I know many Russians who moved abroad for better lives and I know just a few foreigners who came to Russia to change things here for better. I truly admire such people. One of them is Stefan Semken from the Ural village of Bingi.
Stefan is a German entrepreneur, together with his Russian wife Olga he decided to buy a house not far from Yekaterinburg. He liked Nevyansk area 80km to the north of Yekaterinburg. In 2007 Stefan found a 140 years old wooden house in Bingi, a village of the gold diggers. Stefan and Olga converted their house into a guesthouse with a banya. Guests can also stay in three yurts erected in the yard. Budget-conscious travelers can even pitch their own tent in the back yard. Even though the house looks small Stefan assured that he can accommodate up to 25 people. At least that was a record broke by his Russian friends who came for a visit in a group of 25 persons which made the Semkens spend that memorable night in their minivan. I imagine the house looked like a refugee camp but the hosts didn’t seem to be bothered at all.
I heard about Stefan from many tourists (they especially praise Olga’s cooking and Stefan’s hospitality) but only got to his place this September before the end of the season. As there is no gas in the house and Olga has to cook in the summer kitchen, their house is closed when the temperature drops to +12 C and lower, that is from October till beginning of May. The house looks like a very cozy place with lots of antiques. Stefan will show you some old coins of the pre-revolution days that he had found in his garden and a tusk of a mammoth – a gift from a local gold digger.
Apart from the stay in the farm house, guests are offered a transfer to Yekaterinburg, tours in the area and most importantly an excursion in the village including a ride in a neighbor’s Ural motorbike. Bingi is a pretty village of Old Believers who were persecuted by the Tsar and had to move to the Urals in 17th-18th centuries. The Old Believers were known as hard working people who didn’t drink alcohol. Things have changed though and one of Stefan’s concerns is that it’s difficult to hire local people to help.
The Semkens have to do everything themselves. Next year Stefan is planning to build an extension of the house and says it would be great to find a German carpenter. Germans have always played an important role in the history of Russia, starting from Peter the Great who was found of German culture and traditions. By the way, one of the city founders of Yekaterinburg was a German General Wilhelm de Genin, sent to the Urals by Peter the Great to manage the production of iron ore. Stefan could become a good manager of his area too. He already knows what to do to improve life and ecology in the place where he lives and he never hesitates to say it to the mayor of Nevyansk. He is a good friend of the new mayor of Yekaterinburg Eugeni Roizman and helps Roizman’s fund The City without Drugs. Needless to say if you stay at the Semkens’ place you will learn a lot about current political, economical and cultural affairs in Russia and in the Urals.
I’ll definitely go there again next season for a countryside weekend and for a banya!
Check the website www.semken.eu to learn more about accommodation in GuLAG Bingi as Stefan puts it.
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