Hermann the German’s home needs renovations.
That’s to be expected after 121 years in the same place, but Hermann’s work will be more expensive than most homes.
The 32-foot-high Hermann stands atop a 70-foot-high base housing a shuttered New Ulm interpretive center. Visitors are still welcome and can climb up a spiraling staircase for 360-degree views atop Hermann, who is an ode to the city’s and state’s deep German heritage.
But Hermann’s base has age-related problems, including moisture of unknown origins. “It’s not just the leakage, it’s the environmental degradation of components of the monument,” said New Ulm Park and Recreation Director Tom Schmitz.
The monument went on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Despite spot repairs over the years, the structure is fading. The limestone is flaking, the wooden windows need refurbishing and the steel is rusting, Schmitz said.
Hermann himself is in fine shape, but “everything below is in need of restoration,” the park director said.
The city is trying to figure out just how much work needs to be done to keep Hermann safely on high and eventually reopen the mini-museum in the base.
“It’s a multiphase restoration of an internationally recognized monument,” Schmitz said. “I think the public has an interest in seeing him restored.”
To get things started, the Minnesota Historical Society provided a $60,000 grant for the initial assessment to determine what needs to be done. That’s phase one.
Phase two, which Schmitz estimates will cost at least $100,000, will entail developing a construction plan. Phase III, which Schmitz said will cost at least $1 million, is the restoration itself.
The city will seek federal and state funding for those efforts in coming years, he said.
Hermann was a legendary Germanic freedom fighter who symbolized strength and unity for the Sons of Hermann Lodges throughout the United States. In the 1800s, architect and engineer Julius Berndt drew up plans for the monument similar to one under construction in Detmold, Germany. The monument was dedicated in 1897 after nearly a decade of delays.
He’s had lots of work done in recent decades and has remained the centerpiece of a popular park and picnic area.
In 2004, Hermann was removed from his pedestal for an overhaul. His interior framework was bolstered. In the late 1990s, the Legislature and the Minnesota Historical Society helped fund the $1 million removal of lead paint from the base of the monument.
In 1998, when straight-line winds tore a wing off Hermann’s helmet, the city created the Hermann Monument Perpetual Maintenance Society.
Hermann had 12,133 paid visitors last year, Schmitz said. Weather permitting, he’s open Saturdays in May, September and October. He’s open every day from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Then comes the big event the Saturday after Labor Day — HermannFest, a full day and night of music (polka in the day, rock at night), food, cannon fire and fireworks.