On the road: Some more sightseeing spots in Moscow

In September 2019, I spend a few days in Moscow, with some friends of mine. To round off, I will tell you about three more excursions in Moscow, to the Cheryomuschkinsky Rynok, around the Saviour Cathedral and to the Sparrow Mountains.


Reading the outlets on the Cheryomuschkinsky Rynok (Черёмушкинский Рынок)

The Cheryomuschiknsky Rynok is a welcoming covered market located south of the Sparrow Mountains. While it is raining, we enter and stroll along the stands. There is everything from souvenirs to meat, cheese, fruit, vegetables, sweets, wine and restaurant… they have a wonderful website in Russian – look at the photos.

I love to read the Russian transcriptions of English or French words, because they represent phonetically, what we say, and the Russians did listen carefully, before writing down. They believe that the French and the English use far too many letters, sometimes inconsistently. I think that Russians have a point here. Let us look at a few examples.

Now we are at a meat stand. “Стейк”, spelled out “steik”, is “steak”. And we can buy several steaks: рибай (riba-y) is rib-eye, Нью-Йорк (Nyu-York) is New York; and Портерхаус (porter-kh-aus) is porterhouse (the Russian do not have the “h” and replace it by their “х” (“kh” like “Loch Ness” or “Buch“).

Let us move to the cheese stand. Таледжио (Taledjio) is Taleggio; Фо-ле-пи (Fo-le-pi) must be Fol epi, Горгонзола is clearly Gorgonzola, Блю Чиз or Blyu Chi-s is Blue Cheese; Дор-блю or Dor-Blyu is Dor-Blue.

Russia also knows of the Swiss Müesli. Here you can buy “батончики мюсли” or “myusly bars”. Note that “Müsli” are “small mice” in Swiss German. What we Swiss eat is “Müesli” (small mush), not “Müsli” (small  mice).


Around the Saviour Cathedral

Zurab Tsereteli (*1934) was the favorite artist of Juri Luzhkov , mayor of Moscow from 1992 to 2010. Some of Tsereteli’s projects in Moscow were the reconstruction of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior (1999) and…

… the 98m tall Peter the Great monument (1997), which seems somewhat odd to me with the sails that look a bit like hanging laundry. Peter the Great had learnt shipbuilding in the Netherlands and I am not sure, whether he would have installed such sails that may not really be useful for sailing. Actually rumors tell us that Tsereteli first called his monument Columbus and intended to give to the US. The US refused the gift. The rumors continue that then Tsereteli redefined his monument as “Peter the Great” with the intention to place it at Saint Petersburg. But they did not want the statue either. Finally Tsereteli’s Peter the Great found his place not far from the Savior Cathedral.


The “Sparrow Mountains”, formerly called “Lenin Mountains” – relaxing in the forest along the Moskva river

For some hours, the sun shines. We take the metro to the Sparrow Mountains that formerly were called Lenin Mountains. Through the autumn forest we walk up to the viewpoint to look at the skyline with the golden cupolas of the Novodevichy Monastery (Новодевичий Богородице-Смоленский женский монастырь) and with some of Stalin’s sisters (skyscrapers in socialist classicism or “Zuckerbäckerstil”) in the background.

In 2012, I zoomed the Novodevichy Monastery in…

… and we then visited the monastery that was founded after Moscow had conquered Smolensk. In the center is the golden Cathedral of Smolensk (Смоленский Собор, 1525).

This is the Gate Church (Преображенская Церковь, 1688, Baroque style of Moscow – in Russian it is the Transfiguration church).

We walk down through the forest to the river Moskva. There would have been a cable car to bring us up and down. In the background we can see the modern Moscow city…

… now zoomed in. Moscow City (Москва-Сити) was started in 1992 to create a city in the city with high sky scraping buildings for half a million inhabitants, something like a Manhattan on the river Moskva. In the meantime, the city in the city has become a clearly visible landmark in the skyline of Moscow.


Saying good-bye to Moscow

This was my third stay at Moscow, first in 2002 with Ernst, second in 2012 with a group traveling from Saint Petersburg to Moscow, much of it by bike, and, in 2019, it is my third time, now with three friends. We are on our way to Usbekistan, with a five day stop over in Moscow to explore the capital of Russia. I think of going again to visit more of this lively town. Now we look forward to discover Usbekistan.

On the road – visiting some museums at Moscow: Tretyakov Gallery and VDNKh

End of September 2019, I stay in Moscow with friends. The weather is chilly and wet. Visiting museums keeps us dry and warm. Let  me tell you about some impressions from the Tretyakov Gallery and from the VDNKh.


Russian art in the Tretyakov Gallery – worth seeing a third time

Today is another rainy day. We take the metro to the Tretyakoswkaya station to visit the Tretyakov Gallery. Pavel Tretyakov (П. М. Третьяков, 1832-1898) was a Russian merchant. In 1856, he started to collect Russian art from former centuries until his time, with the target to make his collection available to the Russian people. He exposed his paintings and sculptures. Also his brother was an art collector. In 1892, both brothers handed over their art collection to Moscow – and the city duma accepted the donation. In 1902, the artist V.M. Vasnezov (В.М. Васнецов, 1848-1926) designed the building of the Tretyakov Gallery with the famous frieze. The statue of Pavel Tretyakov stands in front of the museum.  In 2012, I had acquired the guide book with this title page that shows the entrance to the Gallery with the statue of Tretyakov.

Source: Третьяковская Галерея – путеводитель, 2011

The gallery displays Russian art until today.

Vasnezov’s paintings are exhibited in the Tretyakov Gallery. This is his the Tsarevich Ivan on a grey wolf (Иван Царевич на сером волке, 1889).

V.M. Vasnezov: Tsarevich Ivan on a grey wolf

A lady teacher stands in front of the Tsarevich with his princess, surrounded by a group of children – about eight years old – and their parents. She explains fervently, what happens here: The son of the tsar, the prince, takes the princess home. They are sitting on a wolf that is carrying them through the dark, dark forest. The only bright spot are some white flowers. The prince protects his princess – his eyes observe attentively the dangerous forest. “And how do you know, this is a princess?” the teacher asks, “well, look at her shoes. Fine and precious shoes with pearls. Does your mum wear such shoes with pearls for work? No, she does not, because she is not a princess. But from the shoes you can tell that this is a princess”. – The lady teacher makes Vasnezov’s painting come to life for the children, and also for their parents and for us.

In addition, Vasnetsov has painted this very Russian portrait of the Bogatyrs (Богатыри, 1898) which refers to the ancient times, the years of the Kievan Rus in the 9th to the 13th century. The Rus existed as a loose connection of principalities under the lead of Kiev. The bogatyrs were heroes or bold warriors that fought for their princes and principalities (in addition, some of them were mercenary soldiers in foreign service). The three Bogatyrs checking the horizon for dangers have names: In the middle is Ilja Murowetz, to his left Dobrynya Nikitich, and to his right Aljoscha Popowich.

V.M. Vasnezov: Bogatyrs 

Levitan’s Over Eternal Peace (Левитан, 1869-1900, над вечным покоем) attracts me, not far from here. The gallery guide book points out that the landscape paintings of Levitan can be compared with the prose of A. Chekhov, and, as a matter of fact, they were friends. Wikipedia quotes a reviewer who said that the painting “Eternal Peace” looks at the relationship of human existence and the eternal life of nature (“рассматривается вопрос об «отношении человеческого бытия к вечной жизни природы»”). The small church with the cemetery contrasts with the lake disappearing in the clouds and the horizon (it is the Udomlya Lake north of Tver). Levitan is considered to be the master of romantic landscapes. This small church in the middle of eternity reminds me of the many churches that I found around Kizhi.

I. I. Levitan: Over Eternal Peace 

I am always impressed by the hall with the painting “the Princess of Dreams” (Принцесса Грёза, 1896) by M.A. Wrubel (1856-1910, М. А. Врубель). His paintings look like Art Nouveau – they are dancing and swinging along.

M.A. Wrubel: the Princess of Dreams

In addition to his paintings, some of his maiolica work is exhibited, such as the grim Sea King (морской царь, 1898). Oh yes, I remember, it was the grand-father of my long year Russian teacher, P. K. Vaulin, who instructed Vrubel to master the art of maiolica.

M.A. Wrubel: Sea King

All these pieces of art belong to the period that the gallery guide book calls “second half of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century”. A group of artists left the Imperial Academy of Arts, and, in 1870, founded the Association of Travelling Art Exhibits or Peredvizhniki (передвижники). The most famous painting of this group of artists is Ilja Repin’s Barge Haulers on the Wolga, which is exhibited in the Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg (here, I studied Russian painting from the 19th back to the 11th century and from the late 19th century until present in detail). The Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg had been initiated by Tsar Alexander III and then inaugurated by his son, Nicolaus II, in 1898. Both the Russian Museum in Petersburg and the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow were founded almost at the same time, around 1900.

