Who speaks a language called Mudderschproch

"Hädded you ned awos in moi Mudderschproch?"

30 years of German unity and chapters in the history of the Wende that were believed to be lost are still emerging. One of them is about the German National Theater in Temirtau - you know, north of Karaganda, in Kazakhstan! Eleonora Hummel's novel “Die Wandelbaren” (2019) tells the true story of how a handful of young Soviet German actors recapture their mother tongue, which had been suppressed for decades, and how they are at the beginning of a national awakening. Do they live up to the demands of the Communist Party and the public?

A guest contribution by Tatjana Schmalz

RuDiDat. That sounds like a cheerful parlor game for everyone between 9 and 99 years of age. In fact, it is the acronym for the "Russian-German dialect database" of the Leibniz Institute for the German Language in Mannheim (link to the electronic online dictionary: http://prowiki.ids-mannheim.de/bin/view/Russlanddeutsch). Did you know that the German language was widespread in the Russian Empire and in the Soviet Union? At least it was from the first waves of German immigration in the second half of the 18th century until the mid-1990s, when most speakers emigrated to their “historic home” Germany. During this time, all the dialects brought with them were cut off from the direct influence of the standard German language and went through a strange development. Whether through the centuries of existence as "language island dialects", through the mixture with one another or through the influence of the Slavic or Turkish-speaking environment: the Russian-German dialects differ in many ways from the German dialects. And thanks to RuDiDat, both language enthusiasts and language scientists can track down all these differences. Fun for the whole family!

Speaking of family. After the Second World War at the latest, the German language and culture were frowned upon as fascist throughout the Soviet Union, so that its bearers sometimes undertook adventurous efforts to cover up the blemish of origin and "to live like normal Soviet citizens". The royal road to self-denial was to withhold their own Mudderschproch (mother tongue) from their children and grandchildren and to keep silent about life before the war, including the Hongrjohr (famine years) in the settlement areas on the Volga and the Black Sea. The secrecy was of little use, because at the latest when looking at the Soviet passport (nationality: German), young talents experienced a severe setback and all further training and career projects came to an early end, especially in the metropolitan regions. At least until one day a man's honor was at stake ...

According to legend, Chancellor Helmut Schmidt is said to have expressed the wish to visit the German Theater in October 1974 while visiting Moscow. Unsuspecting, the CPSU chairman Leonid Brezhnev said yes, but then his staff informed him: Stalin had closed the "German State Theater" in Engels (until 1931 Pokrovsk) and had it dissolved together with the autonomous Volga German Republic before the Soviet Germans behind them Urals were deported to Siberia and Central Asia. In order to be able to keep his promise to Federal Chancellor Schmidt's next visit, Brezhnev is said to have immediately ordered the establishment of a German National Theater. In the summer of 1975 numerous agents swarmed to Kazakhstan on behalf of the government in order to track down school leavers of German origin in the kolkhozes and sovkhozes and to bring them to study at Moscow's most renowned theater academy.

The plot of Eleonora Hummel's novel “Die Wandelbaren” (published in 2019 by Müry Salzmann Verlag) begins with this search. Without wanting to diminish its literary value, the book is primarily a key novel for the true story of the national awakening of the German minority in the Soviet Union. But before the restoration of Volga Germans' autonomy could become a noble concern of the young artist collective, the subject “German as a foreign language” was on the schedule alongside acting. For some, the vocabulary picked up at home was barely enough for 10 fingers: ischt, bischt, hascht, miscounting, chatting, babble and bodalumpa. "They have German names, but they don't know how to pronounce them. They are simply young Soviet people from the country, just as little German as any citizen on Moscow's streets. So the teachers talked about us, worried that we would get through the first semester ”(p.105). So there were first doubts about the principle of descent in the wild 70s.

In the sweat of their brow, the budding actors also crammed the German language in addition to the usual study workload. But, like every student, reality caught up with them at some point and discovered during their summer tours that their standard German, which was ready for the stage, did not live up to audience expectations: "Hädded you ned awos in moi Mudderschproch?“(P.238, Wouldn't you guys have something in my mother tongue?) A legitimate concern, as one might think. “But the dialects were different, in the Mennonite villages the old people spoke Platt, elsewhere Volga German, elsewhere Swabian again. Should we rehearse a linguistically adapted stage version for each village? We would have a lot to do there, and what would Schiller and Goethe say about it, besides turning around quietly in the grave? ”(P.244).

However, not only the young actors struggled with the regained mother tongue. As it turned out during conversations with the villagers, on the initiative of the teachers (!) There were no more German lessons in many places. The traveling theater made do with conference technology, with an "interpreter" reading the stage text translated into Russian to the audience through headphones. But the willingness to experiment did not change anything in the home-made core problem, as the former head dramaturge Rose Steinmark stated in her contemporary witness report: “If the mother tongue was not taught, who should read German newspapers in a few years, listen to radio programs in German and visit the German theater? “(P.254). The educational mission of the almost two dozen strong ensemble had to fail, not least because the target group of 2 million people lived scattered around the Soviet Union. Easy come easy go…

In the beginning there was a spirit of optimism. At the end of the day, the book with the ultimately disaffected heroes, wistful about their past youth and broken hopes, is timidly laid out of their hands. As long as the fingertips stay on the spine of the book, one thinks again devoutly of those exhilarations that triggered glasnost and perestroika and that the author Eleonora Hummel has masterfully managed to capture.

Eleonora Hummel: The Changeable. Novel. Salzburg - Vienna: Müry Salzmann Verlag 2019.

Further reading:
Rose Steinmark: The Fate of a Theater. Moscow: RusDeutsch Media 2017.
Viktor Krieger: Colonists, Soviet Germans, resettlers. A story of the Russian Germans. Bonn: Federal Agency for Civic Education 2017 (unchanged reprint from 2015

The reviewer (born 1994) grew up in a Russian-German emigrant family and recognizes herself in the novel, albeit a mirror image and shifted by a generation. Because Russian was their mother tongue until German surpassed it in all areas and had to be laboriously readapted again in young adulthood. Tatjana Schmalz is working on her dissertation in cultural studies in Frankfurt / Oder and has been a member of the VDS since the petition against gender nonsense in spring 2019. Since January 2020 she has been responsible for the working group “Announcements for young literary talents”, whose digital database was able to close a gap in the German-language literary business. On her fairy tale blog (www.magictatsch.com) she writes in her free time about “fairy tales and fairy tales from everyday life” and on her language blog (www.instagram.com/goethewaerestolz) she not only explains the origins of German-speaking idioms, but also promotes them a regular "current quiz" for the revival of the old cursive scripts.

PHOTO: Esther Stosch / pixelio.de

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