In the Spotlight

News & Features
Respond to this story

Norway in a cafe
An anthropologist from Norway is studying the descendents of Norwegian immigrants in west central Minnesota. Sarah Lund wants people in her country to understand why Norwegian immigrants came to America and how they lived. Lund is focusing her research on the Norway Lake community north of Willmar. That's where she found a small cafe that's a researcher's gold mine. The Sunburg Cafe features Norwegian food and a clientele that speaks fluent Norwegian.

Larger view
Image The Sunburg Cafe

Sunburg, Minn. — Sunburg looks like many other small towns in Minnesota. A bank, a post office and a market line its quiet mainstreet. But there's something different about this home of 110 people. You realize it as soon as you step into the Sunburg Cafe. A long wooden lunch counter lines the left side of the cafe. Tables fill the rest of the room. There's enough space here for a few dozen customers. And most of the time they speak Norwegian.

Larger view
Image Researcher Sarah Lund

Sarah Lund grew up in Wisconsin, but she moved to Norway more than 30 years ago. Lund is an anthropology professor at the University of Oslo. She's come back to the midwest to spend a year studying the descendents of Norwegian immigrants.

Lund is focusing her research on Sunburg here in the Norway Lake area. During the late 1800's and early 1900's, its population was exclusively Norwegian. And even today the Norwegian culture is evident, especially at the Sunburg Cafe. Researcher Sarah Lund says the cafe stirs something in area Norwegians.

Larger view
Image Klub and coffee

"It sort of activates what might be more latent. People come in here and will talk Norwegian if the know it. It's kind of a context where it is valued to speak Norwegian, so I'm speaking a lot of Norwegian in this cafe," Lund says.

The Sunburg Cafe is a meeting place for the locals. They come here to swap stories in Norwegian, especially on Tuesdays. That's when the cafe serves its specialty, Klub. Klub is ground up raw potatoes and ham, it's made into a dumpling and boiled in broth until it's done.

Larger view
Image Sunburg Cafe customers

A group of women in their 70's and 80's have finished their weekly meal of Klub. They're sitting along a window near the front of the cafe drinking coffee. Helen Rody says if you're Norwegian, this is the perfect place to come and be Norwegian.

"The food and the atmosphere, it's just right for Norwegians," Rody says. "I was baptized, confirmed and married in Norwegian so I'm a good Norwegian."

The Sunburg Cafe's atmosphere keeps the local Norwegians up on their native language. And it even serves as a place for some non-locals to try out their skills. A Norwegian class from Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa High School has traveled 15 miles to the Sunburg Cafe. Helga Herfendahl teaches the class.

Larger view
Image Norwegian language students from Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa

"A lot of peoples' grandparents speak Norwegian. So they learn Norwegian and can speak with their grandparents. And a lot of them have ties to Norway, and now they can speak the language of their heritage, and that is very meaningful to them," Herfendahl says. The locals say the student's Norwegian is wonderful. And they like seeing young people take an interest in the language. Sarah Lund says the Sunburg Cafe is an example of what can be preserved in a community when neighbors stick together. She says her research will be included in a project for the University of Oslo.

For years Norway lost residents to immigration, but now Norway is experiencing the opposite. A wave of new immigrants from different cultures is coming to Norway. Lund hopes her research shows Norwegians how to preserve their culture while working with other cultures as well.

"This project excites me because I hope it would generate some questions and perspectives that help us from a Norwegian perspective open up what we think of being Norwegian," Lund says.

Lund says being Norwegian while working and living with other cultures is something folks in this part of Minnesota have done for years.

News Headlines
Related Subjects