on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

It’s Museum Time in St Petersburg

Rumyantseva Mansion Museum

St Petersubrg is bombarding us with heat! It’s weird that you’re dreaming of an air conditioner 1 month a year in St Pete (or 1 week, if you’re less lucky) while the rest of the year you’re wearing your grandma’s woolen socks, craving for a bit of sun. This summer will definitely hold the record for the unusual in-a-row days of heat … and also museum-going activity from my part : ) Thanks to new friend who came to St Petersburg for the first time (and had to face the interminable rain season first, before the heat stroke), I’ve discovered new places in the city. Including new vegetarian places too! The museums have to contain a certain ethnographic component in them in order to appeal to me. But as the writing on top says, This, citizens, is a museum! Come and stare!

A reconstruction of a 19th century room  St Petersburg

This is a reconstruction of a 19th century room in St Petersburg (and in Russia in general) that you can see in Bread Museum, the only museum of its kind in Russia. It’s quite small and obviously not that well subsidized but I liked it for not being overwhelmingly exhibit-stuffed. The museum’s website by the way has posted some old bread recipes (in Russian, here). As it’s prohibited to use flash inside Russian museums, I could take only a limited number of photos. So let’s use the all-museums website : here‘s a restaurant room with samovar and traditional pies, here‘s an early 20th century bakery interior and here‘s a Soviet bakery or just a typical Soviet shop with a scale and a separate cashier’s window with a saucer for coins – cause you rarely paid at each of the store’s department, instead you had to memorize the price and the department’s number and report directly to the cashier’s. Then you had to stand in a queue for the third time already to get your goods by showing the receipt to the shop-assistant at each department. More on queues in my future posts.

Mushroom and Pioneer Pretzel

Sorry for a poor photo – this is a part of the display showing the typical baked goods in 1930s (some of them are apparently lost nowadays). On the left you can see a mushroom (my Granny would bake these using boiled sweetened condensed milk to glue the cap and the stem together) with the poppy-seeds representing the soil : ) and … a Pioneer Pretzel, Krendel pionersky as it was called in the USSR. Never heard of it before, I guess it was just a way of increasing the sales of a pretty trivial pretzel – you just call it with a communist title and here you go! Pioneers or Pionery were (all) the children in the USSR who were ‘climbing’ the communist staircase to become the party members: first a child would become an Oktyanrenok (called so in commemoration of the October Revolution), then a Pioner (and go to pionersky lager, Camp for Pioneers in summer), then a Komsomol (a young communist). Then you were supposed to join the party, of course. So if you’re still a pioner or are just nostalgic of those times… eat your Pioneer Pretzel! : )

Soviet propaganda

The museum covers late 19th century Russia and up until the breaking of the Union times – it also has some of the Soviet propaganda billboards as this one of the later years, the 1980s. It declares a new food program of the 12th Pyatiletka (Five-Year Development Plan, yes, the Soviet economy was a State-planned economy) which turn to intensity and quality. The young scientist sitting at a huge machine was supposed to make the wheat grow higher I guess. That was the last pyatiletka of the Soviet Union, actually. It finished in 1990 and in those days you could hardly fool the people with the propaganda billboards. The pictures they showed and the slogans they announced were so far from the reality and also so  stale that nobody paid attention to them, including the government I guess.

A reconstruction of a 19th century room  St Petersburg

This is yet another reconstruction of a 19th century room in St Petersburg already in another museum in the Peter and Paul Fortress in St Pete. The first floor of the St Peterburg History museum is  quite dusty (apparently it’s been there for quite a long time) but the second floor which we had to run through, unfortunately, had much more interesting – though probably less old and valuable from a historian’s point of view – exhibits. More reconstructions of rooms, shops, photos, objects. Well, I just guess that things that are at least closer to our epoch appear more appealing to us, because we can find things in common with them, we can relate to them. I enjoy looking at the way things were just before the Soviet times and after, such a nonsensical gap, so much was lost. Looking at the colourful metal and carton boxes with tea and biscuits from the early 20th century stand and then moving on to the bleak toporny (wooden, crude, we use the hoax as a metaphor) design of the Soviet packaging – again of carton and metal and glass, dear to me only cause I remember it and not because of its particular appeal, made me really think. Think about the history playing tricks with our country : ) I cannot say that we just regressed (although in some aspects we did), rather stagnated. Marinated.

The next museum was Applied Arts Museum with a vast collection of anything from a fork to Russian fireplaces with glazed tiles and  furniture from Western Europe. The building it is housed in is amazingly decorated inside (and quite Paris-looking outside), worth visiting just for its beauty (it’s actually the State Art and Industry Academy, lucky students!). No pictures here but you can see some photos on this website. And then we also went to the huge Russian Museum with a retrospective collection of Russian art (mostly paintings) which I have not visited for a long time. It seems to me my favourite artist is still Levitan, the one who got the closest to the impressionists (to Monet in particular) in the Russian art. Looking at his light-full and colour-full paintings creates the same effect that Monet has on me. I remember walking through a Munchen’s Neue Pinakotek rooms quite disinterestedly and then immediately realizing the next room had Monet in it – so bright and light and positive. By the way, I admit there was just one painting that attracted my attention from the Soviet period collection and I will return to it later.

Rumyantseva Mansion Museum

The last museum visited to this moment is a branch of the St Pete History Museum which occupies Rumyantsev Mansion on the English Embankment.  This was my first time getting that far west in the central part of the city where those huge cruise ships are anchored. It’s a pity there’s no air conditioning in the museums and we could hardly stay in most of the rooms. The museum is here from 1938 and has since changed its ‘topic’ several times. It now has a section on the 1920s, 1930s, the WW2 and the mansion’s history. It’s quite a place on its own, just look at the staircase!

Rumyantseva Mansion Museum

And how about this oak staircase?

Rumyantseva Mansion Museum

The museum is a beautifully decorated building with two floors and several halls for dancing and playing music but I was especially aiming at the rooms with some objects from 1920s and 30s – clothes, pictures, ads, models etc + some reconstructed typical rooms and shops. I guess the usual life of a person living in those days is what catches the eye the most. Here’s a typical 1920s (sort of wealthy) room with a samovar and a record player:

Rumyantseva Mansion Museum

And its right part with a toy and a sowing machines decorated with hummer and sickle.

Rumyantseva Mansion Museum

And here’s a less wealthy kitchen:

Rumyantseva Mansion Museum

A menu of a ‘bufet’ (cafe) hanging on the wall next to the kitchen offered frankfurters with cabbage, Beef Stroganoff and fish au-gratin and some other French-inspired dishes that still had their French names written in Cyrillic – a tradition of Russian restaurants to call the dishes by their French names without translation that gradually disappeared during the Soviet times. The menu also promises Caucasian cuisine at special prices : )

Rumyantseva Mansion Museum

And that’s it! Enough museum-going & staring for today! But surely more St Petersburg-related posts are coming.



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