no recipe · St Petersburg

Working Class Hero: Down-to-Earth Vyborgskaya Side

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

I started my architectural walk to the Vyborgskaya Side from the other side of the Neva river, crossing the Liteyny Bridge under the extremely intense sun. My camera wouldn’t even cope with the light and what I got was this overexposed bluish picture of the embankment:

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

I’ve seen just a tiny bit of what was there on the two long streets, interspersed with the major industrial sights and the townships for the workers, which is actually similar to both the the area around Porcelain factory and that around Kirov plant which I’m planning to visit soon. All three districts still preserve a certain atmosphere of a workers’ village. In particular, in contrast to the pompous and somewhat elite center of the city (which as you might know occupies in fact several islands), the Vyborgskaya Side (or the right side of the river Neva) has always been the place for the industrial sights and settlements of work migrants (both from other parts of Russia and from Finland).

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

The Vyborgskaya Side got its name from Vyborg, the city to the north of St Petersburg, a much older and much more history-laden one, which borders with Karelia. And this – though quite relative – proximity of the Vyborgskaya side to the Nordic countries has obviously impacted this particular sample of the Art Nouveau style architecture:

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

This is an entire district formed by 3 residential houses built for the Finland Railway employees by Mirits and Gerasimov in 1907-08. Every staircase window in this house is actually a balcony – wish I could go inside and onto the balcony but I was too shy to follow the crowd… Which is a mistake: you should always follow the crowd where otherwise you wouldn’t be able to get.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

These tiny loophole-like windows are cute. Is it a toilet, I wonder? 🙂

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

And this huge mosaic wall was added in the 1960s. No surprise that it was themed on the Outerspace and Humanity:

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

After walking around this district adjacent to the Finland railway station, I followed the long Bolshoy Sampsoniyevsky Prospekt (with a tiny Sampsoniyevsky Cathedral) running parallel to the no less long Lesnoy Prospekt, moving in between them to see more sights on my list (map).

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

My next stop was at a district built for the workers of the Ludwig Nobel plant in St Petersburg. The worker’s village comprises of a number of houses of various shapes, some of which are more red-brick style rather than Art Nouveau. It was built by Roman Meltser in 1906 while the more imposing and apparently more famous house for the (higher status) employees of the same plant was designed in 1910-1911 by the distinguished Feodor Lidval who I really admire.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

This one obviously was inspired by the Scandinavian neo-romanticism. Well, Lidval’s family was originally from Sweden.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

I could have spent a day under that arcade which looks almost like a palazzo somewhere in Venice – but when you actually cross the street (Lesnoy prospekt) and take a better look at the building as a whole you realize it’s more like a castle (the awful top attic was apparently added later).

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

the contrast between the airy arcade and the massive grey stonework creates a certain effect that no doubt catches your eye. The sun was shining right in my eyes so I couldn’t see all the details well but here’s one that was particularly awesome:

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

Unawares I walked past several buildings without either paying any attention to them or taking them for what they were not. I mistook a 1995 retrospectivist building (in a rather decadent state) for a poorly renovated modernist building, while a heavily renovated constructivist building turned into a business center seemed to me a regular contemporary un-creative creation. But this one I spotted from afar and unmistakably identified as avant-garde:

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

Regardless of all the later additions and changes that it suffered, the Vyborgskaya fabrika-kukhnya (automated kitchen) still pretty much preserves its authentic looks. It was built in 1929 by Barutchev, Gilter, Meerzon and Rubanchik.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

I always wanted to see how it operated back in those days when busy workers could go get a full-fledged lunch or dinner accompanied by their fellow workers. The kitchen also catered for the nearby plants and factories until about 1970s. Everything automated, simplified, improved for the sake of the workers and their bright future! Here is a link where you can learn how it all worked inside.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

And by the way this avant-garde thing was built right across the street from the baroque Sampsoniyevsky Cathedral. They say it was not by chance, this neighbouring: instead of spiritual nourishment here was  much more tangible and nourishing food :). And there was a park where the workers could have some rest (it was also popular with the locals). There’s no sign of a park now and the revamped avant-garde looks quite lost, standing there on the corner.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

Just liked this savage architecture. This is actually a Soviet door installed into the wall of the Moscow regiment barracks (1830s). Moving along the avenue I finally came to the Children’s Hospital where it turns out I had been before visiting my friend (but at that time I did not know this part of the city at all).

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

Some Art Nouveau in the middle of the noisy dusty avenue is a good change.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

This Children’s Hospital (and now a hospital + pediatrics institute) was built by Maximillian Kitner upon the highest order of the royal family in the 1902-05. Its multiple units are quite simple but still show the traces of the modernist experiments with the shape and utility. Compared to the ugly late Soviet unit built right where there was another part of the church looks completely out of place and, well, ugly.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

No this is already another building which caught my eye while I was moving back along Lesnoy Prospekt to see the townships. This is the obshchezhitie (dormitory) of the Military Institute of Physical Education, now occupying the territory of that Moscow regiment. Looks menacing!

