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29Nov/110

Germans in the Urals

Russian Germans (Russkie Nemtzy) is a generalized term used in the Russian language to name the people whose forefathers moved to Russia before the Revolution or were sent to labour camps during the Great Patriotic War in the USSR. Many of them migrated to Germany in 1990s but some decided to stay. For instance, my elderly neighbor babushka Anna said she was too old to integrate into the western society. Assuming that she lived in the industrial town of Nizhni Tagil, she had probably been a victim of Stalin repressions but she never spoke about it.

There are about 600 000 Russian Germans living in Russia today, over 20 000 of them live in Middle Urals. The Festival of German Culture in Russia was held for the first time in November in Yekaterinburg. About 200 of Russian Germans came from different parts of the Urals to share what they have preserved: folk songs and dances, national costumes and German quisine. By the way, the first Governer of Sverdlovskaya Oblast , Eduard Rossel is Russian German too. Other famous Russian Germans in the Urals are fellow artists Lew Weiber and Michail Distergeft.

Both were sent to Gulag and spent their youth working in coal mines in Karpinsk (Northern Urals). They were released After the Second World War. Weiber studied at the college of Arts in Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg). Distergeft did the same in Nizhni Tagil. Of course, they were ‘ne vyezdnie’ (not permitted to travel abroad). There was a term Inner Emigration in Soviet artists’ lexicon in 1960s. It meant that looking for harmony the artists preferred to retreat to nature in order to create something for themselves and for a close circle of friends.

Yekaterinburg Gallery of Modern Art  (www.uralgallery.ru) exhibited the paintings of Weiber and Distergeft  as a part of the Festival of German Culture. The exhibition was called “The nature of memory. The memory of nature” It had Weiber’s landscapes of the Urals and graphic works by Gistergeft who portrayed the life of the Germans in labour camps. The graphic works were made in 1990s when Distergeft lived in Oranienburg, Germany.

30Oct/111

What museums to visit in Yekaterinburg?

Sverdlovsk Regional Museum of Local Lore (Kraevedcheski Muzey) is probably the largest Yekaterinburg. It has four halls which tell the history of the Urals from the ancient tribes to the Romanovs and Second World War. A new photo exhibition ‘Les Voyages in URSS’ tells about the so-called “Zastoy” era – years of stagnation in the USSR.

Red Square, Moscow 1956

Jacques Dupaquier is a French photographer who visited the USSR during the times of Khruschev and Brezhnev. Dupaquier first came to the USSR in 1956 as a member of the Society of French-Soviet Friendship.

Park Pobedy and a kiosk in Moscow, 1956

He took part in a car rally Paris-Tashkent with a stop in Sochi in 1964.

A beach in Sochi, 1964

Those days Sochi could hardly believe it would host the Olympics in 2014..Winter Olympics!

Finally, the French photographer travelled by Trans-Siberian railway from Vladivostok to Moscow in 1975. Has Russia changed since those days? You decide...

Sverdlovsk Train Station in 1975

Taiga, a town in Siberia

Chita, 1975

The exhibition ‘Les Voyages in URSS’ is open till 21st December 2011

Sverdlovsk Regional Museum of Local Lore is located in the centre next to the Iset Hotel. The museum has a hall of ancient history of the Urals with the Big Shigir Idol, the oldest wooden cult statue known in the world history (9.5 thousand years old).

Make sure you get to the Hall of the Romanovs on the top floor. It contains an interesting collection of letters, documents and personal belongings of the last Russian Tsar. The collection gives a better understanding of the unhappy events than a visit to Church on Blood or Ganina Yama Monastery

The hall of the Romanovs

Address: Prospect Lenina 69\10

Tel: +7 (343)376-47-78

26Oct/110

Novourask, a treasure of a closed town

Every sun rise is beautiful and it’s similarly beautiful in any part of the world. I spotted my October sun rise in a strange place near Novouralsk, a closed town behind the wall 90 km north of Yekaterinburg.

The town was known as Sverdlovsk-44 in the Soviet times and it was absolutely unknown to the rest of the world until 1994. Since that year it’s not a secret town but a closed town due to the Ural Electro Chemical Plant built there during World War II.  Novouralsk had the first mountain ski track in the Urals but very few people from the outside world could go skiing there (population of the town is 85.519)

Another treasure of Novouralsk is Verkhneyvenski pond with beaches and a yacht club.

