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, like food.

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 said.

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 them.

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 print.

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 of ours.

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 region.

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 job training.

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 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.

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