Whenever I travel, each place leaves an unique impression on me. When I think of New Zealand, a feeling of relaxation mixed with the smell of sun-cream pops up. When I think of Moscow, however, I get this overwhelming feeling of immensity and the macabre.
As a part of my Russian language class in school, I’ve spent in eighth grade a week in Moscow in 2001. Our original departure was scheduled to take place on September 15th, 2001. Then 9/11 happened and our parents were too worried to let us board a plane, understandably. Most of those old enough to remember know what an uncertain time the year 2001 was after 9/11. Eventually, in December of that same year, it seemed safe enough to travel so we finally left for Moscow.
There are not many details I can recollect, but whenever I try to remember Moscow I feel lost once again just as in 2001. Moscow is a large city and everywhere we went I felt overwhelmed by its size, never-ending population, and buildings that seem to be large enough to reach outer space. Underground, immensity was replaced by a seemingly ever-tightening space. At every stop, it felt as if 10 people would leave the Metro while twice as many would enter.
When we finally reached the Red Square, our first sightseeing stop, we were greeted by heavily armed security. The Red Square itself was fenced off, a security measure after 9/11. Of course we went to see the Lenin Mausoleum. Back at home, my parents jokingly said that it is rumoured to be the third Lenin lying there. In order to get to Lenin, you have to take a staircase downwards. I cannot tell if the security regulations at Lenin’s Mausoleum were permanent or just a reaction to 9/11, but we were not allowed to talk at all, not allowed to stop walking anywhere in the Mausoleum, and were not allowed to take photos. In order to make sure that no one breached the rules, every so and so many steps two heavily armed guards were placed. Of course, I managed to anger one of them by saying a word. Pro tip: if a place is guarded by heavily armed military men, try not to break the rules. Nothing happened to me, but still …
Because were were not allowed to stop walking, we were in and out of the main room with Lenin’s body in less than two minutes. So there we were, a group of teens and not sure what to make of this deceased tiny big man even though most of us were born in the Soviet Union and aware of Lenin’s importance. At that time, it was a rather underwhelming experience. Only in hindsight, many years later, I realized what a special moment this was.
After my unintentional unfriendly encounter with an armed security guy at the Lenin Mausoleum, I tried to keep my nose out of trouble. So when we passed one of the dozens metal detecting devices, on our way to one of Peter the Great’s houses, and it made a beep when I went through, I was frightened. ‘Am I ever allowed to leave Russia’ and ‘Or maybe they will first imprison me and then kick me out of the country and banning me forever’ were my immediate thoughts. The fact that the armed security guard looked at me angrily and commanded me in the most authoritarian Russian possible, telling me I’m not allowed to move on, didn’t really help either. Well, turns out that this particular security guard had a very weird sense of humour. My shoes had metal laces that caused the alarm which he immediately noticed and decided to ‘lighten up the mood’.
At the Kolomenskoye Museum-Reserve grounds we went to see Peter the Great’s house, a wooden hut, which was brought there from Arkhangelsk. There I realized that the title ‘The Great’ was not just a reference to his political and historical importance. Peter the Great was a huge man of 2,03 m. You’d expect the dwelling of such an important person to be altered to acommodate him accordingly, right? I’m 1,63 m nowadays and was not yet fully grown at age 15, but even I had to hunch to get through the doors in his house. What a drastic difference to the tiny big man Lenin (1,65 m tall).
During my week in Moscow, we learned a lot about Soviet history and the beauty and importance of the metropolis Moscow. However, one macabre story revolving around the author Nikolai Gogol made a lasting impression on me. In order to find out what it was that haunted my fifteen year old self’s dreams, our visit to the Moscow Circus and other Moscow memories, you have to wait until next week when I post part 2 of ‘Travel Memories: Macabre Moscow’.
Ps: Have you seen my recent Gogol Illustration Go-Go-Gogol?