From Russia with Love – Part 4

World War II…
I am German, I live in Japan. Two nations which have (luckily) lost in the Second World War. The consequence of that though is that any kind of Victory Day celebrations have never been on my radar screen. There was a vague memory of the European part of the war ending some time in May buried in my mind, but since I’m in Japan for so long, the real end of the Second World War has become August for me when Japan capitulated after two atomic bombs. So when I planned this trip to Russia any V-day considerations were none existent. I grouped the trip around Japan’s Golden Week holidays and that Amorphis gig I wanted to catch. Also the first two days in St. Petersburg did not reveal any V-day indications. It was only when I stepped out of the Hermitage after an entire day there and tanks had appeared on the square before the Hermitage that V-day rolled massively into my line of thought.
Next posters sprang up everywhere and the mysterious orange and black striped ribbon, which is coming from the ribbon of St. George, as you can read here.
The state TV had then aplenty of Second World War themed stuff going on, and the news were full of it, too. V-day hampered my attempts to see the Red Square in Moscow. Military presence everywhere. Wow.
A smart man whom I had for a teacher in some process consultancy related seminars, told me the following (I don’t know his source for the information and of course it is a model that simplifies reality). Western European cultures and interestingly also the Chinese and Japanese cultures have the tendency to consider the past as not so super important, the present is soso important, but we are future oriented and the future is very important to us. In the Thai and Indian cultures the tendency is small past, small future, but big present. And in Russia it’s a big past, a soso present and a small future.
And yes, from my two weeks in Russia I can fully confirm that the past is an extremely important thing in Russia. Of course there are patriotic tendencies and politics to consider as well, but it does not all seem state induced, there seems to be a genuine interest in the topic.
There were tons of movies, new and old, on Russian TV where someone wore a Second World War or later a soviet uniform.
Nobody forces you to wear the orange black ribbon but many people do, well I’m not so sure about peer pressure here, of course. I seem to pass off as Russian when walking the street and a young man offered me a ribbon, which I kindly declined in English.
It was amazing to see the enormous presence of military in general and the Second World War in Russian life. Of course my impression is a bit deformed, since I arrived just in time for all the V-day stuff, but there are in general many more uniformed people in the cities than in any other country I’ve been to so far.
Here three pics from my “scared selfie” series that I took half for fun mostly in St. Petersburg where I “got close” to a lot of military equipment.
In Moscow then, I had the ambition to see some of the actual parade, but the thankfully English speaking hotel staff said spontaneously upon my question, where is the best spot to see the parade: The TV.
She was right. On V-day, 9th of May, I switched on the TV in the morning and even from TV footage it was clear that no humble mortal would be getting anywhere near the parade. Only the dignitaries sat on the few seats of the makeshift stalls at the Red Square.
I watched most of it on TV until I got bored and left to do some sightseeing. In the afternoon, after the parade was over, a second part of the festivities took place, common folk walked the streets in a procession down the main road to the Red Square and then dissipated. (the best thing in this pic is the pigeon ;-))
Most of the people carried pictures of their ancestors who either fought in or lost their lives in the Second World War. I tried to join the procession but found myself thoroughly fenced off and I did not have the required papers (or bribes?) to be let through at some access points where people negotiated with guards for entrance. I am not sure if all of this was organized, I doubt it. It looked like most people participated in this procession because they wanted to. Stuff concluded with fireworks at the Kremlin. They happened at 22:00 and were short. I saw them on TV as well, since it was too bloody cold for my taste to venture out. Anyway, a day later the show was over, the Red Square was finally accessible and things returned to normal. It was interesting to see all this hustle about a day whose celebration I wasn’t even aware of.

From Russia with Love – Part 3

Part 3: History before World War II
There is aplenty.
Russia has a long and rich history and a lot of stuff is preserved in excellent condition. I have never seen such a flawless object as the church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg. It is perfect. As simple as that. St. Basil’s cathedral in Moscow is great too, but there you see repairs that have been done over time, whilst there is no sign of any such repair on the Savior church. The Hermitage in St. Petersburg is bursting with beautiful old stuff, the State History Museum, the Armory of the Kremlin, the Pushkin museum in Moscow as well. The Kremlin and the Red Square are one amazing complex. The only thing comparable in size and grandeur I have seen so far is the Forbidden City of Beijing. Seeing all that glory leaves also a kind of a bad taste though, if the divide between rich and poor is so big today, then just how big has it been a few hundred years ago when the Tsars built their monsters of grandeur on the sweat, blood and tears of the common folk. That’s true everywhere of course, but it expressed itself very intensely to me in Russia. Kind of, no wonder the people revolted and killed of their nobility.
I was quite delighted that you can actually get into the Kremlin. After all it’s also a working institution in contrast to for example the Forbidden City. Of course there is security at every corner, but the armory is right next to the Kremlin grand palace where Mr. Putin might just be present. Many people prefer St. Petersburg over Moscow I heard, but I cannot say so. For me both cities were quite equal concerning the “wow” effect. Though admittedly, if there wasn’t the Kremlin and the Red Square, Moscow would loose to St. Petersburg.
Here my personal ankings of the major sites I saw in both cities.

St. Petersburg:
The Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood
The Hermitage
St. Isaacs
Peter and Paul Fortress complex
Menshikov palace
Kazan cathedral

Red Square
The Kremlin (cathedral square)
St. Basil’s cathedral
The Kremlin armory
State history museum
Cathedral of Christ the Savior
GUM department store
IMG_1145 2IMG_1243
The Pushkin Museum of fine art