Stalingrad

Stalingrad

You’ve read the books….

You’ve watched the movies….

You’ve seen the documentaries….

…Now read the blog…..

It’s a 600km trek from the Rostov-on-Don and the edge of the Caucasus Mountains, across the steppe to Volgograd….I never get used to calling the city Volgograd…seems not only disrespectful to history and the casualties of the Great Patriotic War but  I think Volgograd simply sounds rather mealy-mouthed and clumsy.

Here’s something you won’t see (in the UK anyway)….in the top left hand corner of your GPS Satellite Navigation is the directional indicator….(such as 150m turn left or 3.7km keep right) …

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Not often you see 303 km before the next turn!


Anyway…flat rolling farmland steppe mile after mile…not much to see

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Except for the guys who were slowly replacing the old electricity pylons

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And the memorial to the huge tank battles fought on the plains for hundreds of kilometres beyond the raging hand to hand combat of the  battle for the city of Stalingrad.

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A fantastic example of Socialist Realism sculpture….if you look carefully you can see that this is a huge metal hand hurling a ‘javelin’ of tanks at the enemy……and its 30 metres high!

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Then the outskirts of the city are reached

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You can tell because the shell holes still pock-mark the landscape creating a barren zone surrounding the city…

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…. and then it couldn’t be more different.

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Of course there Battle of Stalingrad left the entire city as rubble with hardly a building left standing and thus the entire city has been rebuilt in that depressingly familiar Soviet ‘block’ style which seemingly forgoes aesthetics of any stripe.

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And it will take more than some retroactively applied creative paintwork to make a difference I’m afraid

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Those who are fed up with memorials on this blog can click on some internet porn or something now because the city has little else to offer except for one of the most important war memorials in all of Russia

Rodina-mat….Mother Russia

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The sculpture is called …The Motherland Calls

With a sword some 33metres long and and at a total height of 85metres, she dwarfs even Aloysha silently standing guard up there in the frozen north of Murmansk at a mere 36metres in height.

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Like Aloysha she dominates a hill overlooking the city….Unlike Aloysha you can’t miss finding her…the surrounding memorial park is huge and well signposted.

The plaza that leads to the memorial

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Chicks with big hands

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and big feet

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aren’t my type……

And she hardly has an inviting expression…

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But she’s got presence…I gotta admit

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As you walk up the steps from the plaza you are confronted by this impossibly perfect ‘new Soviet man’

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hewing himself from his granite plinth.

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With ‘her’ dominating the skyline beyond….

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Then you follow more stairs, walking further upwards through this man-made “canyon”….. revolutionary slogans and war-cries blare thru hidden speakers and then the chaotic sounds of machine guns, explosions, and dive bombing planes fills the canyon in a deafening din…..

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The walls depict rough brickwork and rubble, the figures seemingly incorporated into the ruins of the city…

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with the ever present Lenin serenely hovering above the din.

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These ghostly images are the spirits of those comrades forever one with the remains of the city…

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Onto the Avenue of Heroes

As noted in a previous post on Socialist Realism: to be heroic, patriotic, looking to the future, inspiring strength, brotherhood, and fraternity amongst comrades….

Banishing the serpent of fascism….

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Stepping over the fascist invader….

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Onward……

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Carrying your comrade forward…..

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After the din and confusion of the canyon sculpture, Robert Schumanns ” Dreams” echoes hauntingly as you move towards the base of “Rodina Mat” to the memorial rotunda.

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The outside the rotunda is a vast bas-relief mural telling the story of the Stalingrad battle

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even displaying German prisoners of war in bondage (though never referred to as “Germans” but “Fascists” in Soviet history so as not to offend their communist comrades of East Germany)…..

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The inscription says……”so the Fascists wanted to reach the Volga? The Red Army gave them their wish”

Inside the rotunda Schumann continues to swirl around the eternal flame and the names of the fallen inscribed on the walls…

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The honour guard is a 24 hour presence and the guard is changed every hour on the hour in a highly choreographed display of high stepping and rifle twirling.

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If this display, in this place, is designed to stun the viewer into contemplation and reverence…….

It succeeds.

You enter the rotunda on the lower level and emerge at the top of the rotunda plaza to be confronted by one more sculpture before arriving at the base of Mat Rodina herself….

This is the final hit to the solar plexus, and if you have managed to hold your emotions in check thus far, most would find this to be an image too far…..

There is no need for an inscription…..

There is no need for an explanation…..

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The universal comprehension of a mother’s loss…a mothers sorrow.

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It takes pride of place at this memorial….in stark contrast to the expected patriotic triumphalism one would expect from the Soviet Union in such a place……

……and finally to the giant on the hill….

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The huge but ancient lighting system which illuminates Mat Rodina at night….

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(looks like something my mate Jantzen would rig together!!)

There is a ongoing conversation within Russian society to reclaim the name of Stalingrad for the city…..perhaps enough time has passed that the name Stalin no longer instils the fear, revulsion, and horror of his rule from 1928-1953……

The nearby Stalingrad Hotel and Bar certainly thinks so

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with Comrade Stalin’s portrait hanging proudly on display

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