Before leaving the Tretyakov Gallery, I want to show the icons collection to my friends. Where are the icons? I ask the guardian. He tells me that they have moved to the Andrey Rublev Museum (Музей Древнерусской Культуры). So I have to go back to my photos taken in the Tretyakov Gallery in 2012 to show the Archangel Michael (Архангель Михайл), the Savior (Спас)  and the apostle Paulus (Апостол Павел) painted by Andrey Rublev in the beginning of the 15th century.

When going to Moscow the next time, I will include the Andrey Rublev Museum in my visiting plans.


VDNKh (ВДНХ – Выставка достижений народного хозяйства)

To return from Sergiyev Posad to Moscow, we took the bus number 388 and after about one and a half hours we arrived at the metro station VDNKh which is the Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy (Выставка достижений народного хозяйства). The rocket can be seen from far and reminds us of the fact that in the 1950’s the Soviets were the first to start conquering the space.

The exhibition area was initiated 1935-39, then closed during war, reopened in 1954, first as an agricultural exhibition, later enhanced by an industrial area. For the first time, I came across the exhibition in 1968/69, when I started to learn Russian via TV (“Russian Language for you” or “Русский Язык для Вас”). One of the lessons was about a guided exhibition tour by a young lady. She proudly showed the household aids available, one of them being an electric coffee grinder. The young lady put some coffee beans into the grinder and forgot to close the lid. She turned on the grinder, and the coffee beans flew around. “Oh”, she said, and she started to clean up the mess. The educational book was an official Soviet edition and I did enjoy their humor.

After the 1990’s, the exhibition area of the VDNKh was closed. In 2014 the Soviet architecture of the exhibition area had been renovated and the exhibition area became an open air museum, including some sports offerings.

This is the main entry gate with the Soviet couple showing the success of harvesting corn. The gate is welcoming the visitors to the ВДНХ or VDNKh.

Behind the main entry gate, Lenin looks down at the visitors – his face expresses pride and strictness.

We enter the Space Pavillon with the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics under the rocket. I was here already in 2002. From that time, I remember one room with the Sputnik, Sojus, Vostok, Luna and Lunokhod. Furthermore I remember, the spacesuits of Belka and Strelka, the first (small) dogs that went into space, the spacesuit of Gagarin (he was very small) and small tubes for borzhtzh (the Russian soup) and liver – how delicious. Now I find the exhibition much enlarged and it included the Russian-US cooperation in space.

The official Website of the Cosmonautics Museum names 15 exhibits, some of them being

  • A duplicate of Sputnik I (один/one) that the Soviets had sent to the orbit on October 4th 1957. I was six years old then, and my father told me: “Look, with this Sputnik a new area is now starting: We begin to conquer space. You will see more of that, remember this date, when you get older.” And I do remember this date, now that I am much older.
  • The conserved bodies of Belka and Strelka, the dogs that were sent to space in August 1960, along with the landing box. I could not find their spacesuits now.
  • The spacesuit of Gagarin and his successors. Gagarin was sent to space in August 1961 (Wostok I). Yes, I see the suit again and Gagarin was not tall, he measured 1m57. I learn that he died early – in an aircraft accident.
  • The spacecraft Soyuz designed in the 1960’s which is, in its fourth generation, still in use today, also by the US (that gave up their Spaceshuttle in 2011).
  • The model of the base station Mir. I enter it and feel, how small the space is for human beings that are courageous enough to fly to space.
  • The model of the first Lunokhod (Луноход-1) with the original control unit.
  • The spacesuit of Michael Collins, the third man on the flight to the moon who did not put his foot on to the moon. He stayed in the shuttle. Printed on the white suit are the NASA sign and the US flag.

It is an interesting museum.

We say good-bye to the space rocket and return to the city center and to our cosy hotel Matreshka.


Sources: Christine Hamel: “Russland – von der Wolga bis zur Newa”, Dumont Kunstführer 1998. Eva Gerbeding: “Moskau”, Dumont Reisetaschenbuch 2018,; various Wiki-entries; В. Родионов et alii, “Третьяковская Галерия – путеводитель”, 2011; various Websites (linked in on the spot).

On the road – visiting the gorgeous Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius in Sergiyev Posad

When spending a few nights with friends in Moscow in September 2019, we visit the magnificent Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. From the Jaroslawl station in Moscow, we take the express suburban train (Elektritschka or электричка) to Sergiyev Possad (70km, takes about an hour).


The artist welcomes us in Sergiyev Posad

From the train station at Sergiyev Posad it is a short foot walk to the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. On the way, we come across this artist who has painted the monastery, when there was some more blue sky. Now he has returned (though it is more cloudy) to complete his painting here and there. He tells us that he used to be a professional artist. He seems to be in his seventies. He loves his profession and his eyes express the wisdom and serenity of age.

We stop for a while chatting.

Then we take our own pictures – just photos: The golden cupola surrounded by the blue star dotted cupolas shines in the sun – this is the Maria Assumption/Dormition Cathedral.

To the left we see the Refectory with the rectangular “tower” that covers the refectory church. Behind the Refectory stands the Belfry – 88m high. The Holy Gate is the main entrance on the right hand side, under the green roof with the small golden cupola.

I remember, what Ernst said, when we had returned from Saint Petersburg to Moscow in 2002: “Now I do feel like some original Russian churches with cupolas, let us go and visit Sergiyev Posad.” I was happy, we took the suburban train and in the lavra, we hired a young lady as a tour guide. Now, 17 years later, Ernst accompanies me in my heart.

Alongside stands selling matryoshka dolls (матрёшки), we reach the Holy Gate and main entrance to the Sergius monastery, which is, my Dumont says, the most important monastery of Russia (p. 160).


Overview of the main sights in the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius

Let me first give an overview of the main sights of the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius (direction east to west).

The blue line shows the outline of the defensive wall surrounding the lavra, whereby the main gate is now at the bottom (on the photo above, it was on the right hand side). I have placed the main sights in the sequence they appear, but in reality, they do not fill the whole area surrounded by the wall, but only half of it.

The buildings we see in the lavra are mainly from the 15th to the 18th century. They range from the specific Russian church building style of the 15th and 16th century (based on Byzantium, later with elements from Italian Renaissance, numbers 3,4,7) to Russian baroque, first (after 1600) the Naryschkin baroque from Moscow (2,6,8) and, after 1700, the baroque from Petersburg (5,9,10). (See below “some background information”).


Entering through the Gate Church of Saint Baptist’s Nativity 

Right after the entry gate, we come across our first church, the Gate Church of Saint Baptist’s Nativity (2, 1692-99, Предтеченнский Храм, Naryschkin baroque of Moscow). Small golden cupolas dance on the rectangular building decorated with lively geometric patterns and slim columns.

Behind the Gate Church of Saint Baptist’s Nativity, the confusingly rich world of the lavra churches opens up.


Where the monastery began: Sergius and the Trinity Cathedral

The first church built from stone is the Trinity Cathedral (3, Троицкий Храм), erected in 1422 above the grave of Sergius, the founder of this lavra. White limestone and golden roofs – breathtaking elegance. There are three apses. The facades are divided into three parts with swinging gables. Attached to the Cathedral is the small Nikon church, like a little brother (for more details about Sergius see below under “some more background information”).

The grave of Saint Sergius with his relics is where the pilgrims stand in line. The photo is from the book “siehe die Stadt, die leuchtet”, published in 1989. Inside, we encountered a line of pilgrims as well.

“Trinity” refers to the three angels visiting Abraham who serves them a meal (well, when they arrived, they looked like vagabonds. After Abraham had invited them, they turned out be angels). The trinity with Abraham and the three angels is a reoccurring representation in the Russian-Orthodox churches. The iconostasis of the Trinity Church holds the Trinity icon of Andrei Rublev – now as a copy. The original is in the Andrei Rublev museum of Moscow. I scanned Rublev’s Trinity from Hamel’s Dumont Kunstreiseführer about Russia (photos are not allowed inside the church).


The central complex around the Assumption/Dormition Cathedral with its blue cupolas

The Assumption/Dormition Cathedral (4) makes up the center of the lavra churches and it is surrounded by the Holy Font with chapel and cover (6 and 6a), the Church of Holy Spirit (7), the Belfry (5) and the Church of the Icon of the Godmother of Smolensk (10).

The Holy Font with the cross is covered by playful columns (Сень над чашей с крестом). This is the newest construction in the monastery, 1873, on this photo contrasting with the oldest from 1422, the grand Trinity Church.

The covered Holy Font with its cross stands very close to the Assumption/Dormition Cathedral and there is a reason for that. It stands where the Cathedral first had the narthex.  This was the place, where believers once bought candles and filled in the intercessions, before entering the Cathedral. However, the narthex was destroyed during the siege by the Poles (1608-10). A spring was then detected here. It was said that the water of this spring healed a blind monk. Also in 2002, our young tour guide asserted to us that the holy water has healed many people. In the late 17th century, the tiny red-white chapel was built above the spring, and later, in 1873, the Holy Font was covered with the columns.

