|German Russians: Home
"German Russians: Home in Berlin." www.Cafebabel.com, The European Magazine, 12 December 2007.
In the commercial centre of the city, there's a sign
hanging horizontally which reads Eastgate in large
letters, and which blocks the innumerable buildings
that fill the landscape. On the streets, ' the language
here' is heard everywhere: Russian. The 'Marzahn'
district in Berlin has 103, 000 inhabitants; 28, 000
of whom only have a cloudy memory of Russia, kept
in one corner of their minds. Most ''German Russians',
the so-called 'Germans from Russia', have German nationality;
they were expatriated long ago and now they have have
Their history goes all the way back to the 1760's,
when 'Catherine's invitation' meant that 30, 000 Germans
were to be displaced 'to develop agricultural zones
in southern Russia, notably in Ukraine, still under
Russian rule. Catherine II of Russia wanted reputable
German workers, to step in with the execution of colonisation,'
says Frank Tétart, geopolitician, and director
of the political research lab, LEPAC (Laboratory of
Political and Cartographic Studies).
These Germans lived together, they benefited from
several privileges, and also preserved their 'Germanity.'
Lenin had given them their own nation state, 'the
Union of Socialist Republics of the Volga Germans';
but with the Second World War, which brought opposition
between USSR and Germany, their precarious situation
blew up : the German population had to be then deported
to Siberia, and the Republics of Asia Minor, today,
Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
Born before 1993?
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the population
had reason to hope for more. Having inherited German
nationality, they had the right to a second life in
the country of their ancestors. Since 1990, they have
been validating their status as 'Aussiedler' (resettlers).
Because the right of blood still prevails in Germany,
they have the benefit of a double nationality. Centuries
after the departure of their ancestors, what are they
looking for now, and why have they come to Berlin?
Often, they have lost all their ties with Germany.
Certainly, for some of them, this is a veritable return
to their roots, motivated by the hope of a better
life in an adopted home.
Eduard Walz, a grocer who lives in Lichtenberg, left
the Ural Mountains in 1990 to move to Berlin. He took
a chance : 'Having a double nationality enables us
to leave, because in Russia, our prospects for the
future were so limited.' Vassili Sagasdachny, a member
of the Russian association Schalasch, is part of the
second wave of re-patriots who came to Berlin during
the last decade. Having lived humbly in Kazakhstan,
he wanted 'to see how life was in Berlin.' Today,
he wouldn't leave for anything in the world.
If German authorities were not considered vigilant
in the nineties, they are now severe, as immigration
laws have toughened. Administrative procedures is
heavy and can sometimes last for years. From now on,
anyone who wants to claim their rights, must have
been born before 1993.
25% of repatriates speak German
The German Russians are therefore looking to rejoin
their family members, in the regions where the state
had created the first exclusively Russian communities.
In Berlin, Marzahn is the largest 'colony' of the
capital. Going backwards, and to 'support their integration,'
the German state has imposed 'land ' quotas since
2002. Children go to school, young people study, adults
work or look for a position. Integration is moving
along, even if, in Berlin, there are few employment
Eduard, after his education in furniture making,
which was financed by an employment agency, quickly
changed his specialised trade. 'It's impossible to
earn a living as a furniture maker in Berlin. The
labour is too heavy to pay,' he thinks. 'Here, I can't
compete with the big distribution chains like Kaufland,'
In order to find a job, it's conditional, sine qua
non, to speak German. Frank Tétart estimates
that if 70% of the first repatriates spoke German,
of the most recent arrivals only one quarter of them
are German speakers. 'Children have a better chance
because they go to school and they learn German, even
if it isn't being spoken in their homes,' Valentina
Zapp, director of the project at Schalasch, explains.
Every day she helps young people find their place
in a school or in an apprenticeship, or writing letters
of support. 'After one year of catching-up, they continue
in the normal course. The German education system
is too elitist. Berlin offers few prospects,' she
Anna Mamonov is 25 years old. She arrived in Germany
with her mother when she was nine years old. For her,
like all children, the question of her identity is
still unresolved. 'I feel like I've been ripped from
my childhood and my country.' Although Anna is integrated
within her society, she thinks of herself as being
primarily Russian. And for those who are born on German
soil? For them, it's just the opposite: they hear
Russian being spoken in their homes, they don't want
to learn it because whether at school, or with their
friends, they don't speak anything but German. The
Valentina Association proposes the revival of the
Russian language in young people.
Despite all the efforts, Germans keep in their minds
an image of 'Asi' or welfare, when they think about
the Russian population, who are often perceived as
second rate citizens. This situation is one in which
the Russian Germans suffer, Eduard explains: 'Financially,
it's better here for them than in Russia. But in general,
here, its not total freedom. We are still under pressure.
There are way too many laws. For me, my homeland is