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

Some meters behind it is the Baburinsky township (named after Baburin lane which lost its name some time later) built in 1928 for the workers of the Vyborgskaya Side. The avant-garde idea was supported by the strain to get inexpensive houses from the scarce materials, hence a very laconic style. The main architect of this township was Grigory Simonov.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

The constructivism continued the modernist search for shapes and utility. Another workers’ township – Bateninsky township (named after Batenin lane, later renamed), located in a nearby area (you have to cross the railroad going from the Finland Railway Station), was built several years later (1930-33) by almost the same team of architects.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

It shows traces of a more sophisticated style though still looks quite laconic:

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

Moving further along Lesnoy you will get to yet another township, built in 1927-34 by N. Rybin for the numerous textile plant workers. It was even called ‘Town of Textile Workers’. I liked the soft-angle balconies embracing the corners:

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

And yes, there’s a church inside an atheist constrictivist building these days:

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

Moving even further, I finally got to the Polytechnic University campus (or rather dormitories). Built in 1929-32 it covers quite a vast area and has numerous units, creating a true “students’ town”. Some years ago they said they were going to abandon this campus and move all the students into new buildings but here it is, almost 90 years old and still serving the generations of students succeeding each other.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

Of course the avantgardist looks are now not that distinct but you can still spot the windows ‘lying’ on their side and the attempts at placing the units at an angle to each other so that they all get enough of the rare St Petersburg sun. A similar students’ town was also built further up north, where my Grandad used to live when he came to study in Leningrad.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

And the last building on my route was this constructivist school built in 1932 by Vladimir Munts. Students living in their dorms will get married, have children and send their kids to school. All very well planned!

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

This is how the country cared for its most strategically useful citizens, the workers. Put them all in one place, provide them with the basic stuff and see how they work for you. They won’t even need to take public transport to get to their work – they will live and work in one place, how smart. This was much harsher and decor-less reality than that of the almost romantic dreams of the Soviet “garden city“…

This post goes to the St Petersburg series.

G.

cookies · on USSR / Russia · sweet · traditional Russian recipe

Taste from Childhood: Nutshells with Condensed Milk

Fake Nuts Filled with Condensed Milk

From all the recipes I’ve tried over this long winter break that we officially have in Russia (the cold has made me stay at home most of the time) I’ve picked this Soviet recipe as the first post in the newly arrived 2016, another childhood sweet treat like Zemelakh cookies. Back in 2013 I made a post featuring a selection of Soviet kitchen utensils that are mostly out of circulation now. Among these were the aluminum molds to make walnut-like cookies filled with condensed milk. They look like this:

nut molds

My friend came along with her batch of walnut molds and two cans of sweetened condensed milk. Though three years older than our set of molds, her recipe is exactly the same (in the best Soviet traditions) and it comes on a gloriously Soviet-design packaging. If you take a look at the back of this recipe made by a Voronezh industrial machine plant (!), you will find out that it was printed on a recycled leftover packaging from a canning plant in Orel! 🙂

Fake Nuts Filled with Condensed Milk

To make the walnut-like cookies even taste like walnuts, you can fill them according to the recipe (3 egg whites beaten with a cup of sugar until thick and then mixed with 1.5 cups of ground walnuts). Our choice that evening was caramelised sweetened condensed milk. And yes, you will need an entire evening to make all the cookies from the required 3 cups of flour with the limited amount of molds! 🙂

Fake Nuts Filled with Condensed Milk

1 year ago – Winter Fairy Tale and Semolina Bread

2 years ago – Chocolate, Cocoa, Coffee and Cakes

3 years ago – Join the Soviet New Year Table

4 years ago – Sourdough Breads

Nutshells Filled with Caramelised Sweetened Condensed Milk or Орешки со сгущенкой (Oreshki so sgushchenkoj) translated and adapted from a 1982 packaging of the nut molds will make a mountain of small nut-like cookies willed with the sweety-sweet condensed milk (teeth, beware!). If you don’t have the molds, try using madelaine cookie molds instead.

Ingredients

for the dough:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 200 g margarine – we used about 150 g butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar – you really don’t need even that much as the filling is super sweet
  • 3 egg yolks – save the whites for some souffle, I made banana souffle
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp salt – we added just a pinch + some vanilla extract

for the filling:

  • about 3 cans of caramelised condensed milk or any other thick substance you prefer
  • or the original suggestion: 3 egg whites beaten with a cup of sugar until thick and mixed with 1.5 cups of ground walnuts

Procedure

We reversed the original procedure a bit, first beating the egg yolks with sugar until pale, then adding the softened butter and a pinch of salt and vanilla. Then we mixed in a third of the flour, then added a tiny bit of vinegar to the soda and poured the bubbly soda into the mixture. The 3 cups of flour were quite a lot for the decreased amount of butter that we used, so the dough ended up quite hard and not very easy to roll out. But if you dare using the whole 200 g of butter you will probably avoid this dryness.

Leave the dough covered in the fridge (original suggestion – somewhere cold) for 15-20 minutes and then roll it out into a thin sheet (we did it in portions). Cut the dough with the same molds and press the dough into the molds (we didn’t grease them as the butter in the dough will mdo the job). Here you will understand if you rolled the dough too thick or too thin – you should be able to cover the entire mold from the inside with the dough. The recipe suggests cutting the overhanging dough with ‘a sharp knife’ but you can also do it with your fingers (the overhanging dough will only appear if you cut the dough using a round cutter).

Place the molds on a baking sheet ‘like saucers’ (the dough side up) and bake (we guessed 175’C would be fine) for about 15-20 minutes until the dough starts browning. Be careful not to overbake! Leave the molds to cool a bit and then take the shells out. Fill both shells and bring them together. Enjoy!

Fake Nuts Filled with Condensed Milk

Remarks: The caramelised condensed milk filling is super sweet as you can imagine. So if you want a lighter version I would suggest using some  nut butter or super-thick jam – or the original walnut filling. And if you do run out of filling (like we did with the whole two cans of condensed milk) and you realise it soon enough before you make another batch of nut shells, try using the dough for some individual tartlets filled with whatever you like (I had some thick cranberry jam). Well, at least even a small tartlet will use up more dough than a nutshell will!

