Altai-Germany: Hand in Hand Across the Centuries

"Altai-Germany: Hand in Hand Across the Centuries." Volk auf dem Weg, May 2009, 40.

This translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado

Exposition on Tourism in Berlin: The Hessen Chapter [of the Landsmannschaft] Participates in Tending the Expositiion

"Altai to Germany: Hand in Hand Across the Centuries" was the title of one of the exhibits within the overall presentation of the Altai region at the Exhibition on Tourism in Berlin during mid-March. In addition to the multifaceted opportunities for tourists, it also presented the history of the Germans from the Altai region, from its beginnings in the 19th Century to the more recent history of the history of German-Russians.

The Hessen Chapter of the Landsmannschaft happily satisfied the wish of Georg Klassen, Director of the Russian-German House of Barnaul that former countrymen from the Altai region might tend the exposition in collaboration with the organizers.

The Land chapter (with its chair Johann Thiessen) had strived for over a year for a partnership with the Altai region, and consequently a cooperative contract with the Russian-German Hosue of Barnaul was signed. It calls for collaboration in the areas of culture and education. A meeting of board members Svetlana Pashenko and Svetlana Friebus with Vice-governor Michail Shchetinin, the director of economy and investments for the  Altai region became the first step toward deepening the partner relationship. In addition, for visitors of the Altai exhibition, Svetlana Friebus would make herself available to visitors to answer questions and provide explanations. Before and up to her own emigration to Germany, she worked for years as a journalist in the Altai, and toward the end she was an employee of the Russian-German House.

The exhiit provided a glimpse into the history and the material culture of Germans in the Altai region. Numerous exhibits from the Heimat-museum of the village Podosnovo in the German Rayon of Halbstadt, of which two specific ones are depicted on this page, attracted many interested visitors.

A special attraction of the Altai presentations proved to be the ensemble "Lorelei" from the Russian-German House. This song and dance group has existed for more than sixteen years and has become trans-regional and well known abroad. Kornelius Petkau (today living in Wiesbaden) founded this cultural troupe in 1992 when the German-Russian House of the Altai region was still known as the German Cultural Center of Barnaul. "Lorelei" was intended to help popularizing and preserve the culture of German-Russians in the Altai region. This ensemble regularly takes part in country-wide get-togethers of German-Russians and, in addition, appears on stages of neighboring regions. The repertoire of this cultural group comprises traditional German-Russian songs and dances as well as modern adaptations. Several times the ensemble has enthused audiences in Germany with its abilities. Its appearance at the exhibition would be no exception. Together with the Russian ensemble "Vetchorki" the "Lorelei" again and again attracted new visitors

The Germans in the Altai Region

The [initial] appearance of Germans in the Altai region had to do with the reforms of Peter I. The first documented facts concerning Germans in Siberia date back to the year 1734. Outstanding German natural scientists such as Peter Simon Pallas, Carl Friedrich von Ledebur, Alexander von Bunge and Alexander Humboldt researched Siberia and the Altai region. Doctors, mining engineers and other technical specialists worked there at the behest of the Russian Crown.  

Toward the end of the 19th until the early 20th Centureis (during the so-called Stolypine reforms) German colonists from the Volga region and Ukraine would resettle from the Volga region and Ukraine. In the Altai region they predominantly settled in the Kulanda Steppes around Slovgorod and in other locales around Barnaul. In 1927 some German villages near Slovgorod were reorganized into a German Rayon, which was dissolved in 1938. And with the onset of WW II and then the German-Soviet War tens of thousands of Germans from the Volga area, South Russia, and the Caucasus were deported to the Altai region and placed under the control of military commanders.

Only by 1991 did Germans in the National Rayon of Haldbstadt succeed in reestablishing its earlier borders. Prior to the mass emigration of Germans in the 1990s, ca. 150,000 gGrmans lived in the Altai region -- today it is only 70,000 of them.

Photos by Theodor Thyssen

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller