100 Years Ago German Settlers Moved to Deepest Siberia - Today They Are Thriving

They're happy and don't plan to leave. The houses there aren't for sale.

Germans have been settling in Eastern Europe since the Middle Ages. Perhaps the best known and most adventurous German settlers in the East were those who moved to the banks of the Volga River during the reign of Empress Catherine the Great, known to history as the Volga Germans. Ethnic Germans all over the USSR suffered greatly during the war years, when many were forced out of their homes or sent to forced labor camps. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, many have re-migrated to Germany.

However, there are still many ethnic Germans in Russia and the former Soviet republics, as the following clip from Vesti explains:


The residents of the village Apollonovka, located in Omsk Oblast, are the heroes of today's episode. The majority of them are the descendants of five German families who moved to Russian Siberia from Ukraine in the early 20th century. Just like a hundred years ago, the Germans in the Siberian Apollonovka lead their traditional life. They're happy and don't plan to leave. The houses there aren't for sale.

Anton Lyadov will tell us why.

Apollonovka. German offroaders and Russian Nivas drive here along the same roads or rather directions. However, some places can only be navigated by a horse wagon. Like in many neighboring villages, the roads here are in name only. Speed limit signs are only needed to cheer up those passing by. The closest civilization is at least an hour's drive from here. However, the local population has increased by more than 100 over the last 10 years. Today, 960 people live here.

The locals entertain themselves during the spring flood by boating across the flooded meadows. People say that this village has everything but there's nothing here. There are plenty of pretty new brick houses but no gas or water supply. There are a couple of major industrial facilities but almost no mobile network or internet.

The village is considered German but apart from the descendants of the Germans who founded it in the early 20th century the village is also inhabited by Russians and Kazakhs. The entire street of picture-perfect cottages and neat backyards is only one of Apollonovka's neighborhoods.

- Eye candy?

Yakov Tevs:

- Yes, I just like the way it looks.

Yakov Tevs has a decorative mill that he built himself, a guest house, and a giant garage packed with various vehicles: dozens of bicycles, a snowmobile, a quad, and a Japanese motorcycle.

- Where do you drive in Apollonovka?

Yakov Tevs:

- I just take it for a ride sometimes driving here and there.

In the middle of the field, he has a hangar, which houses his own airplane. For many years, he'd been trying to assemble an aircraft on his own. He even once managed to connect the log that was supposed to be the fuselage to wings and an engine.

Yakov Tevs:

- I built it so I had to fly it. I hooked it to a car it shot upwards and rotated 90 degrees.

- Where were you?

- Naturally, I was in the cockpit. It sank down crushing its tail and one of its wings. I didn't even have a scratch.

After that, he bought an airplane and flies it.

Yakov Tevs:

- I don't perform any tricks. I just enjoy flying.

- How long can you sit idle at home?

- Well, I can spend some time with my wife, she's my wife after all. But I still spend about 2-3 hours on my toys.

A usual situation in Apollonovka, a water hauler is stuck in the mud. It delivers drinking water to the locals. Now, they're trying to pull it out with a chain attached to an offroader but it doesn't seem to be working. It seems that they'll require a tractor.

- No use?

Yakov Tevs:

- The wheel has half-sank there.

The residents of Apollonovka had to learn to live without an adequate water supply system. Drinking water is delivered twice per week. In order to save the driver's time, the residents of Apollonovka place their canisters right in the middle of the road. The water hauler stops, fills the canisters on the spot, takes water coupons people leave here wrapped in plastic bags, and moves along. German wit comes in handy when the water hauler can't reach many streets due to heavy rain. Many houses have a drainage system that fills underground reservoirs with water, albeit not pure.

Yakov Epp: "These two pipes go underground. The rainwater runs down the pipes under the house into this 900 cubic feet reservoir. In summer, I don't need water delivered at all. Here's utility water that comes down from the roof. And here's drinking water. I have a special tank for pure water that gets delivered.”

Another German feature is a banya inside the house. It's warm inside, so it's quicker to heat up, meaning also cheaper.

Beekeeper Yakov Epp has a total of three bathrooms for his guests, for adults, and for kids. He says it's no use trying to count them. Apart from his kids, their friends and cousins always hang out at his house.

Yakov Epp: “There's a saying about those who have a lot of kids at home, "There are so many kids in here, how do you not get confused?" "I count ten kids in the evening and kick out the rest." Maybe we should do the same, too many kids in here.”

There are 54 multiple-child families in Apollonovka.

“I have 7 kids and 13 grand-kids.”

“We have 13 kids and 21 grandkids. Some people here have 50 grandkids.”

Half the village population is religious. Women usually don't work in Baptist families and instead stay home with their kids. They speak the Plautdietsch dialect of German at home. Their ancestors who founded the village used to speak it. Some kids begin learning Russian only in their first year of school.

Arina Renge, teacher: "They call teachers by their first names, they don't know how to address formally. They address me as Ms. Renge and proceed to talk to me like I'm their buddy. That's the way it is. We teach them, explain it to them. By the fourth year, we get good results."

The school has 197 students. All grades can't fit into a single shift so there are two. Special emphasis is put on German. The students study the classic German language.

Yelena Dreh was born and raised in Germany.

- Do you sit alone so that nobody copies your tests?

Yelena Dreh:

- No.

- How well do they teach German?

- Well, the German here's good. Our teacher knows German very well.

Her mom and dad were born in Apollonovka, then moved to Germany gave birth to their kids, and recently returned to the village.

Milena Dreh:

- We lived there for 13 years. But my dad always wanted to open his own company here.

- Do you want to go back to Germany?

- I do.

- And you?

- No, I like it here. I feel nice and free here.

Almost all local enterprises are family-owned. Andrey Pauls got his first DIY sawmill from his father-in-law, the same Yakov who built an airplane and a mill. Today, he runs a company that supplies wood products to major industrial facilities. If there's some drag, he's ready to go behind the wheel of the loader to show the younger generation how it's done.

Andrey Pauls: "My dad works as a foreman on the kolkhoz. He told me not so long ago 'I've been working for 40 years, nobody has ever seen me sitting idle.' He's always doing something, searching, pushing, upgrading."

That's what a German store in Apollonovka looks like. A demure facade, a neat, fenced area with designated parking. Cars are parked inside, horse wagons are parked outside. The store doesn't sell alcohol or cigarettes. If you don't have money, it can put it on your tab.

- Having less than 2,000 rubles on your tab is fine.

- But you must know the person, right?

- Of course.

- You won't let me pay later?

- No.

The more issues there are in Apollonovka, the harder people try. There isn't a permanent doctor in the village. The health worker that works until 16:42 (in line with German punctuality it seems) sometimes comes here from the neighboring village, but the door stays locked the majority of the time. At the same time, the local birth rate is high.

The money allocated for road repair was enough to repair 650 feet. The locals raised money to buy tons of gravel to pour them on the roads when the earth dries. When the locals were told that some bus routes were getting canceled and many of them lost the last opportunity to leave the village in order to get to the closest ATM to cash out their paychecks, teachers recorded an address to President Putin.

Anatoly Makarov: "The employees of the school addressed the president, asking him, not complaining or demanding, but asking, to deal with the issue and help them."

The bus routes have since resumed. Soon, the perimeter road is supposed to get repaired. But the locals stay focused.

Yakov Tevs: “We share our experience. We're not jealous, we don’t mind our neighbors having better things. That's our way of life. But some people build high fences so that their neighbors don't see how they're doing there. That's bad.”

“You begin to think, "I can do that too." People work, build houses, try to make them nice and cozy. I'm no worse than them. It stimulates you, stimulates many of us.”

“During the turbulent 90s, I told my wife, "Let's move to Germany. We'd at least be eating fruit there." There was no fruit here for some time. I keep remembering that time. Now, we have everything, we have fruit. And I believe that life's here is more exciting than there. There are a lot of regulations there. We've been allowed to do everything here so far.”

- Do you want to move?

Anelia Golovyrina:

- I don't know. I always say that we're doing fine here. There are Syrians all over Germany now, do you think it's better there? I like it here and I don't want to move. I don't need cities. I love my village.

However, Apollonovka doesn't follow political news. The upcoming sowing season is much more important.

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