The Maria Assumption/Dormition Cathedral was built in 1535. The Russian name “Успенский Собор” alludes to “Maria Dormition” or to her passing away, but the translators often talk about “Maria Assumption”, because this is, what we in the west celebrate on August 15th.

To the right, the slim Church of Holy Spirit with its one blue cupola has been constructed earlier than the Dormition Cathedral, in 1476 (церковь Сошествия Святого Духа).

Both white churches (made from lime stone obtained near Moscow) show the Russian style: The Dormition Cathedral has the typical round gables (sakomars) and the Church of Holy Spirit has the Kokoshniki reminding of the traditional Russian headdress of women (the swinging gables of the Trinity Cathedral are similar).

And yes, this cat lives in the lavra, too. May be it has heard a mouse under the ground.

The Tsar Boris Godunow (1598-1605) has been buried near the Dormition Cathedral. The family grave of the Godunows looks like a little house (to the left of the entry door).

The lavra is full of cupolas and you can play with them… these are the cupolas of the Dormition Cathedral and of the Church of Holy Spirit, seen from the Refectory; they appear behind the golden-brown cupola of the small Mikheyev Church.

Also near the covered Holy Font (and hence close to the Dormition Cathedral) is the Belfry from 1770 (Колокольная). Its blue and white decoration reminds me of some baroque churches in Saint Petersburg.

Now, I zoom in the small and finely decorated сhapel above the holy spring (Успенский кладезь с часовней), just in front of the Dormition Cathedral. The chapel from the late 17th century shows the playful Naryschkin baroque of Moscow. The finely carved slim white columns on red ground give it some airiness. The tower is decorated with the geometric patterns that we have already found at the Gate Church of Saint Baptist’s Nativity.

I very much like the graceful white Church of the Holy Spirit, made by skillful masters from Pskow. Clustered pilasters divide the facades into three parts topped by the headdress like “Kokoshniki”. In 2002, the tour guide told us that the small tower with the blue cupola is a belfry that can only be reached from outside via a ladder; it is rare that Russian churches have an integrated belfry. Usually the belfry stands separate.

In the background appears the Refectory with the small Mikheyev Chapel attached.

The medaillon showing Christ decorates the facade above the entry door to the Church of Holy Spirit.

The Refectory (1686-92, Трапезная) shows beautiful Naryschkin baroque of Moscow.  Its geometrical pattern reminds us again of the Gate Church of Saint Baptist’s Nativity. The “tower” hides the Sergius cathedral (храм), which to me seems to be very, very luxurious.

Just close to the Refectory is the elegant small Mikheyev church (1734). Mikheyev was a former abbot.

Behind the Belfry is the red church of the Godmother of Smolensk (1745-48, baroque of Saint Petersburg). It looks like the hermitage of a landscape garden.

The white tower belongs to the hospital chuch of Saints Zosimas and Sawwitiya (1635-38).

The abundance of impressions makes us hungry. We eat in the small canteen next to the golden entry gate. We have fish soup (ukha, уха), Russian ravioli (Pelmeni, пельмени) and herring under the fur coat (yes – it is called like that: селёдка под шубой. This is herring “under” a cover of beetroot salad).

We say good-bye to this magnificent monastery ensemble. I am happy to have seen it a second time now, and, after having studied it at home using all my sources available, I would not mind seeing it a third time.


Some more background information about the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius in Sergiyev Posad (Свято-Троицкая Сергиева Лавра)

The Trinity lavra started off in 1340, when Saint Sergius of Radonesch (Сергий Радонежский) retreated to the forest north of his home town Radonesch to live as an ascetic hermit. More hermits joined him and Sergius built the first wooden church (according to the young tour guide that we had hired in 2002, he was a carpenter and hence built the church himself. He even knew the moment of his death six months ahead and timbered his own coffin, she said, and later pilgrims took splinters from the coffin such that it had to be protected under glass. Sergius is a much venerated person decorated with legends).

The support of Sergius was important for getting rid of the Tartar yoke. Sergius blessed Prince Dmitry Donskoj of Moscow before the battle against the Mongolian Golden Horde near the Don river in 1380. Donskoj defeated the Mongols, and this first victory counts as having set off the liberation of Russia.  As a matter of fact, the Mongolian Golden Horde was under pressure, challenged by Timur (1336-1405), also with a Mongolian background (we will soon meet Timur in Usbekistan). Perhaps Sergius was a bit similar to Niklaus von der Flüe of the 15th century who also had political influence on the first cantons of early Switzerland.

The monastery flourished and became wealthy, as they were always on the winning side of politics.

  • This started in the 14th century, when Sergius supported the unification of the Russian principalities under the lead of Moscow and supported their fight against the Mongolian Golden Horde.
  • Then, in 1608-10, the monastery withstood the Polish besieging it for 16 months.  This supported Russia’s survival (in danger after the conquest of Moscow by Poland) and the subsequent rise of the Romanow dynasty.
  • And last, they supported young Peter by allowing him to grow up here, protected from the revolts of the Streltsy. When Peter became Peter I the Great, he thanked the monastery later for that.

For my understanding, I divide the main sights of the Trinity Lavra into three phases:

  1. Classical Russian style, influenced from Byzantium, from the wooden Russian churches and later by Italian renaissance architects: The first church was the Trinity Cathedral (1422) erected above the grave of the founder Sergius and containing the trinity Icon of Andrei Rublev.  Around 1450 pilgrimage to the grave of Sergius started. The Church of Holy Spirit (1476) and the Assumption/Dormition Cathedral (1585) followed, the latter being initiated and sponsored by Iwan the Terrible.
  2. Naryschkin baroque style of Moscow: In 1608-10 the monastery was besieged by the Poles for 16 months and could not be conquered. The monastery was admired for its boldness, and the first Romanow Tsars gave them donations in the 17th century. The Moscow/Naryschkin baroque buildings remind us of that: The Gate Church of Saint Baptist’s Nativity (1692-99), the Refectory with the included Church (1686-1692) and the Chapel above the Holy Spring (late 17th century).
  3. Baroque style of Saint Petersburg (founded in 1703): Peter I the Great, was a generous donator for the Sergius Lavra as well, as at the age of 10 (1682), he had fled here with his mother, after the revolt of the Streltsy. The buildings of Saint Petersburg baroque style commemorate that: The Belfry (1741-70), The Church of the icon of Godmother of Smolensk (1745-48) and the Mikheyev Church (1734, it has a Dutch roof, as Peter, after having studied ship building in the Netherlands had good relations with Dutch craftsmen and architects).

There are only two monasteries in Russia that are called Lavras. Empress Elizabeth (a successor of Peter I the Great) edited a decree to elevate the Sergius monastery to the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. The second Lavra is dedicated to Alexander Newsky in Saint Petersburg.

Since the 15th century, the monastery with the grave of Sergius has been an important pilgrimage site. The pilgrims needed catering and wanted to buy souvenirs, such as icons and wooden toys. A small town emerged around the lavra. Today, Sergiyev Posad is THE Center for the production of matryoshka dolls – and, as a matter of fact, many of them are on sale on the street leading to the entry gate of the Trinity Lavra.


Sources: Christine Hamel: “Russland – von der Wolga bis zur Newa”, Dumont Kunstführer 1998. Hubert Faensen: “Siehe die Stadt, die leuchtet”, Koehler und Amelang, 1989; Eva Gerbeding: “Moskau”, Dumont Reisetaschenbuch 2018, various Wiki-entries and the excellent site Экскурсия по Троице-Сергиевой Лавре.

On the road – sightseeing at Moscow: The Metro

On our way from the Red Square to the Moskwa river, we get caught in the pouring rain and escape to the next metro station. Rain is a good opportunity to admire the underground palaces of Moscow.

The first lines of the Metro opened in 1935. New lines are added even today. The Moscow metro is one of the most efficient metros that I have ever come across. No Russian would run in their palaces to catch a train. There is just no need, because the next train is sure to come in about one minute.

Long escalators take the Muscovites into the underground. When I stand on them, I always hear the poem-song “песенка о московском метро” by Bulat Okudzhava (1924-1997):

“Порядок вечен, порядок свят.
Те, что справа, стоят, стоят.
Но те, что идут, всегда должны
держаться левой стороны.”

“The order is eternal, the order is holy.
Those on the right side, they are standing, they are standing.
However, those that are going (or walking), always have to
keep to the left side.”

(I have the cult vinyl record of Bulat Okudzhava that was edited in the sixties or early 70s by “le chant du monde“).

We visited some of the most beautiful metro stations.


Komsomalskaya  or Комсомольская

We start with the Komsomalskaya station on the ring. It was built in 1952 and received a prize at the Expo 58 in Brussels.

The hall is illuminated by chandeliers and is decorated with mosaics.

There are also mosaics on the ceiling. They show some heroes of Russian history such as Nevsky (who conquered the Baltic Sea and Karelia for the republic of Novgorod) or Donskoj (who defeated the Mongols for the first time). This is Alexander Nevsky.

At the end of the gangway, we find the mosaic “МИР” which means both “peace” and “world” in Russian.


