Prairie Public Tells the Story of Germans From Russia
Clark, Lori. "Prairie
Public Tells the Story of Germans From Russia." Glen Ullin Times, 10 February 1999, 1.
If you missed the Prairie Public documentary last night on Germans
from Russia, you missed a big piece of who we are in this area.
The documentary, The Germans from Russia: Children of the Steppe,
Children of the Prairie, tells of the story of Germans from
Russia as the agricultural pioneers on several continents. It traced
these people from their native homes in Germany into Russia and
finally as they migrated to North America.
If you did watch it, you saw the work of Glen Ullin resident,
Dave Geck. Geck is a cameraman for Prairie Public and you could
see his work in the video throughout the documentary.
Geck said the documentary tells the history of Germans from Russia.
Currently, all kinds of documentaries are being done on other ethnic
groups and Prairie Public thought it was important to do one on
this ethnic group. He added, over 30 percent of North Dakotans can
trace their roots to Odessa.
The film addresses both the Ukrainian/Russian and the Great Plains
experience of Germans from Russia. It is based on both written history
and oral histories collected from Germans from Russia living today.
It draws on the expertise of Dr. Timothy Kloberdanz, Fr. William
Sherman and Michael Miller of NDSU, Ron Vossler of UND, Dr. Shirley
Fischer Arends and Dr. Dona Reeves-Marquardt.
North Dakota State University originally approached Prairie Public
about doing the documentary many years ago, but Prairie Public could
not fund the production at that time. Since then, donations from
several individuals and the North Dakota Humanities Council made
the project possible.
Geck said they started shooting the documentary over four years
ago. Filming included two trips to Europe. The first, three years
ago to Germany and Ukraine, including Odessa, and a second trip
a year later which also include St. Petersburg.
In an effort to fully illuminate the story, crews also filmed
in California, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota. The documentary
also showed, "the simple things we take for granted," Geck said,
He said as part of the documentary, they filmed an elderly lady
in Wishek making strudel. "When I see her, I see grandma."
The filming was definitely low-budget compared to other productions.
Geck said he and the producer, Bob Dambach, were a "one-man band.
I swung my camera over my shoulder and jumped on the plane." He
added he carried the camera wherever he went for the next two weeks.
Geck said traveling to Ukraine is like "traveling back into time."
He said the area is full of small villages. Each home has a big
back yard with big garden and maybe some livestock. The area is
then farmed collectively by the residents. A lot of the homes had
three generations residing together. The residents were living in
extremely economic oppression and were very self-sufficient, he
The city of Odessa was beautiful, he added. The architecture was
amazing, but time was taking its toll. The city is 200 years old,
he added, and many of the buildings are literally falling apart.
He said they were sitting at a sidewalk cafe the day following a
storm and a large chunk of a building fell on the concrete beside
The lack of repairs is typical for a region in a terrible economic
situation, he said. He said the tips they would give for a driver
who accompanied them, $20, is equal to a month's wages.
As we drove through villages, he added, we would see people tending
cows and sheep in fields without fences. In one village, a man was
taking a nap while watching sheep. A moment much like a Norman Rockwell
He said it was a slow, easy pace. "What would it be to live that
type of lifestyle," he asked, compared to the fast-pace society
Very few of the ethnic Germans in the villages still spoke the
German language, he said. Many were trying to get back to their
native Germany as a way of escaping the oppressed economics of the
After filming in South Russia, Geck said, "It was very interesting
talking to people who do genealogy. I stayed in the village their
forefathers came from."
Geck is a firm believer in documenting history, He said, "It is
important that our generation know where we came from." By understanding,
he added, we can appreciate what our grandparents and great-grandparents
went through to make new homes on the prairies. "We can appreciate
what these people went through to settle this area."
He adds it is also important to document the stories told. If
these stories are not saved they disappear. He said while filming
the documentary, they heard terrible stories about what happened
to some of the German settlers in Russia before World War I.
Geck has worked for Prairie Public for over eight years. He said
he gets to travel to some pretty interesting places filming for
Prairie Public. "It's a great job."
The stories he can tell about his travels could fill volumes and
he loves to talk about them. He added he is always willing to talk
to others about his job over a cup of coffee.
Prior to working for Prairie Public, Geck was a body man for four
or five years, but had allergy problems with the job. "I wanted
a job I could wear jeans and stay clean." He went to Denver, Colorado
for some training, but most of his knowledge has come from on the
And the rest they say is history, as his passport will proclaim.
If I wetted our appetite about the documentary, you will still
be able to watch it. Geck said a second showing will be held Friday,
February 12, at 7:00 p.m. MT. Video copies of The Germans from
Russia: children of the Steppe, Children of the Prairie are
available through Prairie Public at 1-800-359-6900 or by visiting
the Prairie Public web site at http://www.prairiepublic.org
and clicking on "Prairie Public's General Store." He added the documentary
has been quite popular and over 1,200 copies of the show were pre-sold.
Reprinted with permission of Glen Ullin Times.
|A group of children from the village of
Glückstal (today in Moldova) gather around Dave Geck and his
camera. Dave said the children were fascinated with the camera
and he use it as a language bridge.
||Dave Geck behind his camera during
shooting of the documentary in Ukraine and Moldova.