A Peaceful Evening in Street No. 4
Kneip, Ansbert. "A Peaceful Evening in Street No. 4." Der Spiegel, n.d.
The holiday hog hangs head down from the scaffolding and stinks of
burned flesh. In the backyard of the Dietz's, the men are singeing
the bristles from the carcass with a soldering iron, after which they
will wash off the greasy soot.
Tomorrow the sow will do the village honor, as it is a festival
day. The community is one-hundred years old; one will celebrate
with German pork goulash and much, much vodka. For dessert, the
women will serve rivel cake, a specialty, that is known in Germany
Germany is about 4,000 kilometers from the festival square of the
German village, Alexandrowka on the Siberian steppe, and the entire
long distance has been traversed by the man who will now eat of
the Streuselkuchen: Horst Waffenschmidt, Bonn's emigration commissioner
is festival guest in Alexndrowka.
The village of Alexandrowka belongs to a jurisdiction, named Rayon,
governed by Germans. It is comparable to a district. And this settlement
of Germans is the favorite project of Bonn's emigration policy.
This Siberian idyl should be "a beacon for a better future"
for German-Russians seeking a place to stay, as Waffenschmidt said
during his visit of two weeks ago.
Bonn is benefiting their settlement with amounts in the millions;
everything is funded that could persuade the farmers to stay in
Russia. So that they will have an alternative to leaving for Germany,
Waffenschmidt has arranged the finances for a container village
and a government center for the Russian-Germans of the district
near Omsk; even the accordion for the folk-dance ensemble is paid
for by Bonn.
For several years, German has again been taught in the school;
the German government is donating suitable books. In the House of
Culture, a theater group is appearing that for the time being has
been allowed to Germanize its Socialist name to: Lay Art Collective,
The golden harvest of German culture was brought to the East by
the forefathers of the Siberian-Germans more than 200 years ago.
There, Germans, mostly from Swabia, settled on the Volga. Towards
the end of the last century some of these colonists, as the Volga
Germans called themselves, moved still farther east.
Today, almost 135,000 people of German descent live in the greater
metropolitan area of the Siberian district capital, Omsk. However,
hardly anywhere else has the mixture of rural romanticism and cultural
inbreeding maintained itself as much as it has in Alexandrowka.
With their headscarves and their white aprons the women look like
extras in a provincial film. The village painter, Alexander Wormsbecher,
paints works of German domestic culture: charming river landscapes
in which red-cheeked youths steal the apples from the trees.
At its founding, the villagers numbered 296 souls; now they are
1,400. The inhabitants are named Becker, Miller or Lichtenwald,
and if there were more streets in the village, they would also have
German names. In this case, however, they are simply numbered from
1 to 4.
"My home is here," says Lida Knaus, 63, who is enjoying
the peaceful sunny evening in front of her house on Street 4. This
woman has borne nine children and has "brought them all to
adulthood." However, that did not entitle her to the honorary
title: "Mother Heroine." One receives this only from eleven
Two of her children have moved to foreign parts, namely to Nowosibirsk.
There, so they report, life is easier; one "doesn't constantly
have to work." Lida Knaus would be happiest to stay in Alexandrowka
until the end of her life, even though her gouty hands hurt when
she plucks chickens and her back hurts when she milks.
However, on September 2, she and her daughter will fly to Frankfurt,
where her other children already expect her. Then, the family will
again almost be together; however, the two sons from Novosibirsk
perhaps will follow later.
Even the visit of the German, Waffenschmidt, was not able to change
her mind: "What should I do when the children are gone? After
all, I cannot die here alone," she says, giving reasons for
her move to the West. She had several 5,000 rubles for her burial;
with the inflation in Russia she could not even pay for the Streuselkuchen.
The new hard times are hitting Russians and those of German descent
equally, although for the German there is always the trek to the
West. The more relatives one has in Germany, the easier it is to
emigrate. It is like an infectious disease. An inscription on the
House of Culture admonishes: "Let us maintain our national
culture." However, it is doubtful whether ten years from now
many Germans will still be living here.
