As we already told you in our first blog post about Russia half a year ago we had a picture in our mind before we entered. Even though or even because it turned out to be quite wrong, we got
quite interested in Russia. Here we went off, getting our picture corrected in terms of present and past.
I guess we all have heard about the Zars, the Tatars, the Kosaks, Lenin and Stalin. To be honest, we didn’t have a glue what’s the story behind all of them. So visiting the important and less important sites we usually get a little closer to history…
1136: Veliky Novgorod
Veliky Novgorod is in the far west of Russia, so it was one of our last destinations, even though it is called the birth town of Russia. When we got there, we were a little shocked due to all the
tourists from St. Petersburg. We came from the beautiful unpopulated Siberia and were not used to many people at touristic sites. Anyways it was worth to see. The Novgorod kremlin, that’s how the
Russians call their political and religious city centers, was first built in the 9th century. In 1136 the city became independent from the Kiev Rus regime as the first city in territory of later
Russia. During this time it started its expansion north-east and gained a lot of importance. The peoples assembly, called Wetsche, came together here and was responsible for all political
decisions. The peaceful assemblies couldn’t really last long.
The biggest enemy of the young state came the same way like we did during the last weeks. The legendary Dschingis-Khan rushed from Mongolia through Russia just like through many other countries and left a vacuum of power. In the east of todays Russia the Golden Horde or better known as the Tatars took over the power. In the western part many different cities fought each other to get the total power. At the end of the 15th century Iwan III, the ruler of Moskva, took most of the regions and called himself the first Zar of Russia.
1547: Iwan the Terrible
With the official coronation of Iwan the 4th the dynasty of the Zars started and with them the rise of the Kosaks. They were former serfdoms that flew from the Russian upper class and lived often as thieves in the no-man’s-land between Russia and the Ukraine where they became good warriors. When the Zars wanted to gain new territories eastwards they asked for the help of the Kosaks. For their help they became the leadership of Siberia as we could see in Talzy at Lake Baikal. There we visited one of their wooden fortresses together with Maria. Krasnoyarsk and Tomsk, some of the leading cities in Eastern Siberia were as well founded by them. In 1648 they finally reached the most eastern part of Siberia.
1613 - 1917: The Romanovs founded St. Petersburg
The Baikal was our most eastern destination. On the way back towards Europe we passed by many important cities that were founded during the time of the Romanov rulers. The first Zar from the Romanov family was voted by the whole Russian society in 1613 after the Polish and the Swedish crown tried to take the title.
For sure the most important cities we have been are Yekaterinburg and Novosibirsk.
The founding of Novosibirsk is one of the most important events for Siberia. Now the third biggest city in Russia it started as a village of workers for the big Trans-Siberian-Railway-bridge across the Ob-river. The Railway is still the most important transport system in this part of the country and brought many people and goods to the eastern parts of Russia. We spent several days there. Not because it is so beautiful. It isn’t. It is an industrial city, but with lots of nice people and a really nice flair.
Our next destination was Yekaterinburg, which was named after Katerina. The German wife of Peter III killed her husband and became one of the biggest rulers in the Russian history. During her
time the Russian economy grew a lot. She implemented many schools and an equal administrative system for whole of Russia.
Yekaterinburg is the capital of the Ural region. The Russian region with one of the best iron and copper sources in the world. The roof of the London’s House of Parliament comes from there and there are theories that even the steel structure of the Statue of liberty is made from Russian steel…
Later many important events of the history took place there. During World War II many factories from western Russia were brought there. The last Romanovs were killed here after Lenin took the power and the first Russian president, after the Soviet Union broke down, came from this city.
Then we skipped Moscow and went almost straight to St. Petersburg where we spent four days and still didn’t see all the important places of history!
So we couldn’t see the Peter and Paul Fortress, which was built in 1689 by Peter I to get closer to the much more modern Europe. 1712 the city became the new capital. Many beautiful buildings were built and till the beginning of the 19th century Russia became one of the leading countries in the world. So in 1812 Zar Alexander I was the biggest enemy of Napoleon but in the country the problems became bigger and bigger. The farmers wanted to get rid of the serfdom while the aristocracy were afraid to lose their rights. So his grandson, even though he gave the normal people more rights, was killed in 1881 by the radical opposition at the place where we now could see the beautiful Church of the Savior on Blood.
Taking part in World War I made the situation even worse, so it’s not really a surprise that the big February-Revolution started in St. Petersburg in 1917. The Germans were hoping when Lenin and the Bolsheviks could get the power there would be an end of the war and so they helped him to get back to Russia.
1917 – 1991: The Soviet Area
We visited the house from where Lenin spoke to the people in St. Petersburg and saw a Lenin Statue in every Russian and as well former Soviet city. We were surprised that still today many people seem to like him. He implemented many good things like education and a health care even in the most remote places, without being such a maniac like Stalin few years later.
About this horrible time of Stalin you do not find much information. We could find one place deep in the Urals. A so called gulag. Stalin had big dreams. To industrialize the country he started many big projects like the Baikal-Amur-Railway. Therefore he needed many cheap workers and no workers are cheaper than prisoners you only need to keep alive. So during World War II there were up to one quarter of the population kept in the gulags. Most of them for almost no reasons. Many as enemies of the government and only a few real bad people. At the gulag in Perm we saw how the people lived. They slept in cold rooms with many people, didn’t get much food and the hygienic standards were really poor. Many of them died because of the hard work outside during the Siberian winters.
1991: The end or the new area
In 1991 most of the former Soviet Countries got independent of big Russia and Boris Jelzin was voted for the first president of Russia. If you will ever go to Yekaterinburg you have to visit the museum about him. We spent a whole day there and even though they show him a bit too good we did learn a lot about him and the time he was in power. At the end of the Sovietera he spoke open about a radical change. Due to this he lost all his political jobs and left the communist party. Later when he took power he tried to change the country from a communist to a capitalistic. At the end of his area he gave Putin the power. Today’s president is especially in Europe seen skeptical but the Russians like to discuss about politics as well. Anyways, at the end there is always one sentence: “Merkel and Putin are the politicians, but we are normal people like you!”
We are so happy that we had the opportunity to see this great country and its great people. They are influenced by their history but we are as well. One man told us with tears in his eyes that he had the worst time of his life at the border in Berlin with the order to shoot when something would go wrong. More than one time he told us, how happy he is to see us, young people, coming to his beautiful country not judge the people for their history.