History Highlights, Notes on German Culture, Old Germany...lost territory, Prussia...Northern Germany

This map shows German-speaking areas outside of the Reich borders, giving a good picture of where Germans in previous centuries created settlements

This Map of German Language Areas was produced after a 1910 census. It shows German-speaking areas outside of the Reich borders, giving a good picture of where Germans in previous centuries created settlements, either by self-motivation or in many cases by invitation of foreign rulers who valued their skills and industriousness.

1945

This is an unusual map because it shows the German language areas in Europe, as opposed to the usual maps showing only where national borders are located. This particular map highlights some interesting facts…most noticeably the far-ranging German communities outside the German Empire’s borders in 1910. The dark green areas are German language areas and borders are shown by a very thin red line.

The “Drang nach Osten” (surge eastward) is on display in this map…Germans seeking opportunities in wide open lands to the east. Over the centuries rulers in the east encouraged Germans to emigrate to their countries. For example, Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia in the 18th century, embarked on a policy to encourage German immigration to Russia. She herself was born a German princess and she offered generous inducements to Germans. To skilled farmers…exemption from military service and taxes in addition to land grants and livestock. Craftsmen, engineers, architects and others were lured with similar inducements. As you can see, by 1910 the results were evident…widespread German settlements east of the German borders.

This map demonstrates why so many people consider themselves German, even though their ancestors lived in other countries, sometimes for hundreds of years. For example, according to the first census of the Russian Empire in 1897… which at this time of history included Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and most of Poland… about 1.8 million respondents reported German as their mother tongue. In fact, ethnic Germans were strongly represented among large land owners, military officers and the upper echelons of the imperial service, engineers, scientists, artists, physicians and the bourgeoisie in general. Most often the Germans of Russia stayed together in German communities…for language, cultural and religious reasons. And they did not necessarily need to speak the local languages. They spoke German as their first language and if in a government job they spoke Russian at work, while those mingling with high society spoke French which was often the language of the Russian aristocracy.

For purposes of genealogy, the far-flung German-speaking areas shown on this map no longer exist. In fact, even the easternmost states within the borders of Germany also no longer exist. It was at the end of WWII and afterward when the US allowed Russia to impose ethnic cleansing and all of these people either died or were forced to relocate into central and western Germany. Later, many of these survivors spread out across the globe, most still proud of their German heritage.

Those of you who study the red line on the map denoting the German Empire will notice that there were Polish speaking areas within the German eastern borders and an area near Dresden that is virtually an island of Sorbs, who do not speak German as their first language, even until today. You may also note that Austria and the Sudetenland were not within German borders on the southeast, as well as Luxembourg and a large part of Switzerland on the southwest borders.

 

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