a little Minsk bookshelf (ii)

Two more worthwhile books (in addition to these), and other tips.

Minsk: Yesterday and today

Vassili Kaleda (Василий Каледа). Minsk Yesterday and Today (Мінск. учора і сёння / Минск. вчера и сегодня / Minsk hier et aujourd’hui / Minsk gestern und heute / Minsk ayer y hoy). Minsk: Belarus, 1989. ISBN 5-338-00273-6 (Worldcat, Open Library).

A collection of photographs (as well as a handful of engravings) of Minsk. By today’s standards, the quality of the binding, paper and printing is mediocre, and at first glance this is succeeded and surpassed by Minsk: A Journey through Time (2008). But the older book has a much greater variety of photographs than the newer one, and despite being in each of six languages — Belarusian, Russian, English, French, German and Spanish — its captions are much more informative.

I found my copy at AbeBooks, which has a good supply of these at very palatable prices.

Bradt Belarus 2nd ed

Nigel Roberts. Belarus. 2nd ed. Chalfont St Peter, Bucks: Bradt, 2011. ISBN 978-1-84162-340-5 (Worldcat).

If you’re familiar with Bradt guidebooks, then this one is much as you’d expect; although the author is (via WOVA) involved in Belarus to an above average degree, and Belarus is more than averagely productive of anecdotes (by the author and others) that you’ll want to read and reread. Only a fifth or so of the book can be devoted to Minsk; the coverage doesn’t and can’t go very deep. But though I didn’t venture beyond Minsk, I got my money’s worth.

In summer 2011 I didn’t notice this in any Minsk bookshop (though as I already had a copy I wasn’t looking for a second). If you’re thinking of going to Belarus and wondering whether or not to buy a copy, don’t assume that you’ll be able to do so after you arrive.

Minsk in Your PocketMinsk in Your Pocket.

I’ll skip the bibliographical palaver for this one as you have at least three simple ways of viewing it almost immediately:

  • spread over a website (here)
  • as a Scribd iPaper (conspicuously linked from the above)
  • as a (7 MB plus) PDF (here)

In printed form, it’s in any of various Minsk bookshops.

If you’ve already been anywhere for which there’s a [wherever] in Your Pocket, then you’re probably familiar with it; and if you haven’t or aren’t, then take a look at the list of destinations. There are eight in Albania alone . . . though admittedly only one in Belarus.

Nagel's Encyclopedia-Guide U.S.S.R.Bradt’s guidebooks (and Lonely Planets and so forth), and the “In Your Pocket” series, are all very well, but sometimes I want the detail one gets in a real guidebook. Alas there will never be a Minsk and Its Lagoon: Historical-Artistic Guide, but there does exist Nagel’s Encyclopedia–Guide U.S.S.R., whose 5th edition (ISBN 2-8263-0796-7) is as recent as 1986. I haven’t seen it but learn that it runs to over a thousand pages; and others in the series that I have seen suggest that each page will be packed with information. Used in conjunction with something newer, this book could reveal much that’s not obvious. (Cf Ian Johnson’s account of his use in 1984 of what sounds like the 1968 edition of Nagel’s Encyclopedia–Guide China.)

Copyright of the cover images above of course belongs to the respective publisher, author or editor, not to me.

next in the Belarus series


So. Farewell then, Minsk

A taxi took me to the station before the sun had risen. I’d brought my pile of rubles down to just about enough to buy a couple of cellophane-wrapped sandwiches (unlike superficially similar Japanese artifacts, these were tasty, and on bread worth eating), which was lucky as the money exchange counters were only selling rubles, and not buying them.

The inside of the station, looking out:

Minsk station, looking out

I took the expected photographs: the timetable, etc. But now I find that Yusuke Inoue, a connoisseur of 旅と写真といい女 (tabi to shashin to ii onna), has beaten me to it. Here‘s his page (or if you’d prefer googlinglish to Japanese, then here).

I popped outside for a few moments and there saw:

the entrance to Minsk

thank you, MinskThat is of course the proper entrance to Minsk.

I took the train from Minsk to Vilnius; Inoue took it from Vilnius to Minsk. I can show you my own handsome ticket for the improbably inexpensive journey, but he is already showing his, and I mustn’t waste more of what space remains in the interwebs. The photographs I took, he took better; and he took some that I didn’t.

So much for my four and a half days in Minsk in 2011. I hope to return — to explore the courtyards behind the façades, the museums, the churches, and the outskirts.


I symbol Minsk

next in the Belarus series

Minsk theatres

Or anyway, “theatres” broadly defined.

We’ve already seen the Moskva (Москва) cinema on Pobediteley avenue, but here’s the Pobeda (Победа) cinema on Internatsionalnaya street in Minsk:

Pobeda theatre, Minsk

And what it’s showing:

attraction at Pobeda theatre, Minsk

Here’s the Belarusian National Opera & Ballet Theatre:

Belarusian National Opera & Ballet Theatre, Minsk

Belarusian National Opera & Ballet Theatre, Minsk

Belarusian National Opera & Ballet Theatre, Minsk

It’s clear from this page about the history of the building that it has recently been restored.

