Lost Like a Grain of Wheat, the Village of Karlsruhe Lies in the Endless Expanse of North Dakota

Verloren wie ein Weizenkorn Liegt das Dorf Karlsruhe in der Grenzenlosen
Weite Norddakotas

"Lost Like a Grain of Wheat, the Village of Karlsruhe Lies in the Endless Expanse of North Dakota." Suedeutsche Zeitung, 9 December 2004, 286.

Translation from German to American English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado


An entire large-format photo book by Richard Besserer and Stephan Wenz (Info Verlag, Karlsruhe [Germany], 19.80 Euros) is dedicated to the people of Karlsruhe in the U.S. State of North Dakota. In it the people are clearly in the foreground, with the sparse local ambience as the backdrop. Their doorbell signs carry names that could easily be found here on the right bank [of the Rhine]: Leier, Boehm, Thomas, Klein, Mack, Schiele.

In fact, 200 years ago, they were neighbors, before the watchmaker Johann Wechinger of Karlsruhe happened to come upon a prized letter from Tsar Alexander I and he, alongside many other countrymen, emigrated via Vienna toward the Black Sea region with the aim of cultivating the southern provinces of the Tsarist empire. What attracted Wechinger was as Manfred Koch discovered within the city archives the promise of unhindered doings and dealings within the Russian Royal Empire. That was in 1804. Five years later, sixty Karlsruhe families took off via Saxony and Warsaw toward the East, they spent the winter in Odessa, and then established a settlement called Karlsruhe. As the German General Counsel of Odessa stated at the time: "The villages give off an air of prosperity, spacious farm properties, beautifully stone houses, blooming gardens and vineyards."

But seventy years later things had become so bad for the Germans in Russia that immigrants became emigrants - 300,000 left for the United States. There they gave their [new] villages names such as Mannheim, Strassburg, Elsass, Rastatt, Worms, or Karlsruhe. As one journalist wrote, the German-Russians contributed to America more than any other group of immigrants, because by introducing winter wheat they transformed the prairie to the granary of the world. A hundred people now reside in Karlsruhe, North Dakota. Their portraits, including that of rail inspector Kenny Gefroh (shown in the picture), speak volumes.

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