Working in a travel business often puts you on the wing (or wheels) making you cover distances, meet people, learn about their ways and habits which may seem strange at the beginning. Meeting real people is a big barrier crasher—there you get a chance to judge for yourself and many prejudices induced by books or TV die (though sometimes hard as it takes time!) after such meetings.
So it makes me real proud to belong to a branch which helps your prejudices perish. And it makes me even more proud to introduce you to a small particle of a big country, Russia, called Saratov.
Sary-Tau—Yellow Mountain—the name was given to this area by Big Prairie (Step’) People—nomadic tribes who had inhabited it many centuries ago. Traces of their habitation may be found now in form of the most interesting archeological sites.
The centuries went by as the Russian state started growing and in the 16th century under Ivan the Terrible two Tartar strongholds—Kazan and Astrakhan fell. In order to secure its new border line—Wild East—three small fortresses on the Volga—Samara (1586), Saratov (1590) and Tsaritsyn (Volgograd—1589) were founded.
Hardship—that was the most appropriate description of life of a small garrison on the Volga in the first years of its existence: constant raids of Prairie People, droughts, lack of bread, illnesses made Saratov migrate from one Volga bank to the other and at last it permanently settled down on the Hilly side. Fish like sturgeon and beluga, later—salt, caused the rapid town growth. Peter I visited Saratov in 1721 to meet here with the Shah of Iran’s (then Persia) emissary. It looks like Saratovites knew how to make their Tsar happy and new rights were granted to the merchants town.
Catherine II was actually the one who discovered Saratov on the map and decided it a good spot to place the German settlers to. Vacant lands east of the Volga suited this purpose perfectly and the new settlers started to arrive in 1764.
Two main objectives were pursued: to create a kind of a living barrier on still a turbulent border and introduce new ways into agriculture—it was the Germans who brought plows made of iron to Russia.
Those who survived the first years gave a strong economical development to their newly obtained Motherland.. They used to live in closed colonies, exercised their confessions (Catholic and Lutheran) and were exempt from the Army. Those conditions attracted later the last wave of German immigrants—the Mennonites. During Napoleonic war 1812—1815 French POW were sent to German colonies which added a good portion of French names and introduced chestnuts into the area.
In 1810s the craftsmen who were not needed in mostly agricultural colonies asked for (and were granted) a permission to settle down in Saratov itself. They started the German settlement on the outskirts of the rapidly growing city which gave the beginning to the German Street—now the main street of Saratov
The history of the Volga Germans is only one of the threads which make the rich carpet of Saratov.
Military-industrial complex which claimed the city in 1930s made it also closed for foreigners.
Only in 1992 the ban was heaved and the re-discovery began. That was the time when the first, pioneer, groups came to explore Saratov, to make a tour of the former Volga German villages.
In order to facilitate this process we started in 1995 our business and so assisted many visitors both in groups and individuals to accomplish what they called the mission of their lives—to come and see the villages of their ancestry, to cast a look at the Volga and to meet people living there. In order not to let them miss the sights of St. Petersburg and Moscow those two famous Russian cities were included into the tours. Every such trip was tailor-made: all individual wishes, even while inside a group, were considered and fulfilled as we knew that such a trip could be just once-in-a-life experience never to be repeated.—so they had to be perfect and nearly all of them were*.
Such programs are not purely touristic as we cooperate closely with the Volga German Archives in Engels and Dr. Igor Pleve (History and Geneology)—these are also among the highlights of the programs we organize. So do overcome your fears and come to Saratov!