Learning Russian Jokes: Moscow

My view from my very first sleeping berth

My view from my very first sleeping berth

Discovering vast Moscow by night and day with all it’s treausures.

From the Saint Peter railway station, I took my first Russian train. I am still not certain if the trip to Moscow counts as the Transsiberian, but it sure is just the same type of trains. Being at least partly already in the travellers money saving mode, I booked platzkart, meaning 3rd class in a night train. This again means that I looked into a open coach with 54 beds. However scary that might sound, my first ride on the Russian Railway was very good. People were very friendly and well-behaving. No endless rounds of vodka, no singing, wrestling, music or whatsoever. Everybody came in quietly, searched his berth and prepared his/her bed. The only problem on the trains is the temperature: On this one, we started off at 15 degrees. Next morning, it was around 25 degrees…

After a night without much sleep (which was rather the fault of the trains rattling on old tracks than any of my fellow travellers), I arrived at 7am in one of Moscows three main train stations (which are all built alongside the same square). After giving myself a catlick in the station I signed up for a city tour. I found my way to the famous Moscow metro (and it has every reason to be famous even more than in Saint Petersburg) and the meeting point from which we started walking through Moscows historical center (Kitay Gorod and Red Square).

The tour also showed the huge amount of damage, Soviet rule had done to the city: Hundreds of churches were demolished, whole areas levelled (they partly stay wasteland until this very day). Even Russias biggest orthodox church, Church of Christ the Saviour, was demolished. Not only using bulldozers, Stalin had it blown up setting a symbol against religion. His