Majakowskaya or Маяковская

The Majakoswkaya Station has been completed in 1938. The ground is stable here, and hence the columns could be built slimmer, which gives the station a “dancing airiness”. The station won the main prize at the New York exhibition in the same year.

The cupolas are painted with various scenes showing sports such as this ski springer.

We leave the metro here through the exit built into the Tchaikoswky Concert Hall and we have coffee with cake in the cosy attached restaurant. A performance for children ends in the Concert Hall and the young connoisseurs of art fill the restaurant with joy and laughter.


Square of Revolution or Площадь Революции

My favourite metro station is the Square of Revolution (Ploshchad Revoluzij). A line of Soviet heroes forms a guard of honour for the Muscovites rushing by. And there are some statues that shine such as this dog’s nose. The passer-bies quickly touch this nose and utter a wish that will be fulfilled – for sure!

This is statue of the Soviet hero Nikita Karazupa with his dog Indus – he was a frontier-guard.

Also this coq accompanying the handsome, strong woman, seems to bring luck and is therefore shining.


Arbatskaya or Арбатская

Arbatskaya was the last station we visited. It was built in 1953, another solemn palace.

The entry building of the Arbatskaya forms a star.


Turning to the Arbat

The rain has stopped. We leave the Arbatskaya station and stroll through the Old Arbatskaya Street.

Bulat Okudzhava is here. I say hello to him who wrote and sang the poem about the metro of Moscow.

I also like his ode to the Arbat, called “песенка об Арбате” that ends with the words: “Ах Арбат, ах Арбат, ты моё отечество” – “Ach Arbat, ach Arbat, you are my homeland.” Yes, in the late 19th and in the early 20th century, the Arbat was the area, where artists and intellectuals lived. Also Bulgakow made “Master” live here – he is the protagonist of his wonderful novel “Master and Margarita” written in the 20’s and 30’s of the XXth century.

We select a Georgian restaurant in the Arbat and have a delicious dinner with a glass of red Saperavi wine.

On the road – sightseeing in Moscow: Red Square, GUM and Kremlin

With three friends, I spend a few nights in Moscow. We stay in the pricy and friendly hotel Matreshka (Матрёшка), conveniently located in a dead-end street between the Bolshoi Theatre (Большой Театр) and the Lubyanka (Лубянка).  It is end of September, chilly and wet.


The Red Square – the Center of Moscow

First we visit the Red Square (Красная Площадь) which is the center of Moscow. The pavement shines in the sun that from time to time breaks through the heavy rain clouds. Saint Basil’s Cathedral is at the end of the square, to the right is the Kremlin wall and to the left the department store GUM. I remember, when I entered the Red Square in 2002 with Ernst, he kept on saying “this guy is crazy, this guy is crazy.” He was alluding to the German pilot that landed his Cessna here in 1987. Well, I believe the Red Square is large enough to land a small plane here – it measures 300mx70m.

The Red Square is called Красная Площадь in Russian, and originally, krasny (красный) meant “beautiful”. Later красный changed its meaning to “red”. Indeed, the red wall of the Kremlin really makes this “Red Square” look “red” and “red” was also the color of the communists.

We visit the many chapels of Saint Basil’s Cathedral (Собор Василия Блаженного, building started around 1600 under Ivan IV, the Terrible). We enter all the  chapels and find some wonderful singing at various places. Then we are surprised by more rain, as the photo taken from the Cathedral to the Russian State History Museum and to the department store GUM shows.

In the evening, we want to see the Red Square from above, enter the Hotel Ritz at Tverskaja, “glide up” to the top floor and have a good glass of wine.

From our chairs, the view down to the ground floor is breath taking.

On the balcony, we find this gorgeous view of the Russian State History Museum with the statue of Zhukow, the Red Square, Saint Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin. (Zhukow invaded Berlin in 1945 and accepted the surrender of the Germans).


The traditional department store GUM

From the pouring rain, we escape into the GUM (Государственный (Главный) Универсальный Магазин). This department store was built in 1893. It is huge with its 200 stores on three levels spread over 250m versus 88m. We buy criminal stories written by B. Akunin in one of the stores. I look forward to reading them.

We have lunch on the terrace under the umbrellas.

We watch a fairy tale teller with a group of children. Very lively, she talks about the bandit (разбойник) that, indeed, suddenly appears round the corner. The kids give him some money (it is a chocolate coin of ten rubles). And, because this is a good bandit, he does not keep the “money”, but hands it over to me… we all laugh together. Russians are excellent at entertaining children; even grown-up tourists enjoy that.


The gorgeous cathedral square in the Kremlin – worth seeing a third time

On the second day, we visit the Kremlin with its splendid Cathedral Square. It is my third time here, and it IS worth seeing it again. This a good overview that I found in the Internet.

The Dormition Cathedral (Успенский собор, the main and oldest cathedral) 

The Dormition Cathedral (Entschlafenskathedrale) celebrates, what we call “Maria Himmelfahrt”. It is the oldest Cathedral of the Kremlin, built in 1475-1490 by Aristotele Fioravanti. It mixes Russian traditional and Italian Renaissance architecture. The five golden cupolas shine, when the sun breaks through the clouds. Inside is the throne of Monomaxos alluding to the dynastic link of Iwan IV with Byzantium – he used this throne to pray (“Betstuhl”).

Next to the Dormition Cathedral we enter the small Church of the Deposition of the Robe (when Maria died and was accepted in Heaven, she left her robe in the grave, Церковь Ризоположения Пресвятой Богородицы)). No photos allowed in the pretty church with its frescoes. Behind the church are the joyful, slim cupolas of the Terem Palace, which used to be the main residence of the Russian Tsars.


Annunciation Cathedral (Благовещеский собор, house church of the Tsars)

Now, we have to stand in line with a large group of Chinese tourists to enter the Annunciation Cathedral. After having entered, I see Jonas just to the left. I stop to breathe: I remember, when I was here with Ernst and we enjoyed looking at Jonas being swallowed and spat out again by the whale. Inside we admire the solemn iconostasis with the works of Andrei Rublew, Teophanos the Greek and the School of Moscow. The Cathedral was built by masters from Italy and Pskow between 1484-1489. In 1560 Iwan IV renovated the church and since then, it has had nine cupolas, because conquering Kasan lasted nine days. These churches are full of symbols.


Dormition Belfry (Успенская звоница)

The Belfry was built by an Italian architect from 1505-08. It is 81m high. The cupola has been added by Boris Godunow and his name is written there. The belfry is also called Dormition Belfry, because a dormition chapel was added later and then transformed to a bell wall (звоница). In Russia, bell walls are used to make music with the bells – beautiful, I have experienced that in the monasteries on the Golden Ring around Moscow.


Archangel Cathedral (Archangel Michael, Архангельский собор)

Also, the Archangel Cathedral (Erzengel Kathedrale) has been built around 1500 (1505-1508) by the Italian architect Aloisio Lamberti de Montagnana (called Alevis Nowy). Inside it is a Russian church forming an equilateral cross. The grand dukes and the Tsars up to Peter I the Great are buried here. Their wives are in the crypt. From Peter I the Great on, all Tsars are buried in Petersburg. Only Boris Godunow is in Sergiyev Posad. Outside, the horizontal structure of the facade and the conch like shapes show Italian (Venetian) Renaissance influence.

Again and again, the sun defeats the clouds and the cupolas shine golden, just for some minutes. We cannot leave this place – it is too beautiful.


Tsar Cannon (Царь пушка)

Behind the Cathedral Square, there are two more attractions. The first is the Tsar Cannon. I remember, how Ernst laughed, when he saw the cannonballs. “These cannonballs have never been used for THIS gun”, he said. And I do think that he was right, they are just too large for this gun. Do you not agree?


Tsar Bell (Царь-колокол)

The Tsar Bell is one of the hugest bells ever casted in the world. But when taken out of the casting pit, it broke. Hence it has never been used, but being so large, it has been placed in the Kremlin and has served as an attraction since 1836. I admire the courage of the Russians – I think, they show that sometimes you have to give it a try, even if not being always successful.

We look back to the Belfry, the Dormition Cathedral and the Archangel Cathedral with their golden cupolas.

We leave the Kremlin  to have lunch – a borshch (Борщ) and dumplings  in one of the traditional Soviet Restaurants that now can be found all over in Moscow, the Varenichnaya.


Sure, whenever I get a chance to go to Moscow again, I will visit the Kremlin and the Cathedral Square again. It will be my fourth time then, and it will be worth it

Sources: Christine Hamel: “Russland – von der Wolga bis zur Newa”, Dumont Kunstführer 1998. Hubert Faensen: “Siehe die Stadt, die leuchtet”, Koehler und Amelang, 1989. Eva Gerbeding: “Moskau”, Dumont Reisetaschenbuch 2018, and various Wiki-entries.

On the road again – studying Russian history to get ready for Moscow

In September 2019 I am on the road to Moscow. To get ready, I update my knowledge about Russian history. Here is, how I understand, how Russia emerged (I am not a historian).

