Steppe By Step Failed German Agro Startup Became The Seventh Miracle Of Ukraine In Two Centuries

8 penny is a good price per hectare of the virgin steppe, where you can not plant anything. The Emperor of All Russia, Nicholas I, was thinking about this, shaking the dry hand of the German Duke Friedrich Ferdinand Anhalt-Kottensky, who, on the first spring day of 1828, crossed the threshold of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. The German Duke was one of those who responded to the offer of Russians to help them in arranging merino-type industrial production.

Ferdinand Anhalt Koethen
Friedrich Ferdinand Anhalt-Köthen

Despite the facwot that the proposal was addressed to the government of the Kingdom of Saxony, the first to react on the generous offer from the Russian was the neighboring duchy of Anhalt-Köthen. And of course, Duke Friedrich, as a sovereign of this very small state, was actively seeking any ways to fill its treasury. Even if for this purpose, it would be necessary to master the virgin land in distant Tavria. Particularly relevant additional earnings for the Duke became after Prussia swallowed up the neighboring Saxony and introduced a duty on river navigation along the Elbe. This river was the main transport artery for the disobedient Anhalt-Köthen.

And now, mocking the orders and tapping the bones of his fingers on the knife of his cane at the time of the military march, the elderly representative of the German dynasty Askanier, came to the Russian Tsar. It was important to have time to get the support of the Tsar from the arrangement of the merino company until the arrival of the Saxon competitors from St. Petersburg.

The idea of the first venture investor in the South of Russia was simple. Attach all the family gold and other non-ferrous metals, the purchase of 42.3 thousand acres of Taurian steppe and make it German, and that is, the Empire demanded to establish there production of Merino wool. “Delayed demand beats records, people were ready to order this wool instead of food on the table” – so would comment on the situation some economic expert, if they would have existed two centuries ago.

Prior to this, the titled businessman had already had a successful experience in setting up a family business in the native dukedom of Anhalt. Everything was not bad, but there were obviously no lakes for large-scale livestock farming there. Another thing is the vast expanses of Tavria.

Each of the nobility understood these benefits without synchronous translation. “The purpose of this settlement lies in the fact that it served as a model of a large, orderly agriculture, connected with the factory industry,” the Russian Tsar said in his decree “On the Establishment in the Tavria Province of the Colony of Anhalt Settlements.” “And first, we will build a brewery,” thought the old soldier Friedrich, to whom the king, besides the cheap lands, also granted the right to free trade of beer and wine of his own production for 13 years.

From 1828 to 1830, the new possession of the Duke of Anhalt in southern Russia came to almost 11 thousand sheep and 122 colonists. The duke wanted to bring with him a collapsible Kirche, but the carcass had not actually been placed. The place of his new settlement, which, in the documents of the Imperial Office, was marked by Steppe#71, “euro-Gastarbeiter” called on behalf of his family estate – Askania. Then he thought that, after all, he started a new life, and so Askania Nova appeared.

Three years later, in the new possession of the Duke of Anhalt, in southern Russia came almost 11 thousand sheep and 122 colonists

The business of German settlers grew every year. In addition to tax preferences from the king, his role played well-chosen niche. Together with the merinos in the German coral settled sheep of the doodle breed, which further expanded the geography of sales of colonists, not only in the domestic market but also on the outside. The first batch of doodle went to the duke’s home in Köthen, then to Petersburg. “Gut, Friedi, gut! Now, let’s make a sausage from your sheep,” as if the Duke heard the silent voice of the Majesty and woke up. His cold sweat recalled him his unfiltered beer taste.

However, Friedrich did not have time to fully enjoy agribusiness in the steppes of Tavria. In 1832, his exhausted heart couldn’t handle continuous political intrigues in his homeland and the wearing of heavy orders. After the death of the founder of the Askanian sheep fold, the rubber seal and keys from the bookkeeping safes of the shepherd company received the brother of the Duke – Heinrich from Anhalt-Köthen.

Heinrich continued his relatives’ merciless “drang nach osten”. Until 1841 he carried in the Kherson province the remains of his German collective farm, together with a priest and a fident. Packing his back office, Köthen settled down more wine and beer production. However, genes are serious and forever. In 1847, not recovering from the next aperitif, the Duke went after his brother to the Creator. So the dynasty of the Anhalt-Köthen just stopped.

In addition, in the last few years of his rule of Askania Nova, it became clear that the shepherd’s business is no longer the same. Only weak tribal sheep went for sale, which undermined the reputation of the economy, increased the receivables, payroll debts, nobody was engaged in the farming already.

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Eduard Ivanovich Faltz-Fein

Such a cycle of dukes in nature has had a detrimental effect on the economic activity of the entire Askanian economy. The contractors did not have time to learn difficult German surnames, as their owners served on permanent residence in Valhalla. The profit fell on October 6, 1856, when the company’s debts reached 1 million gold stamps, the colonists put up their unprofitable company for sale. The buyer did not force himself to wait. He became another local farmer with a non-residential name – Baron Eduard Ivanovich Falz-Fein. For the Anhalt-Köthen farm, he offered the best price, 1.5 million gold stamps. 

Recognizing that bankruptcy has been replaced by rehabilitation, the colonists were thrilled to rejoice. Riesling and sheep’s blood were pouring over the river.

Falz-Fein, regardless of the surname, was better than the previous head of the farm. The new owner of Askania Nova has begun with innovations. Baron became one of the first who began to cross the most popular breeds of sheep. As a result, even in spite of the crisis of 1824, when no more than 300 sheep were left in the baron’s economy, he managed to quickly increase the stock that felt great in the temperature of the Taurian steppe. Ten years later, the stock reached 100,000 sheep of a new, hybrid breed. The peak of the livestock reached in 1867 – 400 000 sheep. So Baron Falz-Fein did not become Munchausen, but the largest landowner and breeder in the South of the Russian Empire.

