A Swiss in Petersburg – visiting some more museums

Yes, sooo many museums

So many museums in Petersburg, and so far I have only talked about three of them: The two “musts” which are the Ermitage and the Russian museum and then the enticing zoology museum – an eldorado for biology teachers and families on Vasiliyevsky Island. I visited three more museums that are not the main target of tourists: The Vodka Museum, the Museum of Communication and the Museum of Political History.

The Vodka Museum (Музей русской водки)

The Vodka Museum is a very Russian institution and it is only a ten minutes’ walk away from Raskolnikow’s house. It is close to the Admiralty. The Lonely Planet promises to me that “this private museum tells the story of Russia’s national tipple in an interesting and fun way from the first production of “bread wine” to the phenomen of the modern international wodka industry…”

Whether I want a vodka tasting, I am asked at the entrance, this would cost another 300 Rubles. I am not so sure, what a “vodka tasting” is… it must be somewhat different from a wine tasting, and I decide not to buy the tasting.

I follow the vitrines from how bread wine is brewed at home, then learn that the vodka we now know of has been invented in the middle of the 19th century (not such an old tradition) where they normed the alcohol content. Vodka became cult with small Vodka glasses (стопки) and pretty bottles.

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The museum also documents, how government and social organizations tried to fight the alcohol problems and how vodka was present in the Sowjet times.

There is a vitrine where visitors can buy a t-shirt (футболка) with the Russian proverb “водка без пиво – бросишь денги на ветер” or “vodka without beer- you throw money into the wind” (Larissa, I hope I got this proverb right this time. When I heard it the first time, I got it all wrong, something like “beer without vodka, you through money out of the window”, and this must sound so strange to Russian ears that you and your friends laughed to tears at our rybalka (рыбалка) in Finland).

While I am smiling to myself about the t-shirt, a dynamic lady directs her way to the bar for the vodka tastings and shouts at the waitor: “we have no time, we have no time, where are the glasses and the snacks”. Then she shouts at her group of four men in English: “Come here, no time, no time, this is your vodka tasting… clink your glasses… no,no… all together in the middle… then exhalate, then drink the shot, then take a snack – and now again… no time, no time… clink your glasses, exhalate, drink, eat… come on, we have to leave, no time, no time…” And off they rush and it is quiet in this room.

Again I smile for myself: I am happy that I am not part of this group. The waitor had prepared very nice plates with snacks and would have deserved more attention. Vodka drinking needs more time, as I experienced last year with Juri on our bike tour and this year at the Rybalka with Larissa’s friends, enjoying the vodka with white-white bacon and some dark bread – and everyone accepted that I drank the vodka the Swiss way – sipping it – because I am Swiss and not Russian. I find that this white bacon and the vodka are a good match and the bacon reminds me of my father who prefered white-white bacon to the bacon with meat strips in it. Enjoying vodka somewhat less in a hurry makes a good time with friends.

Popov’s museum of communication (Музей связи Попова)

I am always astonished, how well the Russians succeed to hide away their excellent museums, and how inventive the potential visitors are in finding them… I knew the address of the museum of communication is in Potschamtsky pereulok 4 (Почтамтский переулок. I see number 6… then I stand at the end of this pereulok, I walk back to number 6, again to the end of this pereulok, again towards number 6… ah, what is this? I saw someone disappear behind this wooden door with the transparent signboards and the blue letters. Yes! This IS the Popov museum of communication, named after the inventor of the radio in Russia. Well, so far this has looked like another office building to me.

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The museum starts with mail being delivered by coaches and sledges, and it ends with mobile communication. This must be an eldorado for teachers of physics, as there are many interactive hands-on experiments to understand electricity, the propagation of waves, telegraphy, radio (first samples, transistor radios etc), telephony (from old switching systems to mobile phones) … impressive also how communication  worked in the war and during the long blockade of Leningrad. A nice toy is the tube post: Grand-pa and his grand-son love to send the entrance ticket back and forth through the transparent tubes. I regret that I did not spend more time at school or later to study physics. Yes, Ernst, you are right, a few Latin lessons less and a few physics lessons more would have been useful.

Unfortunately, fotos are not allowed in this wonderful museum. I say hello to the civil communications satellite LUCH 15 in the large atrium and leave this wonderful place to tackle another Russian lesson.

The museum of political history (Музей политической истории России)

The museum of Russian politicial history is in the beautiful modern style Kshensinskaja palace not far from the Peter and Paul Fortress. My Lonely Planet tells me that Lenin gave speeches from the balcony of this palace. I agree with my guidebook – this museum is well curated and tells history from the Zars over the revolution, the Soviet times and the disintegration of the Soviet Union up to  Jelzin, proving an objective attitude. I read about the Zars, watch Lenin’s revolution, then follow Stalin, study the five year plans and the advertisement of a kolchos (proudly announcing that they have electricity and radio – with huge loud speakers), the second world war, then Chruschtschow with the thawing period, followed by Breschnew (the Russians called him the Eyebrow Carrier or Бровеносиц). The museum also shows, how the people lived in the kommunalkas (коммуналки) – here is a sample of a kitchen shared by several families.

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Also the singers and poets have a place… I find my favorites, Boulat Okudjava and Vladimir Vissotsky. Whenever I am on one of those long long escalators to the metro, I have to think of Okudjava’s song: Stay on the right, walk on the left… this is like in real life (in Soviet times). And in the fitness center I think of Vissotsky: What a great thing is the morning sports, all are moving and no one stays behind.

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On the top flloor, I find the late 80’s and the 90’s. I am impressed, how the collapse of the Soviet Union is illustrated. There are caricatures and samples of Western newspapers like the Spiegel or the Economist, describing the events with critical headlines such as “a man without a country” or Jelzin at the chasm (Abgrund). And I find the allusion to Ilja Repin’s Wolga trawlers: Союз нерушимый or the union that cannot be broken.

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Back at the entrance, I buy a small brochure about the exhibition “the collapse of the USSR: historical inevitability or criminal conspiracy?” This is an excerpt of their analysis: “As long as the Communist Party which served as the ideological and politcal backbone of the Soviet Union, had absolute power, the nationalities problems were subdued and depressed… also by the use of force or threats to use it… In the context of glasnost and democratization initiated in 1985…, the accumulated controversies grew into open conflicts.” The brochure tells the events in August 1991 where the State Committee of the State of Emergency tried to save the Union, but were perceived as a coup d’etat by the democratic forces. The Communist party was then dissolved, and as these were the ties that cemented the Soviet Union, the Union also collapsed… this is the basic reasoning of this brochure.

I now take the metro to Sennaja Ploschtschadj, buy some cherries (черешню) and tackle my next Russian lesson, sharing the cherries with Tatjana.

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