This is my summary of Russian history in a nutshell

  • 9th-11th century: Russia has two roots, the Wikings (founding the Kievan Rus’) and Byzantium (Christianity and dynastic reference).
  • 1132-1598: In 1132, the Kievan Rus’ collapses and disintegrates into many principalities. Novgorod becomes a successful republic of its own. To its east, Moscow, ruled by the Rurikids, rises steadily collecting “the Russian Earth”, though being under Mongolian rule from 1240 to 1480. In 1480, the Rurikids of Moscow adopt the title “Tsar”. After 1480, they expand beyond Russia, to Siberia. The dynasty of the Rurikids ends in 1598, after 700 years.
  • 1598-1612: Troubles (Smuta) – Russia, in search of a Tsar, is about to collapse under foreign pressure, until the army of volunteers from Nizhny Novgorod frees Moscow from Poland.
  • 1613-1762: The new dynasty, the Romanows, consolidate Russia, get Kiev back, expand to the west (Petersburg and Karelia) and continue the expansion to Siberia.
  • 1762-1918: The dynasty of Romanow-Holstein-Gottrop proceed expanding to the west and to the south (Krim and Central Asia), until being stopped in 1905. The autocratic tsars underestimate the power of the uprisings in their country that leads to the revolution of 1917 and to the abdication and death of the last Tsar.
  • 1917-2000 Revolution, Soviet Union and Russian Federation.


9th-11th century: Russia has two roots, the Wikings (founding the Kievan Rus’) and Byzantium (Christianity and dynastic reference).

  • The Wikings and the Kievan Rus’: Wikings settle in Novgorod, which becomes the capital of their empire. The Rurik dynasty emerges. Around 900, the Rurik ruler Oleg unifies 14 Slavic tribes and moves his capital to Kiev. The Kievan Rus’ exists until 1132. Somehow this can be considered to be the craddle of Russia.
  • Byzantium and the Byzantine emperors: From Byzantium, Kyrill and Method bring Christianity to Moravia and Bulgaria and invent the Cyrillic alphabet to teach the Slavs in their language. In 988 Wladimir adopts Christianity for the Kievan Rus’, along with the Cyrillic alphabet. One of his successors, Vsevolod (1078-1196), marries the daughter of the Byzantine emperor, Anastasja Monomaxos. This creates the first dynastic link to Byzantium. This reference will be duplicated by Iwan III (1462-1503) who will marry the niece of the last emperor of Byzantium (after Byzantium has been conquered by the Turks in 1453). The Russian emperors thus see themselves as legal successors of Byzantium and indirectly even of Rome. The monomaxos throne and the momonaxos cap can be seen in Moscow’s Kreml.

The Cathedral of St. Sophia in Novgorod, built in 1045-50. Also Kiev has its Cathedral of St. Sophia. Sophia means “wisdom” and this name is based on the tradition of the Hagia Sophia in Byzantium.


1132-1598: In 1132, the Kievan Rus’ collapses and disintegrates into many principalities. Novgorod becomes a successful republic of its own. To its east, Moscow, ruled by the Rurikids, rises steadily collecting “the Russian Earth”, though being under Mongolian rule from 1240 to 1480. In 1480, the Rurikids of Moscow adopt the title “Tsar”. After 1480, they expand beyond Russia, to Siberia. The dynasty of the Rurikids ends in 1598, after 700 years.

  • In 1132, Kiev loses its primacy and the Kievan Rus’ disintegrates into many principalities.
  • In 1320, the Kiev principality becomes part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. (Kiev will join Russia again in 1654; it is said that they wanted to avoid having to adopt the catholic religion).
  • 1136-1478, the republic of Novgorod is the principality that establishes a success story of its own: It becomes a European Great Power trading successfully with the Hanse. Their educational system is a good foundation for that. In 1240 Alexander Newsky from Novgorod defeats the Teutonic Orden (mostly part of Poland today) and the Swedes. He integrates the Baltic Sea along with Karelia. (In 1478 Moscow will subdue the republic of Novgorod, and around 1700, Peter the Great will refer to Alexander Newsky, when conquering the Baltic Sea and Karelia again, now for Russia; today the Newsky Prospekt is the main business street in Sankt Petersburg, and it ends in front of the Alexander Newsky Lavra, one of the most important monasteries of Russia).
  • In 1147, Juri Dolgoruki founds Moscow. In 1321 the Metropolit of the Orthodox Church moves to Moscow. Moscow will be the nucleus of the “new” Rus’.
  • In 1240, the Mongolians under Batu Khan (the grand-son of Genghis Khan) conquer the Russian principalities and Kiev. Their rule lasts until 1480. In 1480, the Russians fight their last battle for freedom. It is not a battle at all; the two armies are facing each other for several months, until the Golden Horde retreats.
  • Until 1480, while most Russian principalities are under Mongolian rule, Moscow subdues one principality after the other. In 1328, Grand Duke Iwan I calls this “collecting the Russian Earth”. This collection program culminates in subduing Novgorod in 1478. In 1480, Iwan III calls himself Tsar; he has married the niece of the last emperor of Byzantium. Moscow and his dynasty, he deems, is the successor of the Byzantium and hence of the Roman Empire; Moscow is called “third Rome”.
  • 1480-1598, after having freed themselves from the Mongolian rule, the Rurikids continue collecting the Russian Earth.  Iwan IV (the Terrible, 1547-1584) expands further to Siberia (the Stroganoff family have told him that this will pay off, as he will find basic materials and fur there). Iwan IV dies in 1584. His mentally retarded brother becomes Zar, but it is Boris Godunow who reigns for him. Iwan has yet another son, Dmitri; he probably died in 1591 at the age of nine years).

The Kreml illustrates well the importance of Novgorod. It was the capital of the successful economic power that traded with the Hanse (foto taken by Ursula in 2017).

The Alexander Newsky Lavra in the rain. It is one of the most important monasteries in Russia. Peter the Great dedicated it to the successful leader of Novgorod who was his role model (my photo taken in Saint Petersburg in 2017).


1598-1612: Troubles (Smuta) – Russia, in search of a Tsar, is about to collapse under foreign pressure, until the army of volunteers from Nizhny Novgorod frees Moscow from Poland.

  • 1598-1605: Boris Godunow (who has reigned for the mentally retarded brother of Iwan the Terrible before) is elected Tsar of Russia. He dies in 1605.
  • 1605-1610: The first “False” Dmitri (“false” son of Iwan IV), supported by Poland, reigns, then followed by a nobleman, supported by Sweden.
  • 1610: Poland conquers Moscow and intends to establish their own Tsar. Sweden conquers Novgorod and proposes a different Tsar. Russia is about to collapse.
  • 1612: An army of volunteers from Nizhny Novgorod frees Moscow. The army has been collected by Kusma Minin and lead by Prince Dmitri Pozharsky.  Today their monument in front of Saint Basil’s Cathedral reminds us of their achievement.

The family grave of the Godunows in the Trinity Lavra of Saint Sergius at Sergiyev Posad (my foto taken in 2019).


1613-1762: The new dynasty, the Romanows, consolidate Russia, get Kiev back, expand to the west (Petersburg and Karelia) and continue the expansion to Siberia

  • 1613-1645: The first Romanow Tsar, Michail I, grand-nephew of Iwan IV, consolidates Russia again.
  • 1645-1676: Alexei I accepts the loyalty oath of Kiev and Eastern Ukraine against Poland that has cut back the privileges of the Kosacks and, being Roman Catholic, might threaten the orthodox religion of Kiev (1654).
  • 1682-1725: Until 1687, it is the half-sister Sofia of later Peter I the Great that reigned in Peter’s name (and in the name of his mentally disabled brother Iwan). In 1689, at the age of 17, Peter I intends to take over power, but the Streltsy conspire with his sister and he escapes to the the Lavra in Sergiyev Posad. His mother later reigns for him, until in 1696, aged 24, he becomes the sole ruler of Russia. In 1697/98 he travels to Europe and studies shipbuilding in the Netherlands and city building in England. He tries to travel incognito, but measuring more than 2 meters, he could simply not hide. When back, Peter modernizes Russia, introducing Western life style (clothing, no beards, Julian calendar, promoting the economic development and educational systems and making the church report into government). In addition, he modernizes the army, which includes building up the Russian navy. From the Swedes, Peter I conquers access to the Baltic Sea and founds Saint Petersburg in 1703 (beginning with the Saint Paul and Peter Fortress). In 1708, the Swedes march towards Moscow, are halted by Peter I, and instead invade the Ukraine. Here, south east of Kiev, Peter I defeats the Swedes at the battle of Poltawa in 1709. This marks the end of Sweden’s status as a Great Power. In 1710, Peter I makes Saint Petersburg the capital of Russia. It is his “window to the west”. He marries in 1712. In 1725, he dies without a successor and his wife becomes Tsar Catherine I (until 1727).
  • 1727-1762: After various tsars, it is the daughter of Peter the Great, Elisabeth, that takes over in 1741. The expansion to Central Asia starts, and Russia participates in the War of the Polish Succession.

