German blossoms in the Barossa as shadow of war fades

Silenced by two World Wars and more than seven decades, German speakers are once again finding their voices.

The Barossa Valley’s rich German heritage was no secret to Peter Mickan.

The University of Adelaide linguistics researcher grew up there, and himself has German roots.

It wasn’t until working on a research project with some of the region’s oldest German speakers several years ago that he stumbled upon something surprising: Some were still hesitant to speak the language in public.


“They said, ‘This is wonderful to speak German again. We feel really relieved,’” he says.

Further investigation, he says, revealed a reluctance that could be traced back to the Second World War.

“One of the really clear messages that comes form the very elderly speakers in that they haven’t spoken [it] since the Second World War,” he says.

“So they’ve been silent in German for 70 years.”

Tanunda resident Donald Ross says the language was widely spoken across the region in the early 20th century, including by his own family.

“It would have been possible to live here without speaking English, because you had German storekeepers, you had a German doctor, you had a German chemist, German hotel keeper, and there was a German newspaper.”

That changed, he says, when the First World War broke out, and suspicion was cast on German speakers.

His mother was among those discouraged from speaking it after German schools were closed and she was forced to attend a public one.

“The first new teacher that they had was very anti-German in his attitude, and so he absolutely forbid the use of the German language on the school grounds.”

Since his discovery, Peter Mickan and members of the community have been working to revive the German language across the region. 

There are now maintenance lessons available for older speakers, and classes for preschoolers. 

Many gather regularly at the Tanunda Lutheran Church for "kaffe und kuchen" events, where conversational German flows freely. 

And in an echo of the newspaper that could once easily be found, a newsletter written in German has recently started circulation. 

At two, Lottie Krozska is one of the youngest learners. 

Her mother Amy hopes it will help her connect with the country her ancestors came from long before she was born -- and help bring a fading tradition back to life. 

“In the morning we wake up and say ‘Guten Morgen!’, and she has a rabbit toy, and she says ‘Das Kaninchen’, so she’s learning very quickly,” she says.

“And my husband, who’s never spoken German before, is learning at the same time, so that’s very special for us.” 

For residents like Donald Ross, it's a tiny piece of history that no longer remains in the past.

"It's part of our heritage, and, if we lose the German language, well then, we've lost one aspect of our heritage."

3 min read
Published 12 December 2015 at 5:57pm
By Rhiannon Elston
Source: SBS