German Russians

Germans formed the nobility and gentry of the Baltic provinces acquired by Russia under Peter the Great. (This is one reason why the city of St. Petersburg has a Germanic name). Under Catherine the Great (born a German princess), a large number of Germans emigrated to a region around part of the Volga River, becoming known as the Volga Germans. Between 1795 (the third partition of Poland) and 1919 (the re-creation of Poland), Russia shared a border with Prussia/Germany. And then, you have all the Russians who moved from the Soviet Union to East Germany, and who are now citizens of a united Germany. Meanwhile in West Germany, the laws made it relatively easy for Russians to gain citizenship there too, provided that they were able to prove German descent (like e.g. the aforementioned Volga Germans). The situation in today's united Germany is similar.

It is therefore not surprising that German characters appear a fair bit in Russian literature, especially from the earlier periods.

These characters are often portrayed in the stereotypical German manner - humourless and efficient - but there are exceptions.

After this time, World War One and the Great Patriotic War tends to colour Russian perceptions of Germans, as can be seen by Communist propaganda. Whereas Americans may be depicted as fat capitalists, Germans don't even get to be human. Surprisingly (or maybe not), this was strictly limited to wartime media, and even in WWII official propaganda encouraged differentiating between Those Wacky Nazis and Germans as a people. note 

Unrelated to Commie Nazis.


  • Hoffman, an old bum from the Peterburg's graveyard in Brother.

  • Crime and Punishment
  • The doctor from Gogol's play The Revisor, who can't even speak Russian.
  • Andrey Karlovich Stolz from Oblomov (a very positive example).
  • Ivan Arnol'dovich Bormental from Mikhai Bulgakov's Heart of a Dog (positive example too).
  • Erast Fandorin, his surname being a corruption of von Dorn. Somewhat similar to the name of the 18th century writer Denis Fonvizin, originally von Wiesen.
  • In Alexander Pushkin's novel The Captain's Daughter there is an old general, a German in Russian service, who speaks with a thick German accent, presumably for comic effect. When Catherine II appears in the story, her dialogue is rendered in proper, unaccented Russian.
    • Truth in Literature. The first thing Catherine did after coming to Russia is learning proper Russian.
    • A joke persists, nevertheless, that she managed to misspell щи (shchi, a kind of soup); the punchline asks how it is possible to make eight spelling errors in a two-letter word. (In German, this word would be transliterated Schtschi.)
  • Hermann, Villain Protagonist in "The Queen of Spades". His friends mock him for never gambling, instead spending his nights watching them play cards for hours, and call him a typical German when he says that he doesn't want to risk the little money he has.
  • Several of the important characters in the Book/mini-series Centennial are of this stock (having imigrated to the US in the late 19th century).
  • The Commissar by Sven Hassel. The protagonists pose as a special unit of Volga Germans when sneaking behind Soviet lines.
  • Von Koren from "The Duel" by Anton Chekhov.
  • In Solzhenitsyn novel August, 1914, the protagonist wonders what the nationality of the Russian Army invading East Prussia really is, noting that it is led by a bunch of generals with German names like von Rennenkampf.
    • Of course, their antagonist, the commander of the German forces opposing them, was von François, a descendant of French Huguenots in German service.
    • When the protagonist comes face to face with General von François, the German asks whether the former is in fact Russian (with implication that the latter thinks he might be (ethnic) German).

  • In the German police series Tatort, Münster Kommissar Frank Thiel's assistant Nadezhda Krusenstern is from a German-Russian family that emigrated to Germany after 1990.

Real Life
  • Alexander Herzen.
    • And for that matter, Peter III (Duke of Holstein-Gottorp before ascending to the Russian throne) and Catherine the Great (born in Stettin, wife of the former, had him murdered and took the throne herself).
      • Between Peter the Great and Paul I, succession did not go by consanguinity; the czars had the right to name their own successors regardless of it. Thus Peter the Great was followed by his widow, Catherine I (born Marfa Skavronskaya, a commoner). Peter III was a grandson of Peter the Great (son of his daughter Anna).
    • When you get down to it, due to the Romanovs marrying German nobility almost exclusively, Nicholas II was only something like 1/256th Russian.
  • Alfred Rosenberg, leading Nazi executed at Nuremberg, was a Baltic German.
  • Heinz Erhardt, one of Germany's greatest comedians, also was a Baltic German, born in Riga.
  • Poet, satirist and artist Robert Gernhardt was born in Reval (Talinn).
  • Baron Ungern-Sternberg
  • Vladimir Yakovlevich Propp, the formalist who invented Propp's Functions of Folktales was born to a German family, studied Russian and German philology and was a college teacher of German.
  • Olga Leonardovna Knipper-Chekhova, actress and wife of Anton Chekhov was from a German family settled in Russia
    • Her niece Olga Chekhova (she was married to Chekhov's nephew Mikhail, an actor) was an actress herself, settled in Germany for the rest of her life. She had good relationships with Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels, but she was rumored to be a Soviet spy.