Above the entrance gate to the Saint Peter and Paul Fortress in Saint Petersburg, a relief shows Petrus throwing the heretic Simon Magus down to earth, after Simon had lifted himself up into the air by sorcery. Peter I the Great has defeated the King of Sweden, Charles XII, as Petrus had defeated Simon Magus before (my photo taken in 2017).

Peter I the Great, statue at Saint Peter and Paul Fortress by Mihail Chemiakin (photo taken by me in 2017).


1762-1918: The dynasty of Romanow-Holstein-Gottrop proceeds expanding westwards and southwards (Crimea and Central Asia), until being stopped in 1905. The autocratic tsars underestimate the power of the uprisings in their country that leads to the revolution of 1917 and to the abdication and death of the last Tsar.

  • 1762-1796: Catherine II the Great is the German born wife of Peter the Great’s grandson. She obtains the crown of Russia and Peter’s grandson is murdered. Catherine the Great follows in the footsteps of Peter the Great. She promotes the economy of Russia and asks foreigners to settle in Russia. She founds schools for basic and higher education and reforms the administration of her country. At the cost of the Turks she obtains access to the Black Sea and conquers the Crimea in 1783. During the partition of Poland she acquires a large share here. She has many lovers, the most famous of them being Potemkin. Her son Paul I reigns for five years, until he is murdered in 1801.
  • 1801-1825: Alexander I fights against Napoleon invading Russia and then participates in the wars that lead to the fall of Napoleon. He is a major influencer at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, when Europe is being reshaped. Russia expands its territory acquiring more parts of Poland, Finland, Georgia, Shirvan near the Caspian Sea and Bessarabia (today Moldavia and Ukraine).
  • 1825-1894: The Tsars Nicholas I, Alexander II and Alexander III suppress uprisings in Russia and expand into Central Asia, creating the administrative area Turkestan with the capital Tashkent (they have to demarcate their line of influence from the Britains that are about to colonize India). Alexander II liberates Russia’s serfs and sells Alaska to the US.
  • 1894-1917: Tsar Nicholas II tries to enlarge his empire even more, but is halted in 1905 by Japan (they destroy the Russian Navy almost completely). Furthermore, Austria-Hungary and the Turks prevent him from unifying the Slavs in the Balkans. In the first World War, the Russian Army has no chance and quits in 1917. This is also the year of the October Revolution. The Tsar has to abdicate and is murdered with his family in 1918.

Catherine the Great, monument at the Newsky Prospekt in Saint Petersburg (photo taken by me in 2017)

Source: Diercke Westermann: Russlands Aufstieg zur Grossmacht – Russia’s rise to Great-Power status.


1917-2000 Revolution, Soviet Union and Russian Federation.

  • 1917: Lenin returns to Russia and leads the October Revolution that ends with the Bolschewiki and Lenin at power.
  • 1922: The Soviet Union is founded as the community of the Russian, Transcaucasian, Ukrainian and Byelorussian Republics.
  • 1924-1953: After the death of Lenin, Stalin takes over power. He enforces collectivization and promotes industrialization to catch up with the West. In 1933-36, the Great Terror eliminates 20% of his military cadre. The War against the Germans begins in summer 1941 and ends in May 1945. In 1950, the Cold War starts and the Iron Curtain divides Europe. The first surrogate war takes place in North Korea (1950-53).
  • 1953-1964: Khrushchev follows, after Stalin has died. He starts to reform agriculture and economy, he builds 4 storey houses for the people (called Khrushchevki), gives the Crimea to the Ukraine (1954) and suppresses uprisings in Europe (Hungary 1956, German Democratic Republic 1953). In 1961, Khrushchev “allows” Ulbricht to build the wall in Berlin. The Soviet space program is very successful with Sputnik I in earth orbit in 1957, followed by the first man, Gagarin, in 1961.
  • 1964-1982: Brezhnev takes over, first governing together with Kossygin and Podgorny, then alone. His regime is again stricter than Khrushchev’s. He suppresses the “spring” in Prague (1968) and he gets into fighting in Afghanistan (1979-89).
  • 1985-1991 After the short reign of Andropov and Chernenko, Gorbachev takes over. He introduces reforms that are called Perestroika and Glasnost. He did not succeed in renovating the Soviet Union, but instead the Soviet Union disintegrated after the coup of the communists in 1991.
  • 1991 The Russian Federation takes over the Soviet Union’s rights and duties based on international law. Most of the former Soviet Republics join the Commonwealth of Independent States that later loses of importance. Yeltsin has the economy privatized to the benefit of the oligarchs.
  • 2000 The era Putin starts.


The rocket flies high into the air and into the earth orbit at the VDNKh (ВДНХ) in Moscow (photo taken by me in 2019). In 1957, the Soviets are ahead with their Sputnik, and I remember, how my dad told me, this is the start of a new area, and you will see more of this in your life. At the VDNKh, the Soviets showed the success of their economy and the exhibition area remains until today.

When very young, in 1968, I read the Karamazov Brothers by Dostoevsky. I was impressed and decided to learn Russian, based on the TV program “Russian for you/русский язык для Вас”. I continued in August 1968, despite the suppressed “spring” in Prague, and I have enjoyed Russian culture and the beauty of the Russian language ever since. I visited Staraya Russa in 2012, where the novel of the Karamazov Brothers plays (photo taken by me in 2012).

Sources: Christine Hamel: “Russland – von der Wolga bis zur Newa”, Dumont Kunstführer 1998. Hubert Faensen: “Siehe die Stadt, die leuchtet”, Koehler und Amelang, 1989. “Der Grosse Plötz, Atlas zur Weltgeschichte”, Komet, 2008 and various Wiki-entries.

Back in in Saint Petersburg – some small charms such as the Чижик-пыжик

In June 2017 I spent four weeks in Saint Petersburg. Let me review a few Russian charms taken from here and there.


The smallest monumentЧижик-пыжик or Chizhik-pizhik 

From previous visits in Saint Petersburg, I knew that the Chizhik-pizhik exists somewhere above the Fontanka channel. This time I found this tiny monument. Ursula took the photos.

There are coins on the small platform that the bird stands on. Here you see that people are throwing the coins aiming carefully. When the money lands on the platform, you have a wish!

“Чижик” or “chizhik” means siskin (Zeisig in German) and “пыжик” is either a young reindeer or the caps made out of the reindeer fur. Hence, the Chizhik-pizhik is a small siskin with a reindeer cap. This alludes to the students that used to wear those caps and also used to visit  the pub of the merchant Nefedov near the place, where the Fontanka channel meets the Moika channel. In that pub the students would sometimes drink too much and then feel dizzy. The Chizhik-pyzhik is actually a drunken student. A small song explains that:

Чижик-пыжик, где ты был? На Фонтанке водку пил. Выпил рюмку, выпил две —Зашумело в голове.
Chizhik-pyzhik, where’ve you been? Drank vodka on the Fontanka. Took a shot (literally: a small glass), took another – Got dizzy (literally: it roared in my head).



The Swiss watch of the brand Omega

Not far from the blue bridge crossing the Moika we found this clock. It is a Swiss clock of the brand Omega.

I could not find out, why this watch hangs in the Pereulok Antonenko near the blue bridge. Greetings from our home – charming.


Great gardens all over

Beginning of June the tulips were in flower. It was still spring. Towards the end of June, summer flowers started to be in bloom. There are beautiful parks all over Saint Petersburg. One of them is the Jelagin Park where we took this photo.

Charming gardens!


Beware of “unexpected” obstacles Saint Petersburg or Venise of the North

The channels Moika, Fontanka and Griboedov as well as the Neva are great for a boat trip – we did two of them. Here our boat is flying along the Fontanka close to the houses called “Three Sisters”.

But… the channels are definitively impractical for cars.

Charming traffic sign!


“My” Planeta Fitness has now become a church

“My” Planeta Fitness or Планета Фитнес was the place where I kept fit, when I was in Saint Petersburg in 2013. I loved the Planeta Fitness for its efficiency and the good fitness trainers. Though the equipment was somewhat worn out, it was perfect and charming.

“My” Planeta Fitness does no longer exist now. It has become a church, as the new decoration on the window shows.

Fitness can still be acquired in Saint Petersburg, but I found a different setup. A friend of mine took me to a luxury hotel with a luxury spa… the elyptical trainers were modern and in good shape and there was a large swimming pool with wellness corners. Things have obviously changed in Saint Petersburg.


Rain, rain, rain… it is a cold summer in Saint Petersburg

2017 is a chilly summer in Saint Petersburg, and there are often heavy rainfalls. More than once, we were wet through to the skin. We never left our house without an umbrella. Very useful, as this photo taken from our kitchen window  shows.

When back in Switzerland, I had to switch on my ventilator, because it was so hot – more than 30 degrees. When skyping with my Russian teacher she says that she has no ventilator. I am about to feel sorry for her, but she laughs: “What do I need a ventilator for here in Saint Petersburg, it is rarely more than 20 degrees now.”

