See more of the story

Ya betcha Minnesota is known for its Scandinavian heritage.

From midsummer festivals to St. Lucia Day and lutefisk dinners, Minnesotans celebrate their roots. That got Tim Mengelkoch wondering about his roots.

"Why is Scandinavian ancestry always mentioned so frequently when people of German descent make up a larger percentage of our population?" asked the 73-year-old, who lives in Bemidji. "Over the years I have always noticed stories about Swedish and Norwegian celebrations … but almost nothing about German events."

He posed the question to Curious Minnesota, the Star Tribune's community-driven reporting project fueled by reader questions.

First, were his numbers correct? In the most recent American Community Survey, 45% of Minnesotans said they had ancestors from Norway, Denmark or Sweden compared with 55% who said they had ancestors from Germany. Score 1 for Mengelkoch.

But has it always been that way? In 1890, the U.S. census didn't ask about ancestry, but it did collect information about residents born in other countries. Those data show that 25% of the state's foreign-born population came from Germany, compared with 46% from Sweden, Norway or Denmark. No other state had a higher share of Scandinavians. Score 1 for Minnesota's Scandinavian settlers.

Jeana Anderson, executive director of the Germanic-American Institute in St. Paul, agrees that Germans can often get lost in Minnesota's Viking heritage. "There's a lot of misinformation out there about how strong the German community is" here, she said. The reason, she has often heard, is that, especially after the war, "the focus was on assimilation … and not to be so connected to our German identity."

As for the festivals, Ingrid Nyholm-Lange, director of experience at the American Swedish Institute, said Germany is one country, while Scandinavia includes three, each with its own independence day and holiday traditions. That can add up.

Both cultural centers are seeing a resurgence in interest. Anderson said GAI continues to expand, offering community education, a full preschool and 32 German classes at all different levels. "There's this whole boom of German language education," she said.

At ASI, membership is at a record high. The number of Nordic cooking and handicraft classes has more than doubled in the past fiscal year — to 165. It also uses its mansion headquarters in south Minneapolis, donated by a Swedish immigrant in 1929, to promote popular events: Kids at the Castle and Cocktails at the Castle.

But perhaps ASI's dominance can be summed up in budgets alone. In its most recent federal filing it listed assets of about $31 million, the bulk of that from land and buildings. GAI's? About $750,000.

Game, set and match to the Swedes.

Data editor MaryJo Webster contributed to this report. Karen Margrethe Lundegaard • 612-673-4151