Next year, it will be two centuries since the first man from Baden-Württemberg stepped onto Georgian soil and founded the first German colony nearby Tbilisi together with other 30 families. It is, understandably, hard to imagine that Swabians from Wurttemberg traveled thousands of kilometers and played a comprehensive role in the contemporary socio-economic life of Tbilisi.
Stocktaking of German heritage in Georgia began only in 2015, through the funding from National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia. Project Manager and the Founder of Union for Protection of German Cultural Heritage in South Caucasus, Nestan Tatarashvili speaks about the reasons of the migration of Germans to Georgia. She explains that, apart from the economic conditions, the decision of Swabians was due to their religious identity.
“So-called Separatists Movement was especially widespread among Germans in Baden-Württemberg in the beginning of 19th century. In 18th century, a group of believers calling itself “separatists” separated from Pietists, meaning that, unlike other sects, movements and Pietists themselves, they fully diverged from Lutheran Church. The Pietists’ sect recognized the teaching of Hiliasm on “Millennial Divine Kingdom”.
In the end, the Separatists Teaching was created by the works of Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687-1752) and Johann Heinrich Jung-Stilling (1740-1817) that predicted time and location of Christ’s second coming. Jung-Stilling thought the place was Caucasus, Ararat Mountain, whilst the new home country to be Palestine.
Prohibition of old religious songs and texts by the government tightened and deteriorated religious relations. Discontented population began to become fully alienated from the church. An active protagonist of the new religious ideas, baroness Juliane von Krüdener from Baltics (1764 – 1824), then a very famous person (Varvara Julia von Krüdener, French writer, born in Riga, maiden surname –von Vietinghoff), managed to strengthen the Separatist Movement highly in the beginning of 19th century. With the popularization of their teaching and active works, she, together with Jung-Stilling claimed not only full support of the Duke of Baden, but received attention from the Emperor Alexander I and greatly contributed to migration of the separatists to the Caucasus.”
With the aim of assimilating broad territories of the empire and developing agriculture, Alexander I issued a manifesto that offered Germans following privileges if they settled on the empire’s lands: transfer of land, credit with no interest, tax exemption for 10 years, autonomy, religious freedom and exemption from military service.
Hence, with the hope of improving their conditions, 181 Swabians from Württemberg arrived in Tbilisi on 21 September 1817. They were transported nearby Sartichala where they founded the first settlement in South Caucasus. In honor of the Queen Maria Feodorovna, the colony was named Marienfield. Two months later, another settlement was created by another group of colonists which was named Elisabetthal (modern Asureti), in honor of the emperor’s spouse, Elizaveta Alexeevna. Swabians founded several other settlements in the course of the next two years: Catarinenfield (modern Bolnisi), Petersdorf (close to Marienfield, near modern Sartichala), Neutiflis (modern Aghmashenebeli Alley, its parallel streets and Marjanishvili square) and Alexanderdorf (modern Agladze, Samtredia, Tskaltubo and Tsereteli streets). In the second half of 19th century, three German settlements were created near Sokhumi – Neudorf (Akhalsopeli), Gnadenberg (Dziguta village) and Lindau (Lindava village). Later, the number of German settlements in Georgia exceeded 20.
Alexanderdorf was created in Didube village. According to Nestan Tatarashvili, cultivator farmers, that were allocated agricultural lands, settled in Alexanderdorf.
A German traveler living in Tbilisi, Edward Eichwald wrote about Alexanderdorf: “Thanks to them, there were vast amounts of milk, butter, potato and beer in Tbilisi. The German settlers also introduced the cultivation of potato.” The Germans were supplying Tbilisi with veal and cow milk, as contemporary population of Tbilisi preferred mutton and buffalo meat.
Neutiflis colony, or New Tbilisi colony was founded on the territory of Kukia village that coincides with modern Aghmashenebeli Alley and its parallel streets. Unlike the Germans of Alexanderdorf, this place was settled by craftsmen and they were only given homesteads. The Germans of Neutiflis were opening various ateliers and workshops. For instance, the Mayers family owned a ritual services business by the end of 19th century. As it is known, the family used to prepare ritual accessories itself and sell them on the first floor of the building, in a shop. They also owned a pharmacy and trade house.
From architectural point of view, styles of houses in Neutiflis and Alexanderdorf were the same. In both settlements one-storey houses with high rooves containing a spacious attic were widespread.
In New Tbilisi settlement, houses were surrounded by gardens with fruit trees, vineyards and flowers. A wide road passed between two rows of one-storey houses with Kukia being the main road. In 1899, it was renamed as Mikheil Alley. Parallel rows were connected with small sections. Present network of streets of the district precisely repeats outlines of the gardens of German colonists.
Religion and Public Life
Despite the support of the emperor, in the initial years, the colonists ended up in hard social conditions – they found it difficult to adapt to local climate, they fought epidemic, and infertility.
The government took advantage of the existing situation and despite the promised guarantees of freedom of belief, changed the religious policy. As Tatarashvili notes in her research, general Ermolov was demanding appointment of a pastor for the colonists from 1819.
“In 1823, missionaries from Basel who were travelling to Shusha arrived in Tbilisi. One of them, August Dittrich, formulated a spiritual project of the colonists that was ratified by the Evangelist-Lutheran church of Russia in 1829. Before that, in 1825, Pastor Johannes Bernhard Saltet was recalled from Shusha and was appointed as an Ober-Pastor in 1827.
By 1830, the government allocated about 28 thousand rubles for construction of churches in Elisabetthal, Catarinenfeld, Marienfeld, Helenedorf and Tbilisi. Schools were also to be created there”.
Indeed, by 1830’ies, schools were founded in all German colonies and the study process in all of them until 70’ies of 19th century was being conducted only in German.
“A German will abstain from bread and wine, will not fear starvation and thirst, whilst he will allocate the last penny for his child’s rearing, he will do and give everything for making an educated man out of his child. A German knows that his child’s success, satisfaction and avoidance of pain depends on education… With regards to literacy rate, Germans are the best, three out of four of them are literate. As knowledge, education is a necessity for a German, raising funds for his child’s rearing holds the first place in his economic account, in his incomes and expenditures. He will double his workload and toil and, if it is no enough, he will subtract from other funds and add it to the educational expenditures” – said Ilia Chavchavadze with admiration in 1899.
With the funding of the empire and German community, in 1894, construction of Saint Peter and Paul Lutheran Cathedral began in Neutiflis settlement, modern Marjanishvili square. Three years later, it was jubilantly opened and Richard Mayer was named the pastor. Project of the neo-gothic style cathedral belonged to a German architect, Leopold Bielfeld. It is noteworthy that Kashveti church has also been constructed by him. Old name of Marjanishvili Street – Kirochnaia – comes exactly from the word “Kirche”.
As for political life, the Germans formed a Committee of Germans of Transcaucasia that aimed to create an autonomous region on the territory of Georgia. The committee’s building was located in Tbilisi, at 373 Mikheil Alley. The Georgian Germans also had a National Council of Germans with the building located at modern 108 Davit Aghmashenebeli Street. The council protected Germans’ interests. Each colony had an elected commissioner that the population obeyed.
From 1930’ies, Soviet Government started to oppress and persecute the German colonists. In 1933, the Government closed down the Peter and Paul Kirche, whilst Pastor Mayer was shot dead. In 1941, together with the start of war, Stalin resettled Germans of the Caucasus to Kazakhstan and Siberia. Only those German women remained in the settlements that created mixed families. The Kirche, once an important cultural and public center, was forcedly demolished with the hands of German war prisoners. A residential house was constructed on the place of the Kirche, using the same construction materials.
A major part of the Germans of the Caucasus died in exile. Prior to deportation, more than 24 thousand Germans lived in Georgia. Only a small part of them returned to the homeland.
Restoring the Lutheran service was only possible after the dissolution of Soviet Union, following founding of a German Union, Einung. Under favorable conditions, it was given territory of former cemetery of the German colonists, on Graneli Street. In 1999, a “reconciliation” church was founded.
German Heritage Today
Buildings and constructions left by the settlers of Alexanderdorf still remain on Tskaltubo, Samtredia and Agladze streets, however, they are in a critical condition and are on the verge of collapse.
Unlike Alexanderdorf, more building remained from Neu Tiflis, however, it is very difficult to identify majority of them. The houses are remade and only the first floors and basements remained from the initial look.
According to Nestan Tatarashvili, restoration and reinforcement of the buildings requires huge financial resources. At this stage, only the Georgian side conducts research and reconstruction works. She added that involvement of international, Georgian and German endowments and organizations functioning in Georgia will be crucial for developing Alexanderdorf.
“The cultural heritage of Germans is very important both for Georgians and Germans. Therefore, it should not only be studied more thoroughly, but, most importantly, preserved, protected, including its authenticity and further demolition avoided, as the demolition may vanish it without a trace”.
Author: Sophie Gelava