It is good that there is so much to do in Saint Petersburg, even when it is chilly and raining. It is a charming town, and I look forward to returning some time soon. This is the wish that I would utter, when successfully throwing money on to the platform of the Chizhik-pizhik or Чижик-пыжик.




Back to Saint Petersburg – some thoughts about the Russian language

Before leaving to Saint Petersburg in June 2017, Ursula studied the Cyrillic alphabet. When walking around, she would always read, what she sees – and she understood a lot such as: банк=bank, кофе хаус=coffee house, бистрот=bistrot, ресторан=restaurant, стритфуд=street food, магазин=shop (magasin), автобус=bus (Autobus), такси=taxi, вокзал=station (from Vauxhall) or – another example – френч дог=French dog.  Knowing the alphabet provides the first access to the language.

Having been exposed to Russian for quite a while, I experience the Russian verbs to be one of my most serious obstacles. I keep on stopping, when seeing advertisements and signposts… why have they used the perfect aspect here and the imperfect aspect there…? And why the multidirectional and not the unidirectional motion ? How do Russians think?


About the perfect and imperfect aspect – some cases

The perfect and imperfect aspect are unique in Russian (and other Slavic languages). The perfect aspect shows that the result of an action (or of some actions) matters or that the action is planned. The  imperfect aspect points to the fact (“has it happened or has it not happened?”) or to the process (now, in future or in the past). Russians use two separate verbs for their two aspects, and I could not find any consistent rules to relate one to the other (e.g. говорить is imperfect and сказать is perfect – both meaning “sagen”). The concept applies to all verb forms, also to the infinitive.

In the newly renovated park of New Holland in Saint Petersburg they play nicely with the two aspects, perfect (pf) and imperfect (impf).

It says: “We ask you (now, impf) to wait a little bit (pf, result “until” matters), until the young lawn will strengthen and grow (pf, future). Very soon it will be possible again to rest on it, to read, to eat or to simply look into the sky (rest, read, eat, look are processes in the future, hence impf).” It sounds charming – I do not know another language that gives access to those ideas so nicely. Translating the text literally into English does not convey the full charm of it.

This is another example. When going for a boat trip on the channels of Saint Petersburg, you are asked not to stand up under the bridges. “Под мостами” means “under the bridges” and “не вставать” means “do not stand up”. “не вставать” is a negative imperative in the imperfect aspect (expressed here using the infinitive –  in German you could also use the infinitive for the imperative: “nicht aufstehen!”).

Tatjana told me that, for the negative imperative, I should use the imperfect aspect in 95% of the cases. The reason: It is just forbidden to DO something – nobody is interested in the result of the action, what matters is just the “doing” that is not allowed. BUT if you are really afraid of the result of the action, then it matters and you would use the perfect aspect. Standing up under the bridge can really hurt, as they are so low above the water level. When approaching the bridge, I might watch my friend stand up, I might be shocked, I might fear, she will bump her head into the bridge now, I want to prevent the accident and, as the danger is very real and immediately ahead of us, I would then shout “не встань” (perfect aspect – do not stand up!).

Another example that puzzled me: In Russian trains there are green buttons that you are asked to press to open the door at the station. Having to press those buttons is a general fact. Hence in the trains, “press the green button” is written in the imperfect aspect: “нажимаете зелённую кнопку” (“нажимаете” means “press” and is imperfect). But then, in Repino, I find this plate: “Нажмите кнопку – ждите зелённый сигнал”. “Нажмите” (press) is the perfect aspect and “ждите” (wait) is imperfect. Why this? I sense that it is still a general fact that I have to press the green button, whenever I want to order green light to cross the street, but the Russians seem to think differently, as Tatjana explains to me.

For Tatjana, it was evident. By pressing the green button (perfect action), you start the process of waiting (imperfect action).  I can understand, what she means, but I find it difficult to get this right.


About the verbs of motion such as “ходить” and “идти” – and I am twinkling with my eyes

“По газонам не ходить” means “do not step onto the grass”. More precisely translated it means “do not walk around on the grass”. This also includes “do not walk to the shore and then back.” The verbs of motion differentiate between the process of going in one direction (“unidirectional motion”, идти ) and to walk around or go there and return (“multidirectional motion”, ходить). The sign says that it is forbidden to walk on the grass, “multidirectionally” or “to the shore and back”.

Now I am joking: These two guys may have done everything right, because so far they have only walked to the shore (which might be expressed by the unidirectional verb “идти”). In case they leave the place swimming, they have not walked around (“ходить” – forbidden) nor have they gone there AND returned (also – “ходить” – forbidden).

I am doing hairsplitting and twinkling with my eyes. Of course, the intention is to forbid “any” way of walking on the grass, which requires the “multidirectional” verb “ходить”.

Multi- and unidirectional motions is another concept that applies to Slavic languages and it holds for all verbs of motion such as climb, run, drive, bring, crawl, swim – in the imperfect aspect.


Back in Saint Petersburg – exploring Russian Art in the Russian Museum – Peredwizhniki and earlier

The Russian Museum (Государственный Русский музей) gives an overview of Russian painting and sculptures. Again using our guidebook “Russisches Museum: Museumsführer” (Palace Editions 2014), I am now turning to my impressions about the Peredwishniki of the 19th century and earlier.


Second half of the 19th century – the Peredwizhniki are looking for the real life of people and for (real) Russian history

“The barge haulers” by Ilja Repin do fascinate me again and again. Eleven haggard men are dragging the boat that appears faintly in the background – and it is a hot day. Dostoewsky described what I also feel, “[I saw] barge haulers, real barge haulers, and nothing more… you can’t help but think you are indebted, truly indebted, to the people.” (Wikipedia, quote taken from Frank, Joseph. “Dostoevsky: The Mantle of the Prophet, 1871–1881”. Princeton University Press, 2003. 111. ISBN 0-691-11569-9).

Repin: Barge haulers on the Volga (Бурлаки на Волге), 1873

Repin also painted portraits. For instance his “Tolstoy” is very realistic – he was a double-edged person – and his “State Council” shows many, many honorable men around the turn of the century.  In addition he created romantic landscape paintings like this “Taiga”.

Repin: Taiga

Repin was a member of the Peredvizhniki (передвижники). They emerged, when in 1863 a group of students protested and refused to do the mythological paintings needed to pass the exams. Instead they started to paint the real life of people and the real history of Russia and to show their paintings on traveling exhibitions – that is where the name “Peredvizhniki ” comes from.

In addition to Repin, I discovered Surikov who created some great history representations such as Stenka Rasin and Suvorov crossing the Alps.

Surikov: Stenka Razin, 1906.

Stepan or Stenka Razin was a Cosack that lead an uprising in southern Russia in the 17th century. Surikov painted him, when he was sailing on the Volga. He had planned to marry a Persian princess. His fellow combatants complained that he became mellow like a woman. He does not like that and decides to throw the princess into the river. Surikov painted him just after he had thrown the princess into the waves of the Volga. Listen to Shalyapin singing about this event of Glasunov’s opera – this is one verse taken from it: “Волга, Волга, мать родная, Волга – русская река, Не видала ты подарка От донского казака” (Volga, Volga, my dear mother, Volga – Russian river, you have never seen a gift from a Don Cossack).

I could not stop looking at Surikov’s dramatic scene of Suvorov crossing the Alps. Suvorov was one of the most successful Russian generals. Surikov painted him, when he was 70 years old and had lost his last battle against Napoleon in 1799. He escaped by crossing three smaller passes (Kinzigpass to get to the Mutotal, then the Pragelpass to reach Glarus and finally the Panixerpass to reach Graubünden). On the painting the troops are sliding down on an ice field and I can see the sheer angst in the faces of the soldiers. Suvorov succeeded to bring part of his troops back to Russia.

Surikov: Suvorov crossing the Alps, 1899.

Another poetic painting of Surikov’s is the bronze horseman representing Peter the Great in front of Isaac’s Cathedral.

Surikov: The Bronze Horseman

When looking at Surikov’s horseman, I can feel Pushkin’s poem which tells the dramatic story of Evgeny who loses his beloved Parasha, when Saint Petersburg was flooded. He survives sitting on the marble lions next to the Bronze Horseman. A year later, he remembers the event, goes mad and shouts at the horseman. The horseman comes to live and starts to pursue Evgeny (медный всадник).

There were more Peredvizhniki that I liked, for instance Wassily Polenov with his “Christ and the Aldulteress” and Archip Kuindshi with mysterious “Moonlight in  a Forest“.


First half of the 19th century impacted by the war against Napoleon

The 19th century started with the war that Alexander i had to fight against Napoleon (1806-1814). It was a traumatic event in Russia that ended with the invasion of Paris. Portrait and landscape painting is influenced by the Romantic movement. The joyful  “An Italian Midday” by Brullov is an example. I spend a long time in front of Iwanow’s  “the appearance of Christ before the people” studying the faces and gestures of the people.

