Denmark Looks to Iowa for Clues About Heritage

Flag of Denmark

Flag of Denmark

Sometimes wake-up calls come from the most unlikely of places. Recently the people of a country of 5-million, Denmark, questioned whether those in a small Iowa town are better at keeping traditions.

How is it that Elk Horn, Iowa, is giving lessons on how to be Danish to the country where the Danes originated -- Denmark?

"They were very surprised that a little town in the middle of Iowa is trying to keep it danish. Surprised and little bit proud too," said Elk Horn Mayor Stan Jens.

This fall -- a documentary called "Danes on the Prairie" followed around the Elk Horn, Iowa, mayor and others in this town of 647.

The filmmakers raised the question: are Iowans doing a better job of keeping the traditions?

"They were so surprised that we still do all these old time things that they haven't done in years and years," said Jordan Hansen, who traveled to Denmark for the film's premier.

"Some of the people I talked with were questioning the same thing about themselves," said Mayor Jens. "These guys are in the middle of this cornfield doing this. Are we keeping it Danish right here in Denmark?"

The film aired in Denmark this fall. More than a million people saw it.

"There aren't a lot of young Danes left in town. Kids graduate high school and they go on and do other things," said Jordan Hansen, who is one of them that came back to Elk Horn. "It's all about family. I want to be a part of helping this little town grow. I have a platform and want to do my part."

For a community known for its permanent windmill and danish festival every Memorial Day, who would have thought they would become the teacher?

"We have danish blood and we found a way to keep it alive," said Hansen.

Because of the success of the documentary, the Danish filmmakers returned to Elk Horn over Thanksgiving for a follow-up story to air in the spring.

60,000 people visit the Danish windmill in town every year. Because of the film, the mayor is expecting even more to make the trip in 2014.

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