Germans From Russia to Gather Here
Schmidt, Steve. "Germans From Russia to Gather Here." Grand Forks Herald, 4 July 1996.
Germans and catfishers both will descend on The Forks next week. And
the two work together.
The Germans from Russia Heritage Society, which expects 300 to
400 to attend its international convention starting Wednesday, says
one of the side attractions is the annual Catfish Days in East Grand
Forks. That fun on the Red River is Saturday and Sunday.
Meals for the German event, however, are much more likely to include
black bread, perogies, and sauerkraut than fried channel cats.
The German from Russia program is hosted by the society’s
local Deutsche Kinder chapter, and it welcomes both members and
the general public for a $15 daily or a $30 five-day fee. George
Bowman, local president, promises, among many other things:
? Lots of good ethnic food and fellowship.
? No long speeches.
? Helping in researching family history books.
? Chances to visit with people with lines to all ancestral villages
in Germany, Russia, and Eastern Europe.
? Guests from across North Dakota, other states and countries.
? Interpreters, so people can converse with Russian students.
Registration starts Wednesday at the Grand Forks Convention and
Visitors center on Gateway Drive, and most events will be at the
Holiday and Ramada Inns. The gathering begins with tours: first
at the Forest River, N.D., Hutterite Community on Wednesday, then
the Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach, Man., on Thursday.
One of the featured programs, supported by North Valley Arts Council
funds, is a public concert by the German (Deutscher) Choir of Winnipeg,
about 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Holiday Inn - after the banquet.
Among numerous presentations and authors’ readings will be:
? Tim Kloberdanz, of NDSU, telling “the untold story”
of the role of Germans from Russia in this region’s sugar-beet
industry, from 3:45 to 4:45 Friday in the Ramada Inn.
? Armin Wieb, of Winnipeg, known throughout Canada for his books
on Mennonites, speaking at 1:15 p.m. Saturday in the Holiday Inn.
? Michael Miller, of NDSU’s library staff, giving a slide
presentation on a recent visit to former German villages in the
Ukraine, 7 p.m. Thursday in the Ramada Inn.
German villagers, who kept their own culture amid those of surrounding
Russian communities, began to exit by the thousands when their host
rulers reneged on promises not to draft Germans to fight wars for
From the photos, you can tell that the land they left near the
Black Sea looks as if it easily could have substituted for the images
of North Dakota’s Horizons magazine, of rolling prairies and
flatlands and lightly trafficked highways.
Given the similarity of terrain, it’s perhaps not surprising
that their first houses in the new country turned out to be almost
perfect matches of the ones they learned to build and that still
stand after more then 120 years or more in the Ukraine - now virtually
emptied of Germans.
Sherman and his partner returned with about 2,500 slides and prints
from 20 different housing styles in 15 villages that were homes
to the grandparents and great-grandparents of thousands in North
He’s done some presentations to small groups, including architects
in the valley. Eventually, though, Sherman intends to enrich his
writings on the Germans from Russia with a book on their architecture
and how they borrowed liberally from the styles they learned in
The first ones in this region were no-nonsense, no-frill, sturdily
made and highly practical homes. They were efficient to the point
where livestock barns were built right next to the living rooms,
and vegetable and grains were stored in lofts over the bed rooms.
Houses often were long and low, designed for maximum protection
against the elements and centrally heated with clay oven stoves.
Sherman says he knew of one German settler north of Dickinson, N.D.,
who claimed “not one single nail was used - until he put a
wood floor in it.”
Sherman says he hopes to learn what concepts of homes and hearth
the Germans had in mind when they first arrived in Russia and began
adapting to the conditions they found there. “How do you build
a house when you have no money and no wood? So they borrowed from
what they saw around them from the Russians. And they used the house
plans they already had in their heads. So it was a combination of
He believes research on architecture, combined with many other
aspects of culture from the adaptable Germans from Russia, eventually
will complement a big travel industry linking the descendants with
their ancestral villages in Easter Europe.
And as Sherman wrote in one of the first sketches of Germans from
Russia architects two decades ago, “A house is a testimony
to the family that builds it, with its various years of struggle
and success. But it is also a monument to a people with their collective
experiences, their migrations, their values, and their achievements.”
His hope is that enough of the buildings and their styles will
be preserved, whether in Strasburg, N.D., or in Strasburg in the
Ukraine, to let the future generations appreciate the quiet, humble,
and sturdy people who built them.
|The Rev. William Sherman of Grand Forks
joins a translator, right, and other visitors outside a typical
home built by former German villagers in what’s now the
Ukrainian community of Elsass. It’s near Odessa, in the
Black Sea region. On a recent visit to the former Soviet Union,
Sherman found hundreds of homes matching those built by Germans
from Russia when they emigrated to the Dakotas and Canada a
Reprinted with permission of the Grand Forks Herald.