Fake Nuts Filled with Condensed Milk

Result: ‘A taste from childhood‘ was the verdict of my friend’s parents (the recipe makes such a mass of these nuts that you can feed three families with no problems :). These nuts are super-sweet and addictive. Best consumed with lots of tea to wash down all the thick condensed milk filling. There are various ways to enjoy these cookies – some people (kids) like licking out all the filling first and then eating the chewy shells, some prefer biting and some will just swallow the entire piece 🙂

Fake Nuts Filled with Condensed Milk

The caramelised and regular condensed milk is definitely a taste from childhood. The caramelised version is particularly often used in many industrially made foods like syrok (a fatty cream cheese treat in chocolate glaze), layer cakes, cookies and biscuit rolls. A housewife in USSR would boil a whole can of sweetened condensed milk and produce the caramelised version at home, as only the un-boiled version existed (with such editions as sweetened condensed milk with chicory or sweetened condensed milk with cocoa / coffee). Some of these home experiences ended up on the kitchen door, floor and all over the place too 🙂

Fake Nuts Filled with Condensed Milk

As yo can see in this photo we had quite a lot of shells left unfilled – I didn’t witness what happened to them later but I guess they just served as a ‘base’ for the jam or something. I was actually glad we ran out of filling cause the procedure is quite tiresome with such a mass of dough! A recipe for a tireless Soviet housewife who knows how to make a treat out of the scarce ingredients 🙂

This recipe goes to my Soviet/Russian and Sweet recipe collections.

G.

no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Rossosh, the Other Russia

Rossosh, Russia

Rossosh in the South of Russia is where my mother was born. Last time we were there with her was 25 years ago and to tell you the truth I do not remember much. There were stories, photos and those silent family movies from that last visit which in reality constructed my own ‘memories’ of it all. It seems as if I remember something but most probably it was all just created in my mind by what I later saw in the family albums.

Rossosh, Russia

This was a very old-school journey. Regardless of all those shops and sushi and ugly contemporary buildings and shopping centers you can see in any Russian city. There is something to this place which suggests a very heavy trace of the old ways of life still present in the town and the villages around it.

Rossosh, Russia

It was a rather short visit too, for family reasons we had to come back earlier – but I guess we saw almost everything we could. My mother who would spend her summer holidays at her babushka’s place as a child, was obviously taken aback by all those changes and now absent places, buildings and other objects which she preserved in her memories.

Rossosh, Russia

What was present though was this stupendous aroma of the sunflower seeds being processed for sunflower oil. Just sweeping you off your feet and making you instantly craving for a pan of sizzling potatoes! This land where Rossosh stands is called Chernozem or black soil. And it IS black!

Rossosh, Russia

And almost everything grows there miraculously fast, just drop an apricot seed in your garden – and you will get an apricot tree soon! The problem with this region is that the droughts can easily ruin all your harvest, turning you into a bankrupt. We visited our relatives in a village called Ukrainsky, a former sovkhoz (it is in fact close to the border with Ukraine).

Rossosh, Russia

And they actually do speak a certain Ukrainian-like dialect there. And their Russian is also reminding me of what I heard in Ukraine… And these traditional mazanki houses (wikipedia claims it’s called wattle and daub in English) just transport you somewhere into the Gogol’s tales!

Rossosh, Russia

Look closer at the roof – it is first covered with reed and then with composition roofing (a later addition) – a traditional way applied to most of the houses in the town, Mom says. And these windows are amazing! It’s obvious that glass was kind of expensive and rare back when it was built!

Rossosh, Russia

My childhood memories do not contain any of these details. I just remember that the street we lived in (in a third of a former merchant’s house, separated into tiny one-floor apartments with all the conveniences in the yard) had more trees and that there was that mount of sand in front of it. And we hid a sandal in there with my sister, just to make our mother’s life easier, you know 🙂

Rossosh, Russia

Saw these nalichniki (traditional window casing moldings) too often in Rossosh to believe they were kind of a characteristic trait of the town. My guess is that they introduced them somewhere in the 1970s to make them all look alike…

Rossosh, Russia

This window belongs to the only house we saw which had the authentic reed-covered roof. With all its ruinous look it had this curtain moving with the wind. Someone used to care for this house, someone made this window look pretty. Love decadence but at the same time I always feel sad when I see something which was useful and who knows, very cozy too, so irreversibly abandoned.

Rossosh, Russia

Hand-painted advertisements promising you loads of cheap fur coats and bed sheets to be sold at the local house of culture, – THE best! Next to it was an abandoned park with a ruined pavilion and the remains of the dancing place. AND the aroma of sunflower seeds as there IS a functioning factory still!

Rossosh, Russia

A very 1970s view to my mind. There’s something about this town that is either 1990s or 1970s, I couldn’t make out the period it got stuck in exactly. The other thing which amazed us was the feeling of spring rather than of late autumn the last day we were there – such a disarming and confusing feeling when you see those multi-coloured leaves just about to fall to the ground!

Rossosh, Russia

The coat of arms of Rossosh on the gates of the market place – the town took its name from the Old Slavic for ‘bifurcating river’. And the apples there are AMAZING there! And it’s such a SHAME they never reach our shops here in St Petersburg. They are pink inside, they are super sweet and not acidic as our local apples are. And they make thick apple juice with no sugar added! Ohhh…

Rossosh, Russia

They also make wonderful honey there. But in vain did we search for it in the local shops and at the market even. If you need authentic honey from Rossosh you have to buy a local paper, find a producer and make an appointment. This is how you avoid buying Moscow honey while travelling in the honey region!

Rossosh, Russia

Golden Lenin. Mum says it’s typical of the Southern towns to paint their heroes in gold. The WWII monument was also painted in gold. BTW, there is this explanatory plaque for the new generations apparently: Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the first socialist state in the world. Probably to justify his still standing out there in the middle of the square.