Iwanow: The appearance of Christ before the people, before 1855 (Source: “Russisches Museum: Museumsführer” (Palace Editions 2014))

At this time, a few painters such as Wenezianow and Krylow were interested in real life. Wenezianow painted the farmers in his village and Krylow created a beautiful winter landscape.

Paintings of the bourgeois middleclass and romantic paintings of the city emerge. One example of a romantic city painting is the dramatic “Alexander column” during a thunderstorm by Raev.

Our guidebook points out that though the themes have changed to real life, the representation is still idealistic. Towards 1850 a dramatic touch appears. Fedotow paints such a scene where an impoverished noblemen asks the daughter of a rich merchant to marry him, and she refuses (major’s betrothal).


18th century impacted by Peter the Great opening the window to the west

In 1703 Peter the Great opened the window to the west by founding Saint Petersburg. He invited European artists to work for him and he sent young artists to Europe to study painting. After returning many of them became portrait artists at the court. An outstanding example is Nikitin, in particular his portrait of a Hetman. In addition, the artists take up antique and classical topics. Losenko puts a Russian theme into a somewhat classical setting: King Vladimir asks to marry Rogneda (she is reluctant).

Dimitry Levizki shows Catherine the Great making law and she stands in the temple of the Goddess of Justice – her portrait has been moved to European antiquity.

Levizki: Catherine II as Legislator in the Temple of the Goddess of Justice, 1783 (Source: “Russisches Museum: Museumsführer” (Palace Editions 2014)).

Some paintings show the grandeur of Saint Petersburg such as the view of the palace water front  taken from the Peter and Paul Fortress by Fyodor Alexeev.

Alexeev: View of the palace water front, after 1794 (Source: “Russisches Museum: Museumsführer” (Palace Editions 2014))

In 1764, the Academy of Art was founded. It shaped the Russian art scene for the next 100 years.


11th until 17th century dominated by religion

From the 11th until the 17th century, religion dominates the artistic scene with icons and church utensils. This site gives an overview of the icons in the Russian museum. I loved the various representations of Maria such as the Maria of Belosersk. The original of the Archangel Gabriel, painted around 1200 in Novgorod, is in the Russian museum – we have already admired him in Novgorod.

Archangel Gabriel, around 1200 in Novgorod, copy from Novgorod

I always say hello to Boris and Gleb, the sons of king Vladimir who became the first martyrs of the orthodox church and to the apostles Peter and Paul by Andrei Rublev.

Andrei Rublev: Apostles Peter and Paul, 1408

With the Russian icons we leave the Russian Museum. Russian art may have taken up their ideas first from Byzantium and then from Europe. However, they worked on those ideas and gave them the Russian character I do like.

Back to Saint Petersburg – exploring Russian art history in the Russian museum – late 19th and 20th century until present

The Russian Museum (Государственный Русский музей) of Saint Petersburg has been initiated by Tsar Alexander III. Valentin Serov painted this rather strong man – his painting takes up impressionistic trends in 1900.

Serov: Portrait of Alexander III, 1900

It then was Alexander’s son, Nicholas II, that inaugurated the museum in March 1898.

Serov’s portrait of Alexander hangs in the Benois Wing that hosts the Russian paintings of the late 19th and the 20th century until present. Let us explore this period now. My primary source for the background information is the book “Russisches Museum: Museumsführer”, Palace Editions, Sankt Petersburg 2014 as well as the detailed explanations in the museum.


Suprematism – the ultimate Avant-Garde

“Avant-Garde” – this is what the art trends before and shortly after the revolution of 1917 are called in Russia. The culmination was marked by Malevich’s and Rodchenko’s radically abstract geometric forms – their squares and circles. We talk about “Suprematism” here.

Malevich: Black square, black circle and black cross, 1915

Rodchenko: White circle, 1918

Malevich gave up painting after having reduced it to the minimum and only returned to it in the late 1920’s combining abstract forms with real objects. I like his Red Cavalry.

Source: Russisches Museum: Museumsführer – Red Cavalry, 1932

The Red Cavalry reminds me of this line of giraffes that Ernst captured at the horizon of the yellow steppe in the Etosha park in Namibia in 2008.

May be we are all trying to understand eternity beyond our horizon.


In addition to Suprematism, the Russian Avant-Garde has many more facets

The Benois Wing. presents many more sides of the Russian Avant-Garde that I have not been aware of so far.  In addition to “Suprematism”, “Avant-garde” materializes in various trends that are called “Abstract”, “Luchism” or “Rayonism”, “Neo-primitivism”, “Cubofuturism”, “Constructivism” and “Analytical”. Before the revolution, society was breaking up and looking for new horizons and so were painting and literature.

Famous is Nathan Altmann that painted the poet Akhmatova in cubist style.

Altman: Portrait of Anna Akhmatova, 1914

Pavel Filonov presented the Masleniza, a very Russian scene – celebrating shrovetide or fasnacht and the exit from winter. The painting counts as analytical style.

Filonov: Shrovetide and exit from winter into summer, 1913-14

A representation of the neo-primitive style is Natalja Goncharova with her evangelists.

Goncharova: Evangelists in blue, 1911

Boris Grigoriev painted in expressionist manner. This portrait of Vsyevolod Meyerhold reminds me of the devil Voland in Bulgakow’s “Master and Margerita” (Voland stirred up Moscow where Master and Margarita lived their adventures; written in 1928 and completed in 1940). However, Meyerhold was not a devil, but a very courageous theatre director and producer that was executed in 1940. I do not know, whether Grigoriev had the intention to make him look like a devil, but this is what he seemed to look like for Ursula and me.

Grigoriev: Portrait of Vsyevolod Meyerhold, 1916

One of the artists that stood at the beginning of the Avant-Garde was Michail Vrubel. Some of his paintings reflect Art Modern. He became famous with painting demons. In addition Vrubel took up the tradition of central Russia to make majolicas.

Vrubel: Sadko Dish, Abrametsewo Ceramics Workshop, Majolica relief and coloured enamels 

I read about the majolica production in Russia in “the Mikula and Volga fireplace” by Peter Stupples. Vrubel and other artists had the idea to decorate buildings using majolicas. In Abrametsewo an old oven was restored. Piotr Vaulin was the technically trained ceramist that enabled Vrubel to produce majolicas in good quality. No majolicas by Vrubel without Vaulin. Vrubel has taken the reputation for everything without sharing it – not a nice practice by my opinion. Today Piotr Vaulin has been almost forgotten. I was fascinated to meet him again, as he is the grand-father of my friend Anna Vaulina. He has decorated the mosque of St. Petersburg with blue ceramic tiles and, when staying in the apartment of Anna’s cousin in 2002, I noticed a blue plate decorated with a swinging relief of flowers. Vaulin’s majolica plate resembled Vrubel’s majolica plate – or the other way round.


The 1920’s and the 1930’s

After the revolution in the 1920′ and 30’s work and sports became predominant. Two examples are Sergei Luchishkin’s “skiers” and Kuzma Petrov-Vodkins “spring”.

Luchishkin: Skiers, 1926

Being a skier myself, I like the joyful atmosphere of the painting “skiers”. And – I admire my friends from Petersburg that are proud to be горнолыжники or skiers – and they have learnt skiing well, even dynamic carving, though the hills are very, very small around Saint Petersburg – by Swiss standards.

Petrov-Vodkin: Spring, 1935.

The couple enjoying spring reminds me of socialist heroes, but the bright and friendly colours attract me.


Present time: Paintings and sculpture of contemporary artists

Last, the Benois Wing shows sculptures and paintings of contemporary artists. The styles vary. Some remind me of the socialist style and others are more individualistic art interpretations.  I like this queue painted by Alexej Sundokov that seems to have no beginning and no end. The beginning disappears in the lower right corner. And the end must be somewhere far behind me (the spectator). I am standing in line looking at the back of the woman with the brown bag just in front of me.  The painting reminds me of this joke: There is a queue here? There must be something you can buy here! Let me stand in line as well! The spectators are invited to join the queue.

Alexej Sundukov: Queue, 1986

Adelaide Pologova’s sculpture shows a woman that is trying to get everything done – work, household, raising a child… much stress.

Pologova: Keeper of a hearth, 1983

Yevsei Mioseyenko paints a boy with his grand-father in a typical Russian village.

Mioseyenko: Sergei Yessenin with his grand-father, 1963-64

This is what the room looks like in which Andrej Jakowlew thinks about participation. What participation? Perhaps collaboration between the two men at the table?

Jakowlew: Participation, 1968


The Benois Wing motivates us to buy some souvernirs

There is a beautiful museum shop where I buy pretty shopping bags to present to friends, when back at home. The bag that I buy for me shows the painting “Churches. New Jerusalem” by Aristarch Lentulow.

Source: Russisches Museum: Museumsführer – Lentulow: Churches. New Jerusalem, 1917

Lentulow’s churches are very, very Russian and charming.

In the museum shop we also buy the Guidebook to the Russian Museum, in order to recapitulate later what we have seen. I wish that one of our museums in Switzerland would exchange with the Russian museum to make the latest Russian paintings and sculptures more known in Europe.