|October 8, 2010
Clint Eastwood's advice in "Dirty Harry" that
opinions, like certain body parts, are best kept to
happened to Polka Days?
my wife and I traveled to New Ulm, Minnesota to attend the
annual "Oktoberfest" celebration, looking forward
to the German music, food, and beer. Growing up in Southern
Minnesota, I'd heard of it for years, as well as other
events in the area, all centered around the strong German
culture. According to the U.S. Census, New Ulm is the most
German town in America, with nearly 70% of the population
reporting German ancestry. New Ulm bills itself as the Polka
Capital of the Nation, and for years the city's famous
Polka Days was held every July, bands played on the main
street downtown, and people danced and drank beer until well
past midnight. In October, many returned to celebrate "Oktoberfest".
I'd always heard the crowds at these events were
in the thousands, so I anticipated trouble getting
accomodations and made reservations as soon as I could. As
it turns out, I didn't need to worry about that, crowds were
in the hundreds, not thousands.
New Ulm is a
beautiful and historic city, and we really enjoyed the State
Park, climbing up to see the statue of "Hermann the
German", touring the August Schell Brewery, and walking
the interesting downtown area. But, when the 11 AM parade
started by the Glockenspiel, disappointment started to set
in. The crowd was sparce, the parade had just a few floats
and marchers, and in 10 or 15 minutes it was over.
polka band began to play down at the corner, a crowd of
perhaps 300 gathered to start buying beer and brats, so
Hazel and I joined them. Later, someone mentioned they were
serving "Maid-Rites" down at the American Legion
Club, so we wandered down the street and found out they are
a tasty steamed hamburger "sloppy joe" without the
tomato sauce, and the club was doing a brisk business.
the edge of town, the Holiday Inn had several polka bands
booked to play until closing, and the parking lot was full.
But, where were the fabled downtown crowds I'd
heard so much about?
I got on the internet,
googled, and learned a few things. The big event in town was
"Polka Days" a popular July event every year from
1955 until 1972 when it suddenly stopped. The crowd was said
to be over 50,000, and everyone was spending money. So, why
would the town kill a golden goose like that? I kept looking
but couldn't find anything about why the event ended. So, I
sent an email to my friend Dave who lived in New Ulm about
that time. Here is what Dave wrote back:
|I remember Polka Days well. It
became a flamboyant, no holds barred, drunken,
licentious display of debauchery and flagrantly
outrageous behavior. It all started back in the 50's
when they had main street resurfaced and somebody said
they should celebrate. There was a band at every corner
and New Ulm has a LOT of bars and the beer ran like a
flood from both breweries. People came from miles around
to drink and drink and dance and drink and act up and
It got worse and worse as the years
wore on but finally came to its demise when a comely
couple were filmed naked, consummating their alcohol
driven love on the hood of a '62 Buick with hundreds of
beer hounds cheering them on.
Needless to say
the churches threw an awful fit and finally got the
whole thing cancelled. It became a dramatic illustration
of how people behave in a mob situation. But it was
grand while it lasted. We lived back in New Ulm during
the last frantic years of the big annual bacchanalian
extravaganza. Oktoberfest is a faint shadow of what once
was, but you can still have a good time in New Ulm.
Polka Days moved to
Minnesota for 30 years, and then returned to George's
Ballroom in New Ulm for a couple of years, but it wasn't the
same out on the street.
Air Aviation Referral Service
responses, and will be glad to post them here. Email your
|Back in my playing days in ballrooms across
the Midwest in 1959 -1964, we would continually see the posters
for a lot of the bands. Of course being 17 years old or so, we
would mock these L-7 bands. Liederhosen? Silly hats? It was good
fodder for us "hip" young men.
these guys were only a decade or so older than we were, and were
drawing crowds as large as we did. What happened to Polka Days?
As I said the other day, those things are just going out of
fashion, but there is more of a factor.
to pepper the Midwest. There were many many ballrooms across
Minnesota to which people would flock every weekend. Usually one
night during the week was an extra "Old Time" night
where a polka band would play. Musically, most people enjoyed a
wide variety of music. With limited radio stations, every
station played a variety of music. At a polka dance you could
see a wide variety of ages in the crowd.
music got "smarter" each year, and with more stations,
audiences got more targeted as stationd determined their format.
Today you can have your choice of hundreds of stations with
satellite radio. Therefore, you can listen to only songs you
like and nothing you don't like. The ballrooms died. The town
celebrations died. The small town "variety" radio
In 1961 on my Birthday what were the top 5 songs
in the USA that week? According to Billboard magazine:
|1. The Lion Sleeps Tonight. The Tokens were a preppy
group wearing cardigan sweaters singing this traditional
2. Please Mr. Postman - The Marvelettes sang
this motown offering.
3. Run to Him - Bobby Vee from
Fargo sang this ballad.