Rossosh, Russia

A local Venus de Milo – a pioner-girl without a hand. This couple is right in front of the school where my great grandmother used to work. I remember her telling me about the war times when they had to write on the book margins for the lack of any paper. And she also taught me to read faster and lots of other curious things I struggle to recall now…

Rossosh checklist

  • bookstore & postcards – none
  • museum – nope
  • local food – homemade borscht, potatoes and apple juice! Plus a nice fruit braid and delicious grapes…
  • market – full of clothes and other junk because we were there on Monday when the food is not sold there
  • old town – it IS old anyway 🙂 There’s a 19th century church near the market and merchant houses here and there

I definitely miss traveling in Russia this autumn. Even though it takes ridiculously long train rides to get around, I enjoy this slow-tempo discovering of my country!

P.S. Just remembered two hilarious names we encountered in Rossosh – Aphrodite Lux for a beauty salon and Ritual Plus for funeral services. Everything better than the ordinary!

Adding this to my Travel and On Russia sections.

G.

no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Museum of Political History of Russia

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

It just dawned on me that I was born in the last year USSR celebrated a round anniversary of the October Revolution in its lifetime. Four more years – and the country with that name ceased to exist.  Now we discover it in the museums, striving to find the missing pieces of the puzzle. In the museums formerly known as Museum of Revolution, for example, located in a curious art nouveau mansion:

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

I finally visited one of the most information-rich museums of St Petersburg so far is the Museum of Political History of Russia on the Petrogradskaya side of Neva. This St Petersburg museum definitely requires a separate post – and at least 3-4 hours to visit. I liked that the museum does not come down to being just a large banal display of USSR-related bric-à-brac. There’s a lot to learn round all these objects (if only in Russian sometimes…) and somehow all this engages you emotionally too.

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

A copy of a 1929 poster by Boris Schwartz: “Vodka is a foe, savings bank – a friend!”. A Soviet poster is an art in itself. Especially those of the late 1980s – with blemished colours and same old images, stale propaganda slogans and irrelevantly outdated verses (people’s eyes would just glide over them without even noticing them). Take a look on some posters here (scroll down) – some of them are pretty absurd if you don’t know the habitual Soviet propaganda repeated throughout the years, but mostly they are just sadly good-for-nothing. Meanwhile there were those late 1980s – early 1990s posters created outside the established ideology, which pretty bold and poignant:

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

The CCCP evolution: Stalin, Kruschev and Brezhnev. Who’s next?

A propaganda picture in a propaganda picture: An ideal kindergarten of the 1930s with the famous picture showing Stalin holding a happy girl whose parents he would later persecute.

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

By the way, Lenin was frequently portrayed and referred to as Grandfather Lenin although he died at 54! Stalin never reached this ‘grandfather’ status, probably because right upon his death the anti-cult campaign started and so he was never mythologized as an ideal and originator, but rather as a powerful follower already during his lifetime.

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

Would you like your dessert served on this 1940 NKVD plate? NKVD was the predecessor of KGB, in case you were wondering. Or would you rather prefer this 1918 plate with a menacing revolutionary “Those not with us are against us” (ironically attributed to Jesus).

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

Talking about food, here’s a veeeery Spartan BREAKFAST menu at some high-rank health resort where many of the Brezhnev’s cohort were curing their sores, dated 22nd of February, 1979. Yes, everything was regulated and ordered from the above. The menu goes like this: “Granular caviar, stuffed pike perch, tenderloin with prunes, veggies. Russian schi (soup from greens) with vatrushka, baked crabs, fried turkey. Apples in wine, coffee.” I wonder, did they ever regain their health with such breakfasts? And what were the dinners and lunches then?

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

But nor everyone was frequenting high-rank spa resorts. There was the majority of those living in pretty modest apartments, often shared with others, called kommunalnaya kvartira aka kommunalka.

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

I think this reconstruction of a Soviet kitchen is rather fair and true-to-life – you can still find these two-coloured walls and the tiled floor in kommunalka and in the public places. This right corner can not be dated exactly cause people were using same things much longer than they do now – hence the ‘universality’ of such a reconstruction:

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

Always in the food line, here’s how to upgrade the box where you keep your sweets with these radically red tins celebrating the 10th anniversary of the October revolution!

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

If you like trinkets, here’s something to stand out from the crowd, a medallion and a ring with Lenin:

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

The room with the Brezhnev’s stagnant era had more objects that I personally could recognize and relate to. The habitual Chronicles of the Current Events reports and the lies upon lies which could fool no one, a stable but also a very stale period which led to a series of deaths – both of the succeeding party leaders and the regime itself.

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

The round object on the left shows a record diameter of… I forgot what 🙂

As the years went by, the official art lost a lot in its creativity. And it covered every aspect of the country’s life: people used to have the same books, same wardrobes, same clothes, same kitchenware, same cherished tea sets lovingly stuffed behind the glass doors of the same furniture sets, same everything… and in order to possess these commodities, people used to stand in lines and give bribe – on other words, GET as opposed to purchase. “Where did you get that?” was the first question one asked the happy owner of one of these commodities (or an even happier owner, if we are talking about something from abroad). More on this – in the Ironiya Sudby movie.

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

And this corner is a very witty idea:

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

It is the Soviet jokes corner – I got stuck there for some time 🙂 You just pick up the (old school heavy Soviet) receiver and listen to all those anecdotes which used to brighten up the Soviet life, were spread all over the country and repeated even within the nomenklatura (establishment), but which could easily cost someone their life. One of the jokes I enjoyed best goes like this: Why is the Soviet sun so joyful in the morning? Cause it knows that when the evening comes it will be in the West.

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

There were Western LPs illegally copied on the X-ray slides (‘music on bones’), there were entire books copied as photos, there were people making tape recorders from spare parts at military plants to record censored singers. And there were books, magazines and other stuff (re)typed or hand-written in the still of the night while working at some heating plant – those were called samizdat copies – literally published on one’s own.