Verkhneyvenski pond

The pond is outside the town thus you don’t have to go through the control post which you won’t be able to do anyway. Boat and yacht rentals are available in summer.

Getting there: by car from Novo-Moskovsky trakt drive through Pervouralsk. By any local train bound for Nizhni Tagil. Get off at Verkh-Neyvinsk Station. Novouralsk is on the left side, you will see it behind the barbed wire. The pond is on the right side. And the sun rise is for every one!

watch the sunrise by clicking here:

11Oct/110

Where and when to watch football in Yekaterinburg?

I like football and I'm happy that the Central stadium in Yekaterinburg was finally opened this year. The following information was published in Your Yekaterinburg (September and October issues) - it is a newspaper in English that my friends and I creat every month for you.

“Central stadium” was built in 1957 as the project of three architects – K. Nikulin, S. Vasilyev and Y. Vladimirsky. German prisoners took part in the construction of it.  For the middle of the 20th century, the stadium was one of the largest in the world. Two years after the opening of the “Central stadium” it hosted the World Cup of speed skating.

According to Russia’s request for the football World Cup in 2018, some matches of the tournament will be held at the “Central stadium”. However there is no full understanding about this. Currently, the stadium can hold 27,000 people, according to the FIFA requirements, 13,000 seats have yet to be added to hold the games of the World Cup 2018.

One of the alternatives considered by the stockholders is to increase the capacity of the Central Stadium using collapsible units that can be easily dissembled or assembled if needed. The decision is still pending. Because the stadium was built in 1957 and is a fine example of the constructivist style, it can not be rebuilt completely.

Sculptures mande in 50s above the front entrance depict sportsmen, workers and even a KGB officer

Besides, there is a prison in front of the stadium and it can be a challenge for the championship in Yekaterinburg, because barbed wire and the grim building aren’t very beautiful for the World Cup. However, Vladimir Putin promised during his visit in July, that the football competition will be held in the city.

Central prison, the oldest prison in the city is right in front of the central stadium on Repina St.

Opening of the stadium was marked by the victory of the local soccer club Ural over Moscow’s Khimki. To the joy of 25,000 fans, the local team defeated their opponents 5-2.

Ural-Khimki (Moscow) 5:2

FC Ural is now in the first division and is struggling to get to the Russian premier league. The football season in Russia finishes in November.  There are two more home games to be held in Yekaterinburg:

24 October at 19.30: Ural – Shinnik (Yaroslavl)

27 October at 19.30: Ural – Dynamo (Bryansk)

Ural's colors: orange and black. Ural’s mascot: humblebee. More on Ural http://www.fc-ural.ru/

26Sep/111

Why drivers of Volga cars feel superior?

I noticed that unlike Russians foreigners like Russian cars, Volga in particular. So this post may be interesting for you!

 

This year Volga celebrates its 65th Anniversary. The owners of old Volgas in Yekaterinburg organized a rally and an exhibition of antique automobiles behind the Cosmos cinema last weekend.

The first Volga manufactured by GAZ was a symbol of higher status in the USSR. Very few people could afford it and those who could have chauffeurs. Usually they were people from the government or the KGBs.

The Soviet comedy film of 1966 ‘Beware of the Car’ (US title: Watch out for the Automobile) tells a story of a Soviet Robin Hood – a humble insurance agent who stole Volgas from crooks, sold them and transferred money to orphanages.

 

Later upgraded Volgas were used as taxi cabs and ambulances.

Today the drivers of Volga have a negative reputation on Russian roads. They are stereotyped as arrogant drivers who never yield to others. Probably, it is so as many Volga drivers are people over 50 and the feeling of superiority from the Soviet past stuck in their minds.

However, on the day of the rally all cars gave way to antique Volgas, honking in respect. GAZ-21 Volgas look really amazing on Russian roads. Happy Birthday, Volga!

22Aug/110

Founders of Yekaterinburg

Yekaterinburg was born on 18, November 1723, the date when the iron factory on the river Iset started working. However, we celebrate the city’s birthday at 3d weekend of August because it’s warmer.  There are two men who were responsible for where we live now – the city founders Vasily Tatishchev and Georg Wilhelm de Gennin, aka Beavis and Butthead as they were nicknamed by youngsters in 1998 when the monument to the founders was erected.

