In Touch with Prairie Living

May 2005

By Michael M. Miller
Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo

The Germans from Russia Heritage Collection (GRHC) at the NDSU Libraries in Fargo reaches out to prairie families and former Dakotans. In various ways, it affirms the heritage of the Germans from Russia as an important part of the northern plains culture.

On 24 May, I leave with our 11th Journey to the Homeland Tour group for Odessa, Ukraine and the former German villages. Tour members with Bessarabian and Black Sea German ancestry from Florida, Maryland, North Dakota, South Carolina, Washington and Washington will visit her homeland villages including Baden, Elsass, Kandel, Mannheim, Selz & Strassburg (Kutschurgan District); Bergdorf, Glueckstal, Hoffnungstal, Kassel, Neu Kassel & Neudorf (Glueckstal District); Albota, Beresina, Hoffnungstal, Sarata & Teplitz, Bessarabia. We are in Budapest, Hungary; Odessa, Ukraine; Stuttgart, Germany and Alsace, France. We will be sending e-mail messages from Odessa and Stuttgart of our visits to the homeland villages and tour experiences.

The new DVD and performance CD, "A Soulful Sound: Music of the Germans from Russia" which premiered on Prairie Public TV in April, is now available. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, thousands of German-speaking peoples established major German settlements in Russia, first along the Volga River in the north, and secondly along the Black Sea in South Russia and nearby Bessarabia. Eventually, many migrated yet again, this time to North and South America. Throughout their travels, these Germans now Germans from Russia maintained their traditional religious music, their lullabies and folk songs,their vocal and instrumental music alike.

"A Soulful Sound" blends expert commentary with performances of traditional music from regional talent including St. Andrew's Lutheran Church Centennial Choir, University of Mary and Jamestown College concert choirs, Young People's Hutterite Singers, Alive Gospel Choir, Centennial Men's Choir, and the Napoleon area folk singers. Singers featured included Maria Appelhans, Rosalinda Kloberdanz, John J. Gross, Tony Wangler, Robert Erbele and Ron Volk. Enjoy Marv Zander and Victor Schwahn and their bands as they perform accordion music and recreate a traditional wedding reception at the Blue Room in Strasburg, ND.

Prairie Public has also produced a music CD, "John J. Gross: Folk Songs Sung by the Germans from Russia". When John was four or five years old, his father would play the pump organ and sing folk songs while his mother was sewing clothes for his thirteen children. John would often fall asleep listening to his father. John learned tosing and playing by ear, and is still performing German-Russian folk music today at the age of 80.

There was a tremendous response to the premieres of this documentary in April at Bismarck, Jamestown and Fargo. Prairie Public TV's broadcast premiere was well received and many positive comments. Be watching for the music documentary later in 2005 on other PBS stations in the USA.

The music documentary is the fourth in the "Germans from Russia Series". Previous documentaries are: 1) "The Germans from Russia: Children of the Steppe, Children of the Prairie" (1999); 2) "Schmeckfest: Food Traditions of the Germans from Russia" (2000); 3) "Prairie Crosses, Prairie Voices: Iron Crosses of the Great Plains" (2002).

The new "Music of the Germans from Russia" CD of the Jamestown College (ND) Concert Choir is available. Music which defined religious faith and culture of the German-Russian population, traveled with them when they left Russia to settle the North American prairies and plains.

I am pleased to announce that I will be attending the following events: 1) Streeter, ND Centennial, Museum on main street (former Drug Store), Friday, July 1 (1-6 pm) & Saturday, July 2 (10 am-4 pm); 2) McClusky ND Centennial, City Hall, 117B Avenue East, Friday, July 8 (1-5 pm) & Saturday, July 9 (10 am-4 pm); 3) St. Luke Lutheran Church Centennial, Wishek, ND Civic Center, Saturday, July 16 (1-5 pm) & Sunday, July 17 (11am-3 pm). I look forward to my visits in July to Streeter, McClusky and Wishek. Exhibits featuring photographs will be on display as well as information tables about the Germans from Russia history, culture and foodways.

Prairie Public Broadcasting has produced a new DVD which includes these two award-winning documentaries: "The Germans from Russia: Children of the Steppe, Children of the Prairie" and "Prairie Crosses, Prairie Voices: Iron Crosses of the Great Plains. For further information, go to

The Germans from Russia Heritage Society Convention is July 14-17, 2005, Ramkota Hotel, Pierre, SD ( The American Historical Society of Germans from Russia Convention is July 17-21, 2005, Westin Inn, Oklahoma City ( The Festival of Germans from Russia is September 23-25, 2005, Medicine Hat, Alberta.

GRHC has published the new book, "Prairie Churches of Bon Homme County, Dakota Territory: A Varicolored Tunic". Maxine Schuurmans Kinsley's work presents a valuable contribution to the historical publications for the era of Dakota Territory. Bonn Homme County, located in south central South Dakota, is important in the history and culture of the first German-Russians settlements in Dakota Territory.

The 12th Journey to the Homeland Tour, sponsored by the NDSU Libraries is scheduled for late May/early June, 2006. The tour includes Budapest, Hungary; Odessa, Ukraine and the former German villages; Stuttgart, Germany; and Alsace, France. The tour will include attending the large gathering of the Germans from Russia called the Russlanddeutschen Bundestreffen.

For further information about Germans from Russia heritage, donations to GRHC including books, documentaries, CDs, DVDs, cookbooks and tours, contact Michael M. Miller, NDSU Libraries, PO Box 5599, Fargo, ND 58105-5599 (Tel: 701-231-8416; E-mail:; GRHC website:

May, 2005 column for North Dakota and South Dakota newspapers.

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