns and half-moons bob high atop women's heads. Men wear black caps, breeches or baggy trousers and narrow bands cross at their throats. Their wooden shoes click and clack as they dance. "These are the weirdest people I've ever seen!'' shrieked a little boy watching from the sidelines.

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  • Bazaar on the prairie

    On a single day in Winnipeg, a tourist can learn a few words of Cree, dine on curry and conch, and come face to face with Queen Victoria. The empire on which the sun never sets has come to the Canadian prairie, and so have a whole lot of other countries. The Cree and Assiniboine — Aboriginals, they’re called here — came first. Then a French explorer arrived at the juncture of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, and a Scottish lord brought in Scottish and Irish settlers.

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  • Celebrating Syttende Mai

    It's a wonder that we love the Norwegians so much, considering the food they brought from the old country. Lutefisk, or dried cod soaked in lye? Rømmegrøt, a butter-soaked cream pudding that should be called heart-attack-in-a-cup? We forgive Norwegians because they have a sense of humor about everything, including their food (“O Lutefisk, how fragrant your aroma. O Lutefisk, you put me in a coma. You smell so strong, you look like glue, you taste yust like an overshoe.")

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