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Sauk City/WI: A German Dairy Farmer in Wisconsin

Wisconsin with its luscious meadows reminds Germans of Bavaria. 150 years ago, many German farmers thought so too and settled down in this part of America.

Karl and Hermine Hausner on their dairy farm in Sauk CityImage: DW

The state of Wisconsin lies west of the Great Lakes region. Wisconsin is America's Dairyland. Its rolling hills and meadows often remind Germans of southern Bavarian regions.

So maybe it was only natural that German farmers who arrived in Wisconsin some 150 years ago felt right at home in this part of the US.

They decided to stay here and farm the land. One thing they brought with them from Germany were their black-and-white Holstein cows, which still make the livelihood of many Wisconsin farms today.

Today, one of largest farms in the state lies between the towns of Sauk City and Plain. It belongs to Karl and Hermine Hausner, who immigrated to the US in the 1950s. Karl Hausner says that in the US, the German Holstein cows were bred to give more milk and meat. One side-effect of this was that the larger cows no longer fit into the old stables.

Karl Hausner says on his farm he does not want such "turbo-cows" that are milked to death. The animals should have space to move about, he explains: Only happy cows give good milk. Hausner says especially the young cows need a lot of love and care: "The stable for the calves is very sunny, even in winter. The calves will stay in this special stable for roughly two to three weeks."

Karl Hausner is against giving animals hormones or genetically altered feed to increase productivity. His farm is profitable even without these modern manipulations. For him, the keys to success are automation and dividing up the work rationally among his 18 employees.

Over the years, the Hausners acquired 14 individual farms and integrated them into one big agricultural complex. Today, they own some 3,000 animals. In Germany, this would be a very large farm; in America however, what the Hausners have is considered merely average. As Karl Hausner jokingly points out, the number of cows he now owns is more than there ever were in his hometown of Schwansdorf.

Schwansdorf was part of the "Sudetenland", a region traditionally inhabited by Germans, but which now lies in the Czech Republic. Today the town is called Svatonovice. Hausner's family was expelled from the region in 1946. After the Second World War and many years of Nazi oppression, the Czech government drove almost all Germans out of the country. Karl Hausner himself had to do forced labor in a Czech work-camp for a year before he could leave the country.

Karl und Hermine Hausner
Karl and Hermine HausnerImage: DW

Originally, Karl Hausner did not want to emigrate to America. After the war, Hausner felt betrayed by the Americans because US President Truman had agreed to the expulsion of the Sudeten-Germans.

However, after he got his university degree, a friend convinced Hausner to go and see for himself what life in the US was like: "I had studied engineering. Back then, anyone who was trained in a technical field got a visa without any hassle. That's how I came to the US. And when I first got here, I stayed on a farm."

Karl Hausner decided to settle down permanently in America. He became a successful entrepreneur in the field of medical technology. It was only 16 years ago that he fulfilled his childhood dream of becoming a farmer when he bought his first farm.

Karl Hausner is a devoted Catholic and firmly believes in God. On his farm, he has built a chapel, where a continuous tape recording welcomes visitors. He has dedicated the chapel to all the peoples of the world who have been expelled from their native lands.

Hausner does not only want to commemorate the expulsion of the Sudeten-Germans. He says the chapel should also remind people of the fate of the Native Americans, who lived in Wisconsin before white settlers drove them out or killed them.

Karl Hausner and his wife are active in many German clubs in America. They also take part in the annual meetings of the Sudeten-Germans in Germany. "We keep in close touch with many German groups, but we're only engaged in groups that don't have nationalist tendencies. I am against nationalism. But that doesn't mean that I am not proud of my German heritage."

Karl Hausner has a very practical way of promoting international cooperation and understanding: He always invites two or three students from different parts of the world to work on his farms. They can learn from his experience and gain first-hand knowledge of farming.

Karl says he has experienced ethnic hatred first-hand and these trainee programs are his small contribution to bringing people of different races or nationalities together.