Tatishchev was a prominent Russian statesman and ethnographer. Tatischev was the one who drew the line between Europe and Asia and gave the world two international words derived from Mansi’s languages: mammoth and Ural. Before Tatishchev Russians hadn’t used a particular name for the mountains. The western part of the country was Moscovia and everything ‘behind the Rock’ was Siberia. Finally, Tatishchev found a place on the Iset River to build a dam for state ironworks. The dam is now called plotinka and the foundries are now museums in the historical centre of Yekaterinburg.

Plotinka

Successful people have never been much awarded in Russia. Tatishchev was unfairly accused of bribery and General de Gennin replaced him. De Gennin was a mining engineer from Germany (some resources state he was a Dutchman). Thanks to him we have a very organized town layout with streets running straight west-east or north-south making it impossible to get lost.

De Gennin was somewhat idealistic – he was going to found an ideal city with clean streets, zero unemployment rates and, what seemed absolutely impossible, sober citizens. Surprisingly enough, his planned worked for a while at least for the only vodka shop in Yekaterinburg was opened once a week for a few morning hours.

Looking up at the monument to the city founders it’s always a question of ‘who is who?’ As the sculptor P.Chusovitin put it, the one who took off his hat in public is certainly Russian, as it is a Russian tradition to bare one’s head when greeting people.

9Aug/110

The oldest cemetery in Yekaterinburg

Many tourists, as I noticed, like visiting Russian cemeteries, apparently because they are so different from those in the West. Yekaterinburg is famous for two mafia cemeteries but there is also Ivanovskoye cemetery in the centre. The oldest cemetery in the city traces the history of Yekaterinburgers from rich merchants of 19th century to Gulag prisoners and the killers of the Romanovs.

Church of St, Iowan is the main church of Yekaterinburg

Ivanovskoye cemetery is hidden behind the blue church on Repina Street, 6A next to the city prison and opposite the Central Stadium. The Church of St. Iowan is the only one that worked in the Soviet Sverdlovsk. During the Second World War Stalin decided to ease restrictions on churches to appeal to people’s patriotism. So the church wasn’t destroyed but, of course, Father Nikolay, the priest of the church had to be on friendly terms with the KGB. Local merchants the Telegins built the church in 1846. The family was buried behind the church. These are the oldest tombstones here.

The cemetery is pretty much neglected. You can only walk along the main alley. The most prominent citizens were buried here in Stalin’s times. A few steps further to the bushes and you will see simple gravestones with Soviet stars – the graves of 1920s-30s. Some graves have just markers with names of the so-called ‘enemies of the USSR’, the victims of repressions.

A small square on the alley has a monument to local writer Bazhov. On the left side from it you will find a gravestone of Petor Ermakov – one of the murderers of the tsar’s family. He was the one who stabbed the children with his bayonet when they were still alive lying on the blood splattered floor of Ipatiev House. When the house became a Museum of Revolution, Ermakov did excursions there, telling people how he killed the Romanovs. No wonder that his gravestone is splashed with red paint now.

You can get to Ivanovskoye cemetery by trolley buses 3 and 17. They run past the main train station and Church on Blood. Get off at Central Stadium.

5Aug/110

Visim – the land of ostriches and old believers

Visim is a village located in National Park Visimsky, 50 km from Nizhni Tagil and 195 km to the North-West of Yekaterinburg. Why is it worth visiting? First of all, you’ll be able to see the real Ural Mountains. On your way to Visim, right on the border between Europe and Asia you pass Gora Belaya – one of the highest mountains in Middle Urals (705m). It has a well equipped skiing resort (www.gorabelaya.ru) and a chairlift operates all year long. On a sunny day you can see the village of Visim from the top of the mountain.

The landscape around Visim can be compared to Switzerland. No wonder that top local businessmen and the former Governor of Sverdlovskaya Oblast have their dachas in the area. The nearby village Uralets is the place where so-called ‘bad silver’ (first Ural platinum) was found in 1824. By 1917 Middle Urals was supplying 90% of the world’s platinum. They say you can still find platinum in local rivers.

