No, this article will not talk about the first chancellor of Germany, even if the city was named after him and he shares the first name with my great-great-grandfather.
Bismarck is the capital of North Dakota and was renamed to its current name by the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1873, only one year after the founding of the town Edwinton. They renamed the city to honour the German chancellor and to attract German settlers. I was fascinated that a whole city was renamed to attract a certain group of settlers. During this time, there were already many German settlements with German names, but they were mostly founded by German immigrants and named after their hometowns.
I arrived in Bismarck at 3 am and had to wait for a whole hour for my taxi, and thus was finally in bed by 4:45 am – completely exhausted and overwhelmed by the emotions of the past days and the farewell from Bozeman. Now the second part of my journey had arrived – on the traces of German heritage in the US.
The next day, the program continued already: The second annual German Days in downtown Bismarck – where I went dressed in my dirndl of course. Already at the entrance I was asked in which booth I was working or when my performance was. Soon, I realized why: Nobody else was dressed in traditional clothes, besides some vendors.
I walked around a little bit, the festival took place on a big parking lot next to the old station. A big stage and a big beer tent formed the center of the festival, while many smaller booths provided more or less authentic German food and some cultural clubs informed about customs and heritage.
While talking to many different people I learned many interesting and curious facts!
The iron curtain still exists!
Of course, this only depicts an imaginary line – and only in the colloquial language. The line apparently runs south-east of Bismarck, and behind it cities like Hazelton, Linton and Straßburg can be found, which are said to be very German. I found a typical recipe and a reference to the Iron curtain from North Dakota blogger Jenny. Also, alot of “Kuchen” can be found in Bismarck, which is a German word for cake, but describes a kind of cake without frosting.
Germans from Russia Heritage Society
The immigrants coming to North Dakota were mainly Germans from Russia (the census of 1980 counted 45% of the population of North Dakota were of “Germans from Russia” descent), which is why there is the Germans from Russia Heritage Society. This was the first time on this trip, that I realized, that the “German” culture in America is much more varied than I had expected. I talked to the members for a bit, however, in English, as almost nobody speaks German anymore.
The Society has the goal of preserving the German heritage, especially via geneaology, which is quite popular at the moment. The society also publishes articles and runs a library and bookstore. Furthermore, they organize a conference every year with workshops and presentations – all about geneaology and the old country. In 2017, the 47th edition will be hosted.
I was not so surprised that older people are interested in geneaology and the “old home”, but I was more interested in how the club gets the younger generations interested in the German heritage. President Curtis Mertz stated that it is difficult to get the younger generation interested, but they try it via the topics of food and family traditions. Many families cook ethnic dishes, and the club tries to explain the various recipes and origins of the dishes. Another activity is the deer hunting and the preparation of sausage according to traditional recipes which creates family bonding time and interest for the culture. Furthermore, the society hosts essay competition for scholarships and published the magazine “Heritage Review”.
The Germans are everywhere
During the second day of the “German Days”, I finally saw other people in (bavarian) outfits. We invited a couple looking for a seat to our table and after a few sentences we realized that Claudia was from Germany who had followed her american husband to Bismarck. After a few beers (the German brands Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr and Weihenstephan were served), we went and danced until the end of the event – what a great fun!
I spent the last day in Bismarck with a walk around town to the capitol building and to the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum, where a flyer depicts specifically the items with a German background.