But what more dramatic way to announce a theatre than with a tank in front? (Other sites say that the tank is a T-35/85, a model written up here.) Below, the Drama Theatre of the Belarusian Army, on Krasnoarmeiskaya street.

Drama Theatre of the Belarusian Army, Minsk

Drama Theatre of the Belarusian Army, Minsk

next in the Belarus series

Nezavisimosti avenue

Nezavisimosti (Nyezhavizhimosty, Nezalezhnasti, Independence) avenue (or prospect) (Belarusian праспект Незалежнасці; Russian проспект Независимости) runs through the centre of Minsk from the station at the southwest up through Nezavisimosti, Oktabrskaya and Victory squares.

The avenue is based on Zakharievskaya street, imposed on Minsk from a plan made at the end of the eighteenth century under Minsk’s governor Zakharia Korneev, after whom it was named. By the end of the nineteenth century it was a fashionable street as well as a major thoroughfare. In 1922 it was renamed Sovetskaya (Savetskaya). During the war it and Barysau were largely destroyed. After the war the wide and grandiose Stalin avenue was built in its place. It’s over 11 kilometres long and its width varies between about 50 and about 70 metres.

Minsk in One Day points out that “Together with adjacent streets the avenue forms the largest and most integral ensemble of what is known in modern architecture as ‘Stalin Empire style’.”

Lenin’s personality cult was of course undamaged by the deflation of Stalin’s; in 1962 the avenue became Leninsky. In the 1990s it was again renamed, to Skorina (or Skaryny) avenue (after this man). And in 2005 it was renamed yet again.

I haven’t yet read anywhere whether the name is supposed to celebrate independence as a general concept, or some particular independence. If it’s the latter, I wonder whose independence from whom is being celebrated.

Conceivably, its own independence from “global” adulation of brand names. Consider: At its widest it’s as wide as the Champs-Élysées, and it’s over five times as long. But it lacks the Parresque spectacle of busloads buying highly advertised tat. And despite its handsome night-time illumination, this building on Nezavisimosti is not a department store.

Nezamvisimosti ave

Nezamvisimosti ave

Nezavisimosti ave, Minsk

Nezavisimosti ave, Minsk

Nezavisimosti ave, Minsk

Nezavisimosti ave, Minsk

Nezavisimosti ave, Minsk

entrance to subway, Nezavisimosti ave, Minsk

Nezavisimosti ave, Minsk

Nyezhavisymosty Ave

Nyezhavisymosty Ave

Nyezhavisymosty Ave

Nyezhavisymosty Ave

underground station

underground station

Nyazhavisimosty Ave

Nezavisimosti ave in the rain

next in the Belarus series

Victory square, an oval in Minsk

It’s been several posts since we’ve seen a grand square, so let’s see another one. Even though Victory square (Peramoga square) is oval.

Like Nezavisimosti square and Oktabrskaya square, Victory square is on Nezavisimosti avenue. Among the three, this one is the furthest to the northeast.

The obelisk was put up in 1954, on the tenth anniversary of the liberation of Minsk, and an eternal flame was lit in front of it in 1961. Heads of state, newly-weds and so forth do the appropriate things here (lay wreaths, have themselves photographed), though I didn’t see any.

At the very top is a red Victory order marked “СССР” (ie SSSR). There’s elaborate carving near the base. I wish I’d remembered to see if there are any traces of how (as claimed by Nigel Roberts in his guidebook to Belarus) “[Stalin’s] profile was quietly and without ceremony transformed into Lenin’s ear”.

Victory monument

Victory square, Minsk

Victory monument

Victory monument

There’s an elaborate subway (in the British sense) under the square. Its centre, and one entrance to it:

subway under Victory square

Victory square

After a sudden downpour:

Victory square, Minsk, after the rain

next in the Belarus series

the old town of Minsk

For a city that has so famously been repeatedly destroyed and recreated, Minsk has an impressive number of old buildings, many of which are not in the old town but are instead next to neoclassicist creations. And yet it has an old town too.

All hasn’t been as placid as it may seem. For example, the Orthodox cathedral of the Holy Spirit started in the seventeenth century as a Roman Catholic convent, but it was closed in 1852. After 1917 it became a gymnasium and then a prison.

Church of St Joseph, Minsk

(Orthodox) cathedral of the Holy Spirit, Minsk

next to the (Orthodox) cathedral of the Holy Spirit, Minsk

old town, Minsk

next in the Belarus series

more Minsk buildings

The central post office:

central post office, Minsk

central post office, Minsk (clock)

central post office, Minsk (detail)

central post office, Minsk (detail of detail)

Yes, hammers and sickles are all over the place. Another example, with close-up:

a building in Minsk

a building in Minsk, detail

And now a building that seems to have escaped from Rīga. I don’t know what it is, but according to this page at Wikimedia Commons it’s at International Street 16.

a building dated 1913, Minsk

a building dated 1913, Minsk

a building dated 1913, Minsk

a building dated 1913, Minsk

And another building in a related vein:

another building in Minsk

A comfortable residential building (or so I presume, perhaps wrongly):

building in Minsk

If you still can’t relax, have a beer.

a place for a beer in Minsk

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