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

And if you were working for the government instead of being a dissident, this is how the Soviet spies could hide their microscopic (for those times, 1950s-80s) cameras – with a fake button which you attach to your inconspicuous overcoat!

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

That was the last room I visited (while I was there the storm started), living the museum really tired but information-full. A few words about the two mansions it’s located in: the one in the first two pictures of this post is the 1909-10 Brant mansion, connected to the adjacent Kschessinskaya’s mansion, the prima ballerina. More photos of these two mansions here. Now that I’ve been inside I can tell you that Kschessinskaya’s house must have been super-lush. Not that I liked it that much, a bit too heavy to my mind, though the use of wood makes it less monumental and cold. In the next room there’s a beautiful wooden staircase which Lenin must have mounted o deliver his revolutionary speech, I guess.

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

A reconstructed room telling the story of Kschessinskaya’s life (with some of her costumes) and mansion. Never liked these plisse curtains, they were the must for all the Soviet establishments, e.g. palaces of culture:

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

Important info on the Museum of Political History of Russia: The museum is open daily from 10 am to 6 pm (Wednesday until 8 pm) except Thursdays. Closed every last Monday. Location: Kuybysheva Street 2/4 (Gorkovskaya metro station). Tickets cost 200 rubles. For those interested there are some Soviet-themed souvenirs. There are audioguides and excursions in English, German and French (+ in the rooms with no tags in English there are brochures with translations). There’s a branch on Gorokhovaya Street telling the history of the Political Police in Russia but I’ve not been there. Plan for quite a lengthy visit – the museum covers the country’s history from Catherine II (18th century) up to today!

By the way, should you have a spare crimson jacket from the 1990s, the museum will be happy to accept it as a gift! 🙂

Adding this to my St Petersburg series and the posts on Russia. More St Petersburg museums here and here.

G.

no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Unknown St Petersburg: 1920s Workers’ Township

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

About a month ago there was an excursion round one of the workers’ districts of St Petersburg near Yelizarovskaya metro station. This is one of the places in the city where you feel quite estranged, particularly if you get there after spending some time in the center.  The unknown St Petersburg slowly enrolls in front of you, revealing its unpolished side. I’m taking you on a walking tour in the 1920s workers’ township.

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

Yelizarovskaya metro is to the East of all major sights, close to the banks of Neva where the road led to Shlisselburg and Arkhangelsk. Once there used to be several villages, the names of which gave way to various Soviet names and thus very little remains of them. Here it was easier and quicker for big ships to moor. They would bring raw materials and stuff to the factories that were constructed here in the 19th century: metal and steel works, shipbuilding, porcelain factory, etc.

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the workers’ movement grew and became quite a menace to the state. You can imagine that this district – along with the one located on the opposite side of the city – received a lot of ‘attention’ from the Soviet propaganda – in terms of commemorating this or that pre-October revolution event with a plate or a curious statue, And this district also got itself one of the earliest statues of Lenin – and one of the most true-to-life representations.

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

But we are talking here about the people who for the first time in their life got a decent home. Before they were housed in insalubrious dwellings provided by the factory (which also cost them almost all their wages), mostly in wooden barracks with rooms crowded up to the ceiling. There workers would come from work – and sleep on one bench – in shifts… So imagine what a magical sight these semi-detached housed would appear to the workers’ families in the 1920s! Not all of the workers’ villages constructed in those early Soviet times are in perfect shape now, but this particular township is very well looked-after (at least from the outside).

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

You see, the modernist architecture, just some 20-25 years younger than that of the avant-garde period when these houses appeared, looks much better now. Well, they did have money back then at the beginning of the 20th century, whereas the architects of the young Soviet Russia were obliged to use cheap silicate bricks and sometimes even to re-use old bricks from other buildings!

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

This is the Palevsky zhilmassiv or Palevsky residential area, called so after a German merchant who used to own these places. There was a village called Smolenskoye here (since then the church disappeared but the Soviet roof-covered market replaced the village’s market place). The houses were built in 1925-28 by Rybin and Zazersky. This was not the first zhilmassiv of Leningrad, but one of the first. The city needed more housing – badly, immediately. Individually built houses just wouldn’t suffice anymore. And this is how Leningrad got its first tipovoy zhilmassiv (built after a typical project) which, contrary to the completely faceless high rises of the 1970s and beyond – had at least some… soul.

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

Palevsky zhilmassiv is one of the few garden-cities of Russia with every apartment having a separate entrance and a doormat 🙂 It’s a really atypical sight in the city which the Soviet era has left with so many typical buildings, particularly on the outskirts! In Russia you either live in a village in your own – often wooden – house or you live in a flat. And here my mind just started boggling: am I in the UK by chance? Each family having their own door and a mail box? Wow!

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

It felt really weird inside these green yards. People habitually walk though them on their way from the metro station to the avenue while I kept thinking how very… out-of-St Petersburg-like it all look. Folk selling old books and stuff right along the paths leading to /from the metro, linen hanging on the string, flowers in pots outside. Not your typical St Petersburg for sure! They say there used to be fountains and statues of pionery. They say that each ‘block’ of houses has its own plan and appearance. But they also say that there was no bathrooms at first (sad irony – there wasn’t a single factory back then to make baths!) and that most of the inner walls and floors are wooden.

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

Oh those low-rise houses which occupied a lot of space and gave too much, superfluously much, living space to the workers in the city where on average you would get just 6 m2 per capita! Well, you got the idea, they were destined to leave the stage. This zhilmassiv idea would later turn first into 5-storey khruschevka in the 1950s and then into high-rises all identical to each other, as seen in the hit Ironiya Sudby movie. But wait, first there was also a factory school built in 1932-33 which looks like an airplane when seen from above! You don’t get it when you stand close to it but, well, you just have to believe it 🙂 And also in the same district there are these weird pseudo-Roman pseudo-what? houses which were built here after the War in 1945-49 by Levinson:

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

No comment.

