Expats: Once Upon a Time

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For the Germans, it was like going to a party, giving a present to the hostess and then being asked to leave. In the late 1700s, Catherine the Great, also of German heritage, invited them to settle in the Volga Valley of Russia and set up a new life. 25,000 immigrants did just that and set up over one hundred villages, building a successful agricultural trade. A few generations later, they went back on their word.

In the 19th century, Russians began passing anti-German legislation. First, an amendment was made to military law decreeing that upon reaching the age of 20, all male Russian subjects were obligated to serve in the military for six years. This went against the Germans’ belief system, as did many of the subsequent “adjustments” to policy during the 1880s.

During the same time, many countries in the southern hemisphere were courting immigrants, in need of labor and development. The disenfranchised Volga Germans were attentive and eager to find a land that welcomed them and their religion. The vast majority of the Volgas were Catholic and they found refuge in the idea of living in a like-minded place.

In 1877, the first boatload of Volga Germans landed in South America, and founded their first settlement in the province of Buenos Aires. Called Hinojo, which means “fennel” in Spanish, the new town later became a stronghold of the Volgas and the seedling settlement grew into a successful agricultural industry. In fact, Argentina’s role as one of the leading grain produces in the world is thanks to Volga know-how.

The Volgas self-regulated, and divided among religious lines. The Catholic majority ended up living in the province of Buenos Aires while the less populous protestants made their home in Entre Rios. They built houses according to German design and created a very strong community that still exists today, the aesthetic in this area very distinctly German.

But their most significant influence on Argentine culture is a straight shot to the belly. The national Argentine breakfast of coffee and facturas (mini-croissants made of either butter or lard) is courtesy of the German halbmond or half-moon. Hearty like the Volgas, three of these little lard-bombs and you can work all day.

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