Ten years later, the stock reached 100,000 sheep of a new, hybrid breed

Soon, in addition to the woolen breeds in the furrows of Falz-Fein, sheep meat breeds also appeared. At his estate Elizabethfeld, located not far from Melitopol and near the railway to Moscow and St. Petersburg, the baron began to breed sheep of meat breeds. Such logistics allowed the farmer to adjust the supply of delicious lamb to the markets of both Russian capitals in the shortest possible time. The freshness of the product was guaranteed by the ultra-modern packaging of the time, paraffin paper. At the same time Baron’s farm found its buyers among the famous hotels and restaurants.

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One of the buyers of meat from Falz-Fein was the restaurant “Vienna” in St. Petersburg

After the death of the old agrarian in 1883, Askania Nova’s management turned to his widow Sofia Bogdanovna Falz-Fein and his son – Friedrich Eduardovich. Understanding how the Asknian economy should evolve from the heirs was different. The widow of the baron insisted on the development of livestock, and the younger Falz-Fein was fascinated by the idea of a kind of private reserve. It was the beginning of the end of Askania Nova’s agricultural history.

The disagreements between the rest of Falz-Fein occurred not only on Saturday nights. Mother and son decided to move away. The widow moved to her residence in Horly and started a really big business. In addition to the trade of wool and lamb, the businesswoman invested in poultry farming, opened a winery in Preobrazhenka, launched a confectionery production in Dofino, and founded a canning factory in Kherson. Canned meat and fish “Falz-Fein”, with a logo in the form of “golden fish” on a bicycle, were sold both on the territory of the empire and abroad.

Khorly Port

The main export gate of the baroness was a specially built port in the village of Horly, which was created by herself. The advantage of the port in Horly was evident, a hot natural spring was discovered near the village, which allowed the Baroness to open in the Horly non-freezing seaport.

After the mother-baroness moved to Horly, the younger Falz-Fein took up with Askania Nova. He began with innovations. In the 90s, the son of a baron, became the first in ,Russia, who applied an automatic shearing, and later, for the first time, carried out the artificial insemination of sheep on the baron’s farm. Askania Nova became an outpost of the struggle against the Siberian plague, a terrible disease that killed hundreds of thousands of sheep only in one wave. In 1887, with the help of the Falz-Fein farm, which supplied sheep for medical experiments, scientists developed an effective vaccine against a mortal disaster.

However, despite the support of the general line of the family company, the new Askania head was not jusy shepherd. Yes, he cut the sheep, like his father, gave kebab to the people, but almost everything from the sale of sheep and wool (about 20 thousand rubles a year) was poured into his own odd hobby, in the organization of his own reserve more like a zoo. His first cages for animals he settled in his childhood. In his desire to build a reserve Falz-Fein Jr. entered the University of Dorpat, during his studies, he traveled the largest zoological gardens in the world.

The amount of deductions for the organization of the zoo and the reserve increased with each passing year, and soon increased twice, up to 40 thousand rubles a year. The rising costs led to a conflict between the young owner of Askania and the estate manager, who was frankly frightened by the non-profit hobby of the young heir and his “unnecessary” biological research. It was over for a dissatisfied top, when Falz-Fein Jr. bid farewell to him.

 The heir of furrows was more and more into a reserve subject. Not mentioning the trial initiated by the Falz-Fein Jr. against the government with the requirement to narrow the width of the traditional “Milky Way”, which lay beside Askania. As a result, the land of the “path”, which was sentenced by Falz-Fein Jr, passed to the owners of the adjacent sections of the road, among which was Askanian prince. “This success has increased the popularity of my brother,” writes Volodymyr Falz-Fein, the founder’s brother in his book, “there were those who went to him even from far away to ask for advice on a particular matter.”

Now, Askania has not been the leading livestock company in the south of the empire for nearly a century and is not a company at all. There are no sheep, and the empire itself has crashed into dozens of smaller states. However, in spite of the revolution and the tragic death of the Baroness, the dream of the younger son, the last breeder of Tavria, came true. Now in the enclosures of the former stables, it is more likely to meet not a merino sheep, but a camel.

Askaniya Nova 1Today, in this unique area, live ungulates from different continents: from bison and zebras to antelope and siagak. Also, here live all year round, European hinds, Przewalski horses, Turkmen kulans, donkeys, noble deer, mouflons and even two-humped camels. In the summer, exotic vutussi, antelope canna, kafrsky buffaloes, gnus, nilgau, zebras and gaials are released from the cages. 


Ironically, this very non-commercial project of the enterprising Falz-Fein became the most viable of all the previous ones. He survived the inspired sailors of the October Revolution, the Soviet “stagnation”, the period of voluminous privatization of the 1990s, and became a recognized Ukrainian natural miracle. In 2008, Askania-Nova won the “Seven Natural Wonders of Ukraine” rating, one of the organizers of which was the State Service for Tourism and Resorts of Ukraine.

Of course, you should not confuse the reserve and the village of the same name. If the reserve is kept even at least at some level (including by the forces of the Falz-Fein family), the village is killed in all senses. It is an extra proof of the fact that the former and current owners of this estate are very different from each other, the state and nobles.

Although, of course, the matter is not at all in the presence of the title.

Posted by Birovash Maxim

P.S. During the preparation of the story, materials from the book by Volodymyr Falz-Fein “Askania Nova” (reprint of the 1930 edition) were used.