100 Gramm Wodka: a book about a three-month trip through Russia and Kazakhstan, written by Fredy Gareis, a German journalist who was born in Almaty (then Alma-Ata) but who emigrated with his family to Germany, the home country of his ancestors when he was still a toddler.
As a child, Fredy Gareis was not particularly interested in the stories and discussions about the past of the family in the Soviet Union. That his mother obviously wanted to completely wipe out any memories of her past didn’t help little Fredy to understand where he really came from and what was the story behind those long kitchen meetings with relatives that were a part of his childhood in Germany. But while growing older and becoming a journalist, the wish to get to know more about the country in which he was born (now divided into several independent states, then the Soviet Union) and to reconnect himself with his and his family’s past became stronger.
The passing on of several older relatives within a short period, and the feeling to have missed a chance to learn more from them finally triggered an urgent wish to visit Russia and Kazakhstan, partly to see how life is now in this vast region, but mainly driven by the wish to see the places in Kazakhstan and Siberia where his family came from and suffered in the Stalin era and thereafter as descendants of those Germans who came to Russia and the Ukraine after Catherine the Great had invited her fellow countrymen to settle there. Once held in great esteem for their industriousness, with their own Autonomous Soviet Republic at the Volga, WWII was the big catastrophe for this community that catapulted those who survived it to Siberia or the Central Asian Republics, frequently as slave labourers in the GULag.
100 Gramm Wodka is an interesting book which contains insightful travel notes and also reports about many meetings with different people from a big variety of geographic and social origins, and therefore a kind of mosaic of this part of the world. A deep dive into the history of the Russian Germans who were considered as Germans in Russia, and who are now – after the biggest part of them has re-emigrated to the homeland of their ancestors – considered to be Russians by their fellow countrymen in Germany; it seems to be their fate to never really belong to the community within which they live and to be always considered as outsiders. A road and railroad trip past thousands of kilometers of steppe, heading to Magadan and Vladivostok at the Pacific – and a love declaration to the incredible people that live in this region. But how on earth could the author possibly survive all this Vodka that the hospitable local people offered him together with huge amounts of food on all kind of occasions?
A translation of this excellent piece of travel journalism is recommended. After reading it, the probability is very high that you will plan to go on a visit there. And if you are more of an armchair traveller, you will still enjoy this trip from Saint Petersburg to Moscow, Lake Baikal, Kazakhstan, the Raspberry Lake, and the wide expanse of Siberia, a terra incognita even for most Russians.
Fredy Gareis: 100 Gramm Wodka, Malik 2015
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