4. The Twist - Chubby Checker
did this "dance" song.
5. Walk on By - Leroy
Van Dyke did this country song.
We also had #1 hits in that decade by Nelson
Riddle, Lawrence Welk, and Elvis. What variety!
what happened to Polka Days? Today, the parade would take 90
seconds because the bands are down to 3 or 4 in an area that
used to have 25 bands. The live music all day in the park would
have to be replaced by recordings. Wow, this is already just not
as fun. The polka dancers that covered the floor for hours on
end have all died. There are no dancers left out there except
those that are performing at 4:00 from the polka dancing club
that meets every Tuesday night.
Changing times..... I
miss some of the old days too, but Polka and Old Time Music is
going the same way as Barbershop Quartets and Glenn Miller.
I was in
college at the last of the classic Mifflin Street Block Parties
in Madison, WI back in the 90's. It was a pharmaceutical
carnival, with almost anything available and police too busy
with underage drunks to do anything about it. Looking for
halluginogens, but having no luck, I was in line for a nitrous
balloon about 5 feet from a cop, and asked a bleary-eyed guy if
he had any, "Nah, dude, but I got some pot" at which
point he took out a brick of pot the size of a thick sandwich,
and broke it in half, selling it to me for $20 (well, well below
the market at the time).
When you can go back to a
party and drop a bag of weed with an audible *THUD* that is
officially a good party. By the time we could stand again, some
revellers had started a bonfire in the street. Not so bad, you
say, but then they threw some old couches on it from the porches
on the street. Then they tipped a car onto it. By the time the
fire trucks showed up and morons started throwing bottles at
them, the two-story porches had been pried off of 5-7 buildings
and added to the blaze, igniting the overhanging limbs of trees
40 ft. above. Riot police, tear gas, glass everywhere, chaos.
Good times, man, good times. That's a reason to stop a
tradition. Two people humping on a Buick should have been the
poster for next year.
was in marching band in High School and it was decided we would
travel to New Ulm to march in the parade. This was late 60's.
Beer was a nickel a cup and as far as I could tell if you were
tall enough to push a nickle across the 2 x12 'bar' you were old
enough to drink. The band director quickly realized this was a
bad situation for a bunch of teens to be in and restricted us to
the dorm rooms we had reserved. But they did not have nearly
enough chaperons for us so many of us escaped and spent the
night in cheap-beer inducted debauchery. This is still one of my
fondest memories of High School.
We marched the next
day. Badly hung over my memory is of wading through discarded
cups knee deep in the street and the sight of grown men
urinating off the curb in full view of everyone. These stories
of course made their way home so we were all blamed for the bad
behaviour of those few that drank (KIDS DRANK? I DIDN'T SEE THAT
The band did not go out of town for parades for
a couple of years and I had heard Octoberfest was calmed down a
lot after that.
similar happened to Albany, Minnesota's G'Suffa Days, which
developed into the boozing frenzy that the name implies in
German. Saufen means to booze. Albany didn't have public
copulation--at least I didn't hear of any--but it had lots of
throwing up on people's yards and general mayhem.
G'Suffa Days were discontinued.
ya know, this editorial was picked-up by
Some fark blogger comments might not be "office
One of the major reasons
for its demise was the fact that it became a huge crowd, with
shoulder-to-shoulder people for four blocks and plenty of
spill-over to other locations near downtown. Since it was on the
streets, it was effectively uncontrolled access. The facilities,
such as they were, were overwhelmed, not just with access, but
with toilets. Recessed entryways became toilets by the end of
the night, to the reasonable consternation of business owners.
After one year of no fest and a year of an unusual
event spread in venues all over town called "Musikanten
Fest," the wonderful "Heritagefest" began in 1975
to 2005 (31 years) and it was held at the more controllable
venue of the Brown County Fairgrounds, which is located right in
Heritagefest received an award from the
Minnesota Office of Tourism in approximately 2001, whereby they
were effectively said to be "the example of how to run a
great city festival." Sadly, with the change in ethnic and
heritage-driven festivals declining with young people, it had to
close for economic reasons. They wisely chose to announce the
decision to fold right after the end of the 2005 event, which
allowed a new festival organization to have time to form. The
Heritagefest Board Chair wisely said something like, "All
events have a life-span. We knew this wouldn't last forever.
When a Broadway play closes after many years, people don't
consider it a failure. In fact, they applaud the long run it did
have. Think of our time together with Heritagefest in the same
When "H'Fest" closed its
doors, "Bavarian Blast" began in 2006, with the first
two years in German Park downtown and then back to the
comfortable location at the the Fairgrounds, where it continues
to entertain crowds from across the U.S.A.
these festivals were put on by independent, citizen-driven
organizations who put in an awful lot of effort, stress and hard
work into the festivals and deserve great praise!
Sveine - New Ulm Guy