Visim is not only a perfect retreat to breathe in fresh air and enjoy wild nature. It is also a good anthropological destination to learn more about Russian inhabitants. The village was founded in 1741 as a settlement around ironworks. The factory belonged to the Demidoffs – a famous dynasty of successful merchants in the Urals who later moved to Florence and became related to Napoleon. They brought their serfs from Ukraine and Tula (western Russia) to Visim and hired the already settled Old Believers who had fled to the Urals from Novgorod in the 1720s.

 “Three Ends”, the novel by the Visim-born writer Mamin-Sibiryak, depicts lifestyles in three areas of the village. Differences can still be seen in wooden architecture – Ukrainian and Tula houses have bright colours and elaborate décor. Old Believers’ houses look dark, solid and have shutters. Over time Ukrainian and Tula villagers assimilated as both liked wine and celebrations. Old Believers, however, managed to preserve their culture and austere customs. They are known as very hard-working, non-drinking strong people. Life expectancy in Visim is very high among Old Believers, some women reach 95. To date, there are several young men in the village who claim they are Old Believers.

The population in Visim is now 1200 although in the Soviet times it was 7000. It is interesting that the villagers do not like to promote Visim. They are afraid that new-comers may spoil their quiet rural life – unlike in many other decaying Russian villages, this one looks very neat. A local businessman helps the village to survive. He is currently building a mini-hotel and a church in Visim. The businessman is of course an Old Believer. Visim has two Museums: Museum of the writer Mamin-Sibiryak and Museum of Local Crafts. Public celebrations and festivals are held during Christmas holidays and Maslenitsa (Pan Cake carnival). There is a decent café Kedr in the centre of the village.

in the museum of Mamin Sibiryak

The highlight of Visim is a deer farm. The same local businessman bought herds of Saika Deer and Caspian Red Deer; in Russia they are called Siberian stags or Marals. The deers' velvet antlers are used to produce immune stimulant and anti-cancer medicine which the owner of the farm gives to his employees.

Book the tour to Belaya Mt and the Deer Farm here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/northern-urals

The excursion in the farm is 50 roubles. Make sure you bring some bread to feed deer. They especially like baton (sweet white bread).

A year ago the farmers received an unexpected gift – three abandoned ostriches on the farm doorstep. The birds outlived their first winter on the farm. It turned out that ostriches can endure temperatures down to -20, not that they liked it though.

Petrovich, the ostrich

and his girlfriend

Since spring 2011 the farm has adopted five Yakut horses. There is no worry about their survival. Yakut horses will probably take Ural winters for a summer holiday.

photo from www.E1.ru

Book the tour to Belaya Mt and the Deer Farm here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/northern-urals

Getting there by car: 115 km down Serovsky Trakt. Pass Lenevka Sanatorium and turn left to detour around Nizhni Tagil, then turn to Chernoistochinsk-Uralets and drive 50 km more. To enter Visim,  turn left from the highway. To go to the farm go 300m straight on. The farm is the next right turn from the highway. You will see a sign in Russian 'ostriches, deer'

Getting there by bus: there are buses from Nizhni Tagil Main Bus Station. Take a bus bound for Visimo-Utkinsk and get off at Visim bus stop.

25Jul/113

Tsarina Alexandra Romanova. How she became a Saint

Monastery Ganina Yama, the burial place of the Romanovs (17km from Yekaterinburg) is changing all the time. Some of the wooden churches get burnt, then restored again. The first stone church is being built now. So, even if you have been to Ganina Yama already, there is always something new and interesting to see. Recently, a bust of tsarina Alexandra appeared on the central valley of the monastery.

  German Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine, a favourite granddaughter of Queen Victoria was given a Russian name Alexandra Feodorovna as she married Nicolas II.  The new tsarina was heartily disliked in Russia from the very beginning. She seemed very reserved in public, ignored Russian culture and the court in St. Petersburg. Her obsession with mysticism and relationships with a controversial ‘holy man’ Rasputin didn’t add popularity. When the Romanovs were kept in the Ipatyev house in Yekaterinburg, Alix drew swastika and other cabalistic signs for good luck, which later gave rumors that it could be a ritual murder.   

