Saturday, 9 February 2013

Museum of Contemporary History

After very heavy snowfall last Monday, the daytime temperature has been hovering around zero. While the city is pretty efficient at clearing snow from the streets, what happens on the footpaths is a bit hit-and-miss and often seems to depend on what the adjacent building owner feels like doing. These temperatures mean that snow partially melts and then refreezes overnight, becoming icy and dangerous. It’s not much fun walking around at the moment.

Snow and ice on roofs is also a hazard to passers-by and there has been plenty of activity clearing it off. Unfortunately this often means blocking off sections of the footpath, temporarily rerouting long-suffering Moscow pedestrians on to the roads to take their chances with the cars. The following photo I took today of some guys clearing snow off the roof of a 6-storey building. I noticed a couple of them were wearing harnesses, but they weren’t actually connected to anything. I guess they rely on that flimsy looking fence if they start sliding down the roof. Most buildings have them. There can be a fairly casual approach to workplace safety in Moscow. Workers using jackhammers, for example, often use no ear protection.  

Clearing snow off a 6 story building. I'm not sure I'd like to rely on that little fence in an emergency
 Anyway, I’ve gone off the track, because today I really intended writing about the Contemporary History Museum in Tverskaya Ulitsa.
This museum covers the period from the mid-19th century to the end of the Soviet Union. It contains a remarkable collection of original documents and artifacts. If you have any interest in revolutionary Russia, this museum is a must-see. The presentation is logical, with numerous rooms of displays guiding the visitor chronologically through the tumultuous events that have made modern Russia.

Each room has a well-written interpretive plate in both Russian and English. I think these must be fairly new, as I don’t recall seeing them on my previous visit nearly 12 months ago. In addition, the rooms also have an English language A4 sheet which explains, in more detail, many of the displays, though these sheets are becoming a bit tatty. 

If I have any misgivings about the museum, it is that some of the more unpalatable aspects of recent Russian history tend to be smoothed over. Stalin’s brutal reign, for example, is given a fairly light touch. One could easily come away from the display of contemporary propaganda posters and other paraphernalia with the impression he was a kindly and benevolent ruler. His execution of large numbers of army officers prior to the Great Patriotic War/Second World War is described as a reorganisation of the army. The department that employed me for many years in Australia was also recently restructured - thankfully I survived the experience.

Stalin taking time out from the dull routine of purges
 That aside, this museum contains some amazing stuff and if you think you’d enjoy seeing such things as actual banners that were waved around during revolutionary demonstrations, you won’t begrudge the 250 rouble/$7.50 entry fee (plus an extra 100 roubles if you want to take photos).

This museum is easy to get to, it’s on Tverskaya Ulitsa, almost opposite Tverskaya metro station (just up the road a bit towards Mayakovskaya). You can’t miss it, it’s the grand red building with crouching lion statues and a little armoured car in the courtyard. 

The building is also worth visiting in its own right. It was built around 1800, damaged in Napoleon’s 1812 fire, renovated and extended, then sold to the English Club in 1831 by the owner, Count Razumovsky. The English Club, which was formed in 1772 as an expats social club, was disbanded after the 1917 revolution and the building taken over by the Bolshevik government.

Parts of the museum, once used as the English Club, are quite grand

A great collection of revolutionary artifacts.

What the well-dressed Russian geologist was wearing before the revolution. All I used to wear was a pair of old shorts and a tatty teeshirt. At least the hammers haven't changed much.

Sigh...reminds me of the good old Cold War days

1 comment:

  1. I remember visiting this museum a few years ago. I agree it was fascinating! There was a small exhibition also dealing with the last few Russian first ladies. Mrs Gorbachov and Mrs Yeltsin were familiar but the rest were virtually invisible to the west.