Jon de Vos – What’s nue on the Danube?
August 20, 2009
I’ve been thinking a lot about the word, “new” and what it means. Thanks to our friends at Funk and Wagnall’s, I know the strict definition is “unused, or not in existence before.” But “new” is a word that has a few peculiar quirks. For instance, no one has ever driven a new car. The minute you take title to it, or that first time you start the engine, it’s no longer new. In fact, it hasn’t been new since the paint dried. It may be less old than the clunker you drove in on, but it isn’t new.
OK, that’s pretty picky. Let’s talk about England. The minute the Puritans landed on Plymouth Rock, they decided to call the place “New” England. Was that because they loved England so much that they wanted to reproduce it here in the “New” World? Or was it because they hated it so much they wanted to be reminded never to go back?
Mexico is that country to the south of us. One day some folks moved a foot north and wound up in “New” Mexico. First Jersey, then New Jersey, York and New York. So you have to stop and ask, “what was so right about Brunswick that made folks want to start all over in New Brunswick? Or maybe, what was so wrong with Old Brunswick that folks decided they had to get out of there?
Was it just a throwaway name because they were so unimaginative that they couldn’t come up with anything else? Did they stick the “New” in front so that two places wouldn’t wind up with the same name? Lots of people have the same name without civilization coming to an end. Take “Jack” for instance. Try a little experiment by yelling out, “Hi, Jack,” in a busy airport and try to quickly count how many people look your way. Don’t tell them you read it here.
I whiled away a considerable amount of time last week, reading about towns with the prefix, “new” in front of them. Far and away, my favorite turned out to be Ulm. Ulm is a city in Germany, sitting peacefully on the Danube River. Let me correct that; Ulm sits on the northwest bank of the Danube. Guess what sits on the southeast bank? You got it, “Neu” Ulm. Apparently some inhabitants of Ulm got fed up and swam across the river to thumb their noses at Old Ulm. This was around the year 1350.
Then the inhabitants of Neu Ulm got bored and migrated to America and around 1850, founded the Texas town of New Ulm, named after the German town of Neu Ulm, named after the old German town of Ulm. A mere four years later and 1,200 miles north, other German immigrants were settling in the Minnesota town of New Ulm. Shouldn’t it have been Newer Ulm or maybe Latest Ulm?
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And just what was the matter with the original Ulm? It was the birthplace of Albert Einstein and home to “Ulmer Munster” famous as the tallest church spire in the world. The top of the spire is 531 feet above the base and is reached by climbing 768 stairs, more than twice as many as in the Statue of Liberty. What’s more, every third Monday in July, the Lord Mayor of Ulm, Germany stands out on a balcony overlooking Ulm and all its people and renews a solemn oath to uphold the town constitution and gives his unconditional promise
I’ll bet they don’t do that in Minnesota or Texas.
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