Alix didn’t manage to learn Russian, so the family members spoke mainly English in the palace. However, she was a fervent Orthodox believer. Russian Orthodox Church canonized her in 2000 as Saint Alexandra the Passion Bearer.

Interestingly, the Romanovs are now presented by the church as saints above criticism. The monastery in Ganina Yama as well as Church on Blood in Yekaterinburg offer the so-called Orthodox excursions run by special Orthodox guides. No other guides are allowed to show tourists around. But there are many good books you can read on the subject and not to be baffled. One of them is Ekaterinburg by Helen Rappaport . A vivid account of the final fourteen days of the Romanovs will give you an idea of what was going on during those days not only in the Ipatyev house, but all over Russia and abroad.

Book the tour to Ganina Yama here: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/monastery-ganina-yama

8Jun/111

Lake Shartash – a piece of nature in Yekaterinburg

Summer is short, so don’t miss a chance to do a short eco-tour to Lake Shartash. You can walk in the forest, climb ancient rocks, ride a bicycle, go swimming and sunbathing on the beach, what’s more it’s all within Yekaterinburg so you don’t need a car to get there!

Shartash in the east of Yekaterinburg is one of the oldest lakes in the Urals - 1 million years old. It has a shape of a bean; its area is 7 sq.km. Shartash means a yellow stone therefore don’t be afraid of the yellowish waters – it’s not dangerous for swimming. First gold in the Urals was discovered in the lake area in 1745. The bottom of the lake has granite deposits and sapropel.

Getting there: from Lenin Prospect you can go by trams 8,13,15,23,32, “A” or any mini bus that has a weird abbreviation ‘40 let VLKSM’ (in English it means ‘40 years of All-Union Leninist Young Communist League’ – it’s actually the name of a tram stop) You need to get off at Kamennie Palatki on Viysotskogo Street. Cross the street, you will see a big sign Shartashsky Les (forest of Shartash) and stone steps leading up the rock. Climb the steps and you get to Kamennie Palatki:

Kamennie Palatki - granite monuments of the Stone Age can be found only in Middle Urals

Kamennie Palatki (stone tents) is something of the same significance in Russia as Stonehenge in England. The natural monument of the Iron Age is a wall of granite formed by the volcano eruption. Granite layers look like piles of huge pancakes. Archeologists found out that ancient people used the place as an altar.

Nowadays Yekaterinburgers bring food and drinks to Kamennie Palatki too, but instead of sacrifice they make picnics.

In 1905 the place was used by Sverdlov and other Bolsheviks for secret meetings.

Get down back to the street and walk about 400 m. eastward, the forest is on your left. Turn left in front of the petrol station. Cross a railway crossing. To rent a bicycle walk straight on to the forest, the lake is on your right. Continue walking till you see a sign on your right Sportivnaya Baza. Alternatively, from the railway crossing turn right and walk to Sundali Beach http://www.sundali-land.ru

Sundali Beach

Bicycle rentals are open daily from 10a.m. to 8p.m. 1 hour is 100-200roubles. Bring a passport or driver’s license with you to rent a bicycle. Don’t worry about the passport - it’s a common practice in Russia when a rental company keeps your document while you keep a bicycle.

The cycling trail around the lake is 12.5 km. Near the village of Shartash you have to cycle about 2 km on the highway as there is no trail by the lake which is inconvenient especially with children. My favourite route is along the lake anti-clockwise to Izoplit village and back. It takes one hour and apart from peaceful nature you will see an interesting site in Izoplit:  shabby wooden huts standing next to mansions of rich Yekaterinburgers:

Houses in Izoplit on Rybakov Street

And on the opposite side of the same street...

For sale

Shartash is a closed lake. It has about 50 springs and no outflows. The lake is getting shallow; it’s now 2-3m. deep and scientists predict it may turn into a swamp in 50-70 years. I hope you will find some time to visit this beautiful ancient lake before it disappears.

Whenever I have a day off in summer I go to Shartash for a ride. You are more than welcome to join me 😉

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AskUral.com is the blog dedicated to my lovely region known as the Urals or the Ural Mountains in Russia.

My name is Luba Suslyakova. I am based in Yekaterinburg (Russia), and I would love to share useful information about my area as much as possible and be your travel adviser.

Just keep asking me via the contact form and I will come back to you with answers!

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