Tag Archives: museum

Proletarian lace

Victory to the USSR

Lace: Victory to the USSR

Vologda is known for a few things, namely monasteries, dairy products, and lace.

Come October 1918, being an agricultural center famed for making such a bourgeois thing as lace wasn’t a mark in favor of Vologda in the minds of the Bolsheviks. Neither, of course, was Vologda’s pro-White (that’s Anti-Bolshevik) political orientation during the Russian Civil War.

Indeed, Vologda suffered heavily during Lenin’s Red Terror, and later during the collectivization imposed by Stalin (Not so much for making lace, but more because the area was largely populated by farmers).

In any event, the lace-makers of Vologda faced a challenge: how to reconcile their decidedly upper-class product with the Soviet Union’s proletarian ideals.

The solution: Lace glorifying industry, agriculture, and the Soviet Union, as we saw at the Vologda Lace Museum. Click here to see a few pieces of Soviet lace.

Kirov’s Apartment and the perils of Communism

Sergei Kirov's desk.

Sergei Kirov's desk.

Sergei Kirov’s apartment now stands as a memorial to the slain Leningrad Party Boss and as a reminder of the worst features of Stalinism.

At first though, the apartment, reconstructed to early 1930s form from photographs, seems to commemorate the early achievements of the Soviet system.

Click here for more photos from Kirov’s apartment.

Kirov’s desk is filled with reports on industrial output from factories in the Leningrad region, highlighting the impressive industrialization achieved under the first Five Year Plan and part of the second. Trinkets from these plants show off their successes—Kirov’s apartment contains the first typewriter made in the Soviet Union and models of many other industrial products, ranging from a steel bar to a tank. Photos show the construction of river dams and massive factories, and note Kirov’s inspection visits to some of these behemoths.

The explanatory text boasts of Kirov’s popularity among Leningrad workers and his closeness to other Soviet leaders. Stalin, it says, ate in Kirov’s dining room.

But Kirov’s dinner guest ultimately became his killer. And that same killer—after orchestrating Kirov’s assassination—embarked on a rampage of repression that resulted in the imprisonment and execution of millions.

The 1934 assassination of Kirov, likely on Josef Stalin’s orders, is generally considered to have signaled the beginning of these purges. During the purge period, several million people were killed (estimates vary widely, but many sources cite NKVD records stating that about 700,000 were executed in 1937-38 alone, at the height of the purges) and millions more were sent to labor camps, called gulags, where some died from starvation, disease, or cold.

I’ve written before about the conflict over Stalin’s legacy, which owes to the fact that the same Soviet leader who executed so many of his own also led his country to victory in the Second World War. But Kirov’s apartment is ultimately a memorial—not a monument—for a system that executed its most promising leaders and struck fear into the hearts of its citizens.

Photos from The Hermitage

 

The Winter Palace, also called The Hermitage, houses a huge number of pieces of Western art. In front of the palace is Palace Square, site of the 1905 Bloody Sunday Massacre.

The Winter Palace, also called The Hermitage, houses a huge number of pieces of Western art. In front of the palace is Palace Square, site of the 1905 Bloody Sunday Massacre.

The Winter Palace, or Hermitage, now houses a massive collection of European art. Prior to 1917, it was the official residence of the Russian Tsar. It was also the site of the provisional government following the Tsar’s overthrow, and was stormed and ransacked during the Bolshevik Revolution.

Click here to see a few photographs from inside The Winter Palace.

Daniil Kharms and Stalin-era repression

A small memorial plaque for Russian writer Daniil Kharms.

A small memorial plaque for Russian writer Daniil Kharms.

The X in the Russian name of absurdist writer Dаниил Хармс is a bit more ambiguous than the transliterated Kh suggests. Kharms studied English and German at his prestigious high school, and it is believed that he adopted his pen-name not only for its similarity to “harms” and “charms,” but also because it sounded like the name of a certain famous English detective.

Indeed, Kharms always dressed like Sherlock Holmes—pipe, top hat, and silly pants—at a time in Soviet history when standing out was a risky move. Kharms also stood out for his writings, ranging from absurdist dramas and poems to children’s stories that strayed from approved socialist values and storylines.

For his unwillingness to conform, Kharms was first arrested in 1931 and briefly exiled. But Kharms continued his absurdist writing, falling afoul of those in the Stalinist system charged with maintaining uniformity and order.

The strange writer, living in poverty, was arrested again in 1941 (shortly after the German invasion of the USSR) on charges of being a German spy, and imprisoned in Leningrad.

What is known with certainty is that Kharms died soon after, in 1942. What is unknown is how. Some say he was executed. Other that he starved during the siege of Leningrad, or died when prisoners were packed into train cars without food or water and sent west ahead of the invading Nazis. Still others say he was tortured until he died.

We’re reading a few of Kharms’ stories in our literature class. The stories are unthreatening—Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein have written works far stranger. But neither of them lived in a society where being different could be a death sentence.

Since reading Kharms’ work and seeing the memorial plaque, I’ve visisted two sites that deal explicitly with Soviet history: Sergei Kirov’s apartment and the Museum of the Political History of Russia. And although the museums were interesting, I’m left feeling that in some way, Daniil Kharms’ memorial plaque is just as revealing as glass display cases filled with historical documents and faded images.

