A guide to Minnesota for Germans

For months now I’ve been meaning to get together some information for all the friends and in-laws coming over for my American wedding.  This same information might be useful for anyone visiting Minnesota, but the focus here will be on things that may be useful for them.  So, friends and family, help has arrived:

First of all, lets start with some basic facts about Minnesota.

The normal abbreviation for Minnesota is MN (might be useful even later in this post).

The word Minnesota comes from the Dakota name for the Minnesota River: Mnisota. The root mni (also spelled mini or minne) means, "water". Mnisota can be translated as sky-tinted water or somewhat clouded water.

Minnesota is about 225,181 km2, almost the same size as the former West Germany.

Minnesota only has just over 5.2 million people in total.  You can compare that to Germany’s 81.8 Million…or for a direct size comparison, West Germany in 1990 had 63 million…again, for the same area.

About 3.3 Million of those people live in what is known as the Twin Cities metro area, (Minneapolis and Saint Paul) which is by most people’s standards one big city.  That makes it somewhere between Hamburg and Berlin as far as population.  Below you can see where Minneapolis/St. Paul is in relation to Owatonna at the bottom.  It is about a 45 minutes to an hour drive.

Map picture

The large majority of residents are of German or Nordic descent, but ethnic diversity has increased in recent decades.

Politically, the state is known for its moderate to progressive politics and social policies, civic involvement, and high voter turnout. Minnesota ranks among the healthiest states, and has a highly literate population.

Minnesota is known as the land of 10,000 lakes, although technically it has 11,842 lakes, making Minnesota over 8.4% water.  Germany is about 2.4% water.  Minnesota has 90,000 miles of shoreline:  more than California, Florida and Hawaii combined.  Besides the lakes, Minnesota also has 6,564 (69,200 miles) natural rivers and streams.

Since Minnesota has all of this water (much of which is prime breeding ground for Mosquitoes), we also have more bugs than Germany.  You have never experienced the amount of mosquitoes that Minnesota is going to unleash on you, good luck with that.  Although our state bird is the common loon, many in Minnesota will argue that it is really the mosquito…alternatively known as a “blood sucking skeeter”.

The Weather

Minnesota gets the extremes on both ends.  We can have –40C in the winter and 40C in the summer.  For early July, I would be prepared for anything from 15C to 40C.  There is a fairly good chance of rain at some stage while you’re in Minnesota.

The Beer

At the wedding itself, I recommend sticking to Schell’s or Schell’s dark.  I’m hoping they’ll have the Zommerfest out and widely available when I get there.  Alternatively, Leinenkugel’s is excellent beer to try as well.  One thing to note is that there is a huge variety of beers in America…and I mean HUGE.  Even if you’re not a beer drinker here in Germany, you may find yourself drinking a few over there.  Alcohol percentages are the same for the same type of beer. (lagers are usually around 5% by volume, same as Germany, ales are typically weaker).  One thing you will not find is mixes.  If you try to order a radler in MN, they might die of laughter…as no one mixes with beer there.  If not a fan of beer at all…try the sodas, I recommend Mountain Dew…I REALLY recommend Mountain Dew…

Sight seeing

The first place most people think of to send visitors is, sadly, a mall.  However, it is possibly the coolest mall you’ll ever see, and definitely worth a visit even if you’re in the state only for a few days (hell, even hours…as it’s very close the the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport).  The Mall of America is the 2nd largest mall in the world (behind the West Edmonton Mall) and includes an entire amusement park in its center…foods of all types, and easily better deals than you’ll find anywhere in Germany.  It’s easy to get in, get out, and find your way around…there’s just no excuse in my mind as to why you would miss it.

Especially since the wedding is in Owatonna, a visit to another store is in order and that store is Cabela’s.  Cabela’s is a massive hunting, fishing, and outdoors-related store.  Again, even if you have no interest in buying anything…this is entertainment.

For things to do and see in Minneapolis, have a look here.  Also, a very up-to-date and interesting source of what’s available while you’re in MN, this time in magazine format, have a look here.

The state Capitol building, in St. Paul, is worth seeing…

Minneapolis and St. Paul each have one major church worth visiting.  Minneapolis has the Basilica of Saint Mary and St. Paul has the Cathedral of Saint Paul (Minnesota) National Shrine of the Apostle Paul.  Both were built in the early 1900’s.

The Minnesota Zoo is, in my opinion, far and away better than any of the German zoos (I really like zoos in general, even German zoos…).

While in Owatonna, I would recommend stopping at the mineral springs park and having a look at the origins of the city. 

You could also try out a round of Disc golf there.  Hell, Owatonna also has 4 regular golf courses if you want to golf.  I HIGHLY recommend a round if you’ve never tried.  Brook tree was my home course…used to play up to 5 days a week.  Let me know if you want to…

Other things in the area:

One thing that Petra and I are definitely doing while we’re there is going to The Wisconsin Dells.  The dells has everything from some of the world’s largest water parks to a pretty awesome mini golf, to Ripley’s believe it or not…to circus world…to waterskiing shows…it’s a whole city of (mostly fun) touristy things to do.  Could be a real American experience for ya.

For all your amusement park needs, head over to Valley Fair .  I love Valley fair, some of the best roller coasters in the country. Always a good time…similar to a Six Flags and better than pretty much anything in Germany.  (though there are two parks over by NRW that I’d like to check out)

Although I went to high school in Owatonna, my original home town is down the road (35 miles) in Albert Lea.  If you want to see my hometown, I’m sure I could try to give you a tour…as long as you don’t expect to see a big white castle at some stage.

For a really beautiful drive, highway 61 along the Mississippi is the way to go.  I would recommend driving from La Crosse (WI) to Winona (MN), stop by the top of a bluff.  Below you can see highway 61 running on the left (west) side of the Mississippi river between La Crosse and Winona.

Map picture

Camping.  Now, the German idea of Camping and the American idea of camping are two completely different things.  Perhaps if you’ve seen enough American movies you might understand…but if you want the true experience, stop by my Aunt and Uncle’s camp ground and spend a couple nights.  You can find their place at:  Camp Maiden Rock

What’s most important is that you let me know as soon as possible what you want to do or ideas you have for your trip!  I am not a mind reader, but if I’m told what you’re planning I can help.  My resources in Minnesota can be quite impressive…try me.

I’m sure I forgot some places and things to do…but I can always add more later…or not.  Anyways, here’s a good start.

[Listening to The Apers album You Are Only As Strong As The Table you dance on]

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