Today 200 families remain; one-fifth of the village has already
left. The first two left in 1990; a year later 13 families followed
them; 27 left in 1992. Since then, entire nearby villages have literally
Up to now, the Bonn policy of procuring a permanent homeland for
the Germans from Russia has failed in many places. The revival of
the Volga Republic, planned after the end of the Soviet Union, is
being considered as unrealistic in Bonn as is the idea of settling
400,000 Germans in the Ukraine. There, President Leonid Krawtschuk
is resisting with delaying tactics.
During the past year, the number of emigrants from the former Soviet
Union has again risen: As recently as 1991 there were 147,000, in
the year 1992 a good 195,000. The majority of the at least two million
remaining German-Russians, want to leave.
That Waffenschmidt nonetheless characterizes the little village
as an "Island of Hope" during his visit, which can be
attributed to the 25,000 letters that the chief administrative officer
of the Rayon district, Bruno Heinrichowitsch Reiter, has collected.
They are all inquiries from those willing to move from Russia's
neighboring republic, Kazakhstan. There the Germans, as also other
Europeans, are being routinely driven out.
In place of the approximately 10,000 people, who have left the
district during the past year, 13,000 new settlers have already
moved in. Yet the numbers sound better than they are. Only seventy
percent of the newcomers are Germans. Among the applicants are above
all such Germans as are married to Russians or who would in any
case not meet the German conditions for admission.
The new arrivals meet with the established resident Siberian-Germans
in pious song in the German-financed church in Omsk. The small congregation
opens the Volga-hymnbook to number 537, "Praise to the Lord."
The half-finished church still lacks a roof. While about 200 believers
of German descent sing the three first verses, in the background
the workers prepare for their break. Superintendent Nikolaus Schneider,
chief Protestant shepherd for almost all of Siberia, leads the service
from a concrete platform, that will later be the base for the altar
In spite of all of the hardships, Schneider is thankful. Immediately
after the praise to the Highest has died away, he praises the small
gentleman who even here spreads enthusiasm for construction: "Without
you, Mr. Waffenschmidt, without the help from Germany, this wonderful
house of prayer would not be possible."
Still, supported with a even four million marks, the Lutheran church
awakens envy. The red brick building stands out all too plainly
from the ugly slab-built settlement in the surrounding area. The
neighbors do not live as well as God does; Catholics and Orthodox
believers pray less comfortably than their Protestant brothers.
The Bonn-inspired spirit of creation reigns still more ostentatiously
in Asowo, the capital of German Rayon. Here with 4.7 million marks
of German funds, Administrator Reiter is having a residential and
governmental development built, that stands out in this impoverished
area like a palace complex.
The German donators of the money find it hard to explain the magnificent
buildings. Among the indigenous population, so reports Heinrich
Brack, the inhabitants of Asowo, it is considered a given that "here
only the rich from Asowo will move in." At any rate, it is
hard to imagine that the inhabitants will allow the refugees from
Khazakhstan to get ahead of them when it is time to move into the
The German Ministry of the Interior responsible for the Russian-Germans
shies away from the subject: yes, the houses are extraordinarily
beautiful, but that lies with the architect, he "simply indulged
Close by, there is a building site for the German refugees from
Khazakhstan. Here they should later be able to stock up on material
in order to build their own houses. "He who builds himself
a house" says Waffenschmidt, "will stay forever."
Heinrich Brack isn't interested in that: "Things will never
again go well here," he believes. "What kind of work should
these many people do, from what should they live?" Landrat
Reiter can only offer the 25,000 Germans from Khazakhstan 1,500
jobs in agriculture. He has no positions at all for industrial workers
or for university graduates.
Already there is not enough water for the people in the district,
not enough gas for the winter, and too few housing units. In the
container village, that should really take in immigrants, inhabitants
from Asowo have moved in also. The Germans comprise somewhat more
than half of the population of the temporary residence. At least
two years will pass before they have a house of their own.
But even here, they do not all want to stay. Because it is often
simpler to organize ones emigration from Russia, some Khazakhstan-Germans
come to Asowo only for this reason.
They can accustom themselves to a container. Exactly the same things
are already found in German shelters.