The Museum of Erotica

Forget about the title. For titillation, turn elsewhere. This post is actually about medical privacy.

Dr. Igor Knayzkin, the chief prostate researcher of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, runs a venereal disease, prostate, and general sexual health center in a light pink building on the edge of the Tauride Palace gardens.

Dr. Knayzkin’s clinic, however, also houses a small collection of erotica in glass cases in its white, medical hallways.

Enter the center, proceed past the first images of naked women, pay the receptionist—the same one that checks in patients—100 rubles ($3), and you’ll be given blue plastic covers to put over your shoes.

Slip the covers over your shoes, proceed past the patients in the waiting room, and enter the medical center hallways to examine the cases of sexual sculptures, phallic figurines, coffee mugs with balls, and the requisite Greek and African erotic art.

Make sure to stay out of the way of the white-coated attendants exiting exam rooms in the same hallway and the patients fresh from their various intimate appointments.

Russians, apparently, aren’t quite as fanatical about their medical privacy—HIPAA remains an American innovation.

But even if you are a bit embarrassed by camera touting tourists traipsing by as your testicles are examined, perhaps there’s good reason to go to Dr. Knayzin’s clinic. And that reason has nothing to do with the prominent doctor’s medical skill, or all the ads he has bought in the St. Petersburg metro.

You see, the medical center houses the embalmed 30 centimeter penis that allegedly once belonged to Grigori Rasputin, an incredibly odd character and close adviser to the last Tsar, Nicholas II.

Simply viewing the member is said to cure impotence (Warning: Link contains an image of said device). In any event, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than any scientifically proven remedy.

Pravda, the newspaper of Russia’s Communist Party, covered the museum’s 2004 opening and scored an apparently-exclusive interview with a Rasputin descendant:

Rasputin’s great grandchild John Nekmerson is currently living in the US. He is a grandchild of Matrena Rasputina, Rasputin’s favorite daughter. After her father was murdered, she fled to Europe and afterwards migrated to America, where she began working as a tiger-tamer. She died in 1977. Recently, John Nekmerson has visited St. Petersburg in order to see his ancestor’s private part with his own eyes. The great grandson exclaimed, “This is really it, I’ve got the same one!”

Slideshow: Artillery Museum

Missiles

Missiles

Click here to see photographs from the Artillery Museum in St. Petersburg.

Museum Night, Missiles, and Tanks

People eat next to a Soviet T-80 tank.

People eat next to a Soviet T-80 tank.

Tanks! Missiles! Cannons! Rockets and rocket launchers!

The Artillery Museum in St. Petersburg is billed as a great place to go to climb on and marvel at military equipment, and in this role, it definitely doesn’t disappoint. The place is full of fighting machines, from historical cannons to the RT-2PM Topol, a massive mobile intercontinental ballistic missile launcher, complete with (mock?) missile.

Kids, and more than a few adults, were climbing on the artillery pieces near the entrance and posing for pictures. Bunches of people walked around, checking out anti-aircraft guns, spinning Topol’s wheels, or watching a free concert set up in the middle of the outdoor museum for Museum Night.

I thought these anti-aircraft missile launchers only existed in video games.

I thought these anti-aircraft missile launchers only existed in video games.

Even cooler than the tanks, though, were the running battles in the museum’s backyard. As part of the Museum Night festivities, reenactments of Russian military history up to World War II were staged in a large treed yard, dug through with trenches and strung with barbed wire.

Sadly, we were only able to watch the World War One reenactment, but it was plenty awesome. Spectators cheered as Russian soldiers charged out of the trenches, guns spitting fire, cutting down German soldiers.

After the Russians won the battle, kids quickly ran out onto the field, looking for spent casings and mingling with the soldiers. Everbody else soon joined, check out the trenches and hopping the barbed wire. With lawsuits and such, I’m adding this to my list of things that work a bit differently in America.

We walked around after that, mingling with fake Nazi soldiers, knights with swords and shield, and even mock American soldiers from World War II, speaking Russian and some hilariously broken English.

As I wrote about yesterday, we were planning on going to a bunch of museums as part of the Museum Night event. But, as you can probably tell, we spent a whole lot of time at the Artillery Museum.

This was not entirely by choice. We had planned to start the night at Dostoevsky’s house, a museum/tribute to the famous Russian writer. But although Dostoevsky’s house was participating in Museum Night, tickets to the event were not being sold there, a fact that wasn’t in any of the Museum Night stuff we had researched online.

So we went to a Russian pizza place, and then took the metro over to Petrogradsky Island, site of the Peter and Paul Fortress, Artillery Museum, and a bunch of other museums we had planned to visit.

But the metro stop right by all the museums, the one we had planned to get off at was ремонт, or under repair—which we discovered only as our train sped through the darkened station (My roommate Tom wrote about the significance of ремонт in Russia on his blog.). We got off at the next station, still on Petrogradsky Island, but a mile walk to the museums.

Luckily, getting off at that station earned me my first picture with Lenin, which pretty much made the walk worthwhile.

 

Me and Lenin. In Russia, people don't smile for pictures.

Me and Lenin. In Russia, people don't smile for pictures.