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

When I got to these houses I was really dizzy with all the architectural items of that day to make any comments.)

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

Cause there was also this:

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

and right underneath it this:

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

and also this apparently still operating cafe-bar:

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

… the sign says it belongs to a Spec. Olymp. Comm-tee 🙂

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

 This is a 1926-28 reel factory – built in a shape of a reel of course. There was also a house built for machinery engineers with balconies decorated in a sort of… tractor wheels. And an ex-culture center turned into a permanent book and pirate CDs and stuff fair. When I first got there years ago I was wondering why the hell the stands are all in tiers with chandeliers hanging at equal intervals and the floor is slanting…

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

Well, the answer is quite simple – you’re actually treading the amphitheater and the stage! Built in 1926-27 this constrictivist ‘house of culture for textile workers” got revamped in 1956 to conform with the new official style, the Stalin’s neo-classicism. Now it’s still called House of culture (named after Lenin’s wife Krupskaya), aka Krupa but not every one would even think to turn their eyes from the school text books and look above…

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

Or to the staircase railing which ends up in hammer and sickle. The Soviet realm has left its traces everywhere…

Will definitely take you to other unknown places in St Petersburg!

G.

no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Moskovsky District: Little Moscow in St Petersburg

Moskovsky District, St Petersburg

Continuing my investigations into the Moskovsky District of St Petersurg, I travelled farther this time, stopping at the brightest specimens of the official Soviet architectural style during the ‘reign’ of Stalin – neo-classicism (aka Stalin’s classicism). I don’t really like it the way I love modern or am attracted to constructivism but without it Moskovsky district of St Petersburg would just not be what it is.

Moskovsky District, St Petersburg

Let’s begin our walk (or bicycle trip) from the building and the square intended to become the city’s new focal point back in Stalin’s times. Dom Sovetov, or the House of Soviets, built in 1936-1941 on Moskovsky Avenue, just before the war broke out, was initially projected in a very imperialistic style (see here and here). Interestingly enough, if you google “Dom Sovetov“, the first in line would be the monster building in Kaliningrad 🙂

Moskovsky District, St Petersburg

This huge House of Soviets in St Petersburg is also quite monstrous-looking especially now with its darkened facades and apparently degrading decorations. It’s now used as an office building. Never been inside but can imagine the grandeur of the interiors.

Moskovsky District, St Petersburg

It’s hard to imagine now, but back at the time when Dom Sovetov was being built, the surroundings were just void fields, its being located far to the south of the city center, along the historic road leading to Moscow and Tsarskoye Selo.

Moskovsky District, St Petersburg

Now this industrial district is one of the most prestigious in St Petersburg, with construction sites springing all over the place – and there’s even the highest building in the city, the one on the left among the towers in between the Stalinist houses:

Moskovsky District, St Petersburg

Lenin’s statue is right there in the center of the square which was supposed to become the new center of the city. Lenin, as it’s always is with the statues of our ex-leaders, is eagerly pointing somewhere over there, possibly in the direction of the highest tower in St Pete, who knows. Well, a city (re)named Leningrad (city of Lenin) just has to have Lenins all over the place. In various shapes and sizes, usually as an approximately 3-meter statue or a head (bust) with the umptieth time reproduced features, to accommodate a less spacious places.

Moskovsky District, St Petersburg

There are usually several legends as to where each and every Lenin in the USSR is pointing, like to the nearest ryumochnaya or booze place (from ryumka – shot glass), cemetery (Vse tam budem, or We’ll all eventually end up there) or the river… They also claim that from a certain angle this particular Lenin’s hat that he’s holding (not very easily identifiable in the first place) transforms into, well, not exactly what it is supposed to represent 🙂 And they also call this statue ‘dancing Lenin’, just look at his left leg!

Moskovsky District, St Petersburg

Enough for Lenin, let’s take a breath of beauty and nature just behind the House of Soviets and the Moskovskaya Square. This is Chesmenskaya Church (or Chesme Church) built in the 18th century. And that’s the hidden gem of the entire district to my mind! Although not at all free from a bloody relation to Stalin – it used to be right in the middle of a labour concentration camp… And now back to our Moscow-style architecture that is so very prolific in the district:

Moskovsky District, St Petersburg
Built in 1954-57 as a obschezhitiye – a hall of residence

Imagine getting a flat in such a decorated house in the time when the city was recovering from the tragedy of the war, the destruction of the Siege of Leningrad. That was the time when decoration and hyper-decoration was not just à la mode, it was dictated by the state. So even a very dull-looking block of flats was duly transformed into a palace with all the pseudo-classic columns, arches and styled Soviet symbols. And how would you imagine a place a Soviet mother would leave her kid in while at work?

Moskovsky District, St Petersburg

This is not a typical kindergarten though, it’s oval in shape (built around 1954 after an individual project, that is, not a typical project used all over the USSR) and has this relief depicting happy and (super)plump Soviet childhood:

Moskovsky District, St Petersburg

Moving even further into the Moskovsky District up along the Moskovsky Avenue near the Park Pobedy (Victory Park), one comes face to face with this monster of a house unofficially dubbed Washington (or rather Vashington, according to the Russian pronunciation). I wonder what can be more official than a name given by the people themselves? By the way, they say that the House of Soviets was aka White House, so here we are in a Little America 🙂

Moskovsky District, St Petersburg

Trying to get this building fit in one shot is impossible. See the massive red door in a brown portal? A very typical detail for a very imposing Stalinist architecture, especially in a governmental or around-communist-party construction. Built in 1957 this grand thing was the first 12-floor building in Leningrad. It goes without saying that ‘Vashington‘ was not supposed to house an ordinary Soviet worker.

Moskovsky District, St Petersburg

Yet another not-your-proletariat-building close to Park Pobedy. It’s on Moskovsky Avenue, the wanna-be main artery of the city. It is a very important street of St Petersburg – but definitely not just because Stalin wanted it so. This 1940-53 building is however one of the most distinctive features of Moskovsky Avenue, its tower being a landmark of the entire district. People still call it Dom so shpilem (House with a spire) and they say Russian rock legend Viktor Tsoy lived here when he was a boy.

Moskovsky District, St Petersburg

Superhuman arches and Pompeii-like decorations:

Moskovsky District, St Petersburg

This is also the home for one of the most cherished and true-to-the-origins Pirozhkovaya – a cafe with Russian pirozhki (small pies with various fillings) invariably serving everyone from a biker to a busy office employee since 1956. It’s thus one of the oldest inexpensive authentic eating places still functioning in the city. No, I didn’t go inside (to add my bike to the motorbike’s company) but they say that the cafe is the paradise for those prone to the Soviet food nostalgia.

Moskovsky District, St Petersburg

That day I also spent some time in the Park Pobedy itself but now that I know the history of the place (it being the city’s incinerator during the Siege of Leningrad), I somehow felt very hushed and little among the statues of athletic Soviet youth and alleys of war heroes. The landscape is nonetheless beautiful and the park is frequented by moms with prams. They say Moskovsky District is one of the greenest in St Petersburg.

Moskovsky District, St Petersburg

What is sure though is that the district built to become the new center of the second city in USSR, has been gradually and inevitably turned into… a place where people live.

Moskovsky District, St Petersburg

The grand plans of the Soviet leaders might as well never become reality, but they have surely given a certain grand feeling to the life of this district. And not only the architectural freaks notice it 🙂

I finally did get to another house where Viktor Tsoy lived (not far from the one with the tower), a 1970s wardrobe / bath ‘on legs’ built after a Swedish project – but to tell you the truth, it didn’t in any way impress me much. There are much more interesting places around yet to discover, that I will one day share with you.

Adding this to my St Petersburg series.

G.

no recipe · on USSR / Russia

Best Soviet Winter Movies. About Food Too!

In this already traditional New Year-related post I would like to share with you the movies and music that from my point of you are perfect for winter and not only the New Year’s Eve. Without appearing completely trivial, I would start with the most obvious choice.

Ironiya Sudby
Indispensable holiday attributes: guitar, champaign, gifts and new dress

I don’t know why but there are some inevitable things that come to my mind when the New Year’s Eve is drawing closer. I do not consider myself someone who enjoys the ‘modern’ concept of celebrating the coming of the new year, yet I do belong to the same Soviet culture most of the people in Russia seem to perpetuate. So it’s only natural that I have this nagging feeling to watch the Irony of Fate once more. Who could imagine at the time when this film was created (it was released on the first day of 1976) that this melodrama entirely built on the Soviet way of life, drinking and Soviet stupidities would equal to an ultimate icon of a holiday in the minds of several generations? But there’s not only this in the movie, there’s more to it… Is it that we all would probably love – juuuust a tiny bit! – to get into a similar absurd situation that would bring us the love of our life!

Ironiya Sudby
More holiday attributes: tangerines, more champaign and salads!

Sure enough, not every Russian has seen this movie and not every one loves it (too long, too melodramatic, too boring, too sentimental, etc etc). There are other things that represent the New Year’s Eve for them now. But I would really insist on the fact that for quite a lot of Russians the Irony of Fate is something so dear and so important, they would find their holiday incomplete without having at least a glimpse of this 3-hour movie on the TV.

Ironiya Sudby
The title shown against the faceless high rises and snow

And there’s food in there of course, the traditional dishes one would find on a Soviet table during most of the festivities. And there are even food-related quotes that have become bywords since then, like the phrase ‘Your fish in jelly is such shit!‘. This fish under jelly is one of the typical Soviet (and typically Soviet) dishes, which the proud housewife would place in the middle of the table. But you see, even though the Soviet women tried hard to make something out of sheer nothing, that was not always very tasty to eat.

There’s also this wonderful music, the piercing sounds of piano and vibraphone performed by Mikael Tariverdiev in this movie. And most of the people recognize the songs from this film too. Each time I hear some jazz music with jingling vibraphone, I immediately think about New Year and THE movie =) Mom says each time there was an intermission on the Soviet media, they would put this music on. My winter music? ABBA. Or Enigma. ABBA because it was tolerated and almost accepted during the Soviet times. It is also what you would certainly find on one TV channel or another on the new year’s eve here in Russia – not only that very Happy New Year song but all ABBA’s video clips sometimes. Enigma has no connection to the Soviet New Year of course, it’s just that I somehow connect it with winter and snow.

Devchata
The dream of all Soviet people!

But actually I wanted to talk to you about another movie which is super-winter and food-related, Devchata (1961). And here the title in the super-rich Russian language just cannot be rendered into the laconic English language. Devchata is “girls” but with this soft and tender connotation, quite a rare word these days. The girls are in the center of the story, especially a bunch of very different girls with very different destinies. Watch this funny scene with Tosya, the main character, eating all the stock of the other girls sharing the room with her – she was not stealing, she was just completely and sincerely sure that everyone shares everything (like they did at the orphanage).

Devchata
This is what I call SNOWY winter!

It was a snowy evening, I was passing a wagon used by the road workers where there was that pail filled with warmed tar or what do you fall that. How can a smell and light remind you of a black & white movie? Well… There’s lots of snow in the movie that makes you want to get inside this Siberian forest with tall fir trees… I’m sure that the fact that the movie is black & white creates this special atmosphere and is even better for the snow part of it – the white seems whiter against black and grey!

Devchata
Russian glamour : )

It is food related (the girl could name all the dishes with potatoes!), it has a very romantic love story (Gosh it does!), it is hilarious and witty, it’s soundtrack and songs are simply genial, it is about old times and black & white, and, although quite idealistically, it reflects that period in the Soviet history when young enthusiastic people left there cities and their homes to build new cities and work in very difficult conditions in their desire to create a new world.

Devchata
Happy Soviet working youth!

I know that these shots will tell almost nothing to you unless you watch the movie, but for me and a lot of Russians these are true jewels ; )

Devchata
Explaining a new logging technique with beer bottles in a boys’ dormitory.

Indeed, what else can a movie be if such sincere emotions are expressed by the actors and communicated to you that you can’t help smiling, laughing and repeating the familiar phrases after them.

Devchata
The ‘first guy in the village’ invites the lady for a dance.

 Like ‘I don’t dance with these [who attract girls by beckoning them with a finger]!’

Devchata
In the end the short girl dances with the tall one.

A bit about the film: A girl who has just graduated from a culinary college arrives at a village in the Urals, takes over a hard task to feed the hungry timber-industry workers and falls in love with a popular macho who actually bets with his friend she would fall in love with him in a week (the winner would get his new hat). Guess what happens!

Devchata

  Love through food…

Devchata

…gets to a happy end!

Devchata

I guess that for girls who are not that very tall this movie was and is super-inspiring =) And the story itself (it’s a novel actually) is really good though undeservedly forgotten (the librarian had to order the ONLY book from the store-room for me…). The book expands on the characters and their inner life which is missing from the movie and moreover it has such a sparkling humour (iskrometny, love the word, it literally means ‘throwing sparkles’) that it overrides this propaganda thing about the workers and building the communism together. A good read!

I’ve just seen another winter movie (though only episodically food-related) – Vesna na Zarechnoy Ulitse (Spring on Zarechnaya Street, 1956), where the same irresistibly charming actor Nikolay Rybnikov plays an illiterate steelmaker who falls desperately in love with a young hard-hearted teacher, commissioned to a workers’ village evening school (she loves Rakhmaninov!). I watched it in black & white though they’ve recently coloured it.

Vesna na Zarechnoy Ulitse
The same actor 5 years earlier…

This movie has more minutes spent on propaganda with the factories and the country’s new power, the laborious workers’ class which is driving the country towards prosperity. And they keep singing the song with the same name that became very popular after the movie.

Vesna na Zarechnoy Ulitse
Oh this cold-cold teacher!

However… it is with a teacher (apparently from a big city and not knowing anything about their world) that this steelmaker falls in love, leaving his unsophisticated girlfriend in tears! It’s weird and at the same time quite informative to watch movies about your grandparents’ youth! Especially when that time of the inspiring Khruchev’s Thaw seems so very far from today.

Vesna na Zarechnoy Ulitse
Notice the ever-present bottles of Soviet Champagne – this sweet fizzy drink would shock French people!

Sure enough there are lots of other winter movies, some of them being shown every single New Year. But I’ve been watching other movies recently and also a couple of documentaries on the early-mid 2oth century. And as if in connecting with these, seeing the decaying remains of the old Russia in Arkhangelsk has led me to some amount of thinking. There’s such a tremendous gap between us, the heirs of the Soviet empire and the Russian empire. On these photographs – how about first COLOUR photos of the Russian empire in 1900s?! – everything seems so robust and so ever-lasting (especially when you see COLOUR, not just sepia or black & white pictures which create a distance between you and the object), yet it all disappeared in such a dramatic way that we have almost NO connection at all to it.

Imagine that throughout the USSR times we never learnt about the First World war in a proper way: it was always and only ‘Ze Grejt Oktobjer Rjevoljushion‘ as one of my teachers of English would say (thanks to my Mom she did not last more than two weeks as my teacher!). As if that was a completely different country, different nation and different world even, that Russian empire. There are some vestiges left from it in our days, that’s true, but we do look at them as at something alien. It seems to me that that world became suddenly interesting and searched-for only after 100 years have passed.

But you cannot bring it all back, particularly the people. That is why it seems as if we are a completely different nation now: so many of those people died during the First World war, then the Civil war, some of them emigrated, the remainder died in Stalin’s camps or did not survive the Second World War. Some of them survived all through the years but they were so few. Why is it so that our history is divided in such distinct periods? First figure who has made this ‘cut’ was Peter the Great of course, with his European ideas he forcedly reformatted Russia into something it had never been. A completely different country! That’s why I sometimes crave for some truly Russian places in St Petersburg, it seems so artificial and not Russian when you think about it. The second ‘cut’ that comes to my mind is that ‘Grejt Oktobjer Rjevoljushion‘ of course. But the country that it created did not survive even a century.

And now what? It looks like a permanent waiting for something, as if we are still in between something, however ‘grejt’ our country might try to appear right now. However distant the Soviet era might seem to us at the moment, we are so deeply stuck in it still, it will take another century to look back on it and say ‘gosh, it all looks so weird and distant!’.

Prokudin-Gorsky
Source: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/prok/

By the way, if you know Russian and are interested in that pioneer photographer Prokudin-Gorsky who toured round Russian empire to depict its life in the early 1900s, watch this and this. If you look at his photos of the objects – they are so unrealistically realistic, it seems you can touch them!

And you know what? Talking about the movies… 2015 is the year Marty McFly and Doc Brown visit in the future (one of the pivotal points of the story) – with all the flying cars, ovens boosting dehydrated pizza 4 times and dogs walking on leash all alone. People are already discussing these ‘predictions’ on the Internet. Well, we’ll see : )

Other New Year in USSR and Russia related posts on my blog:

G.

Movie screenshots taken from all over Internet, including such websites as kinopoisk.ru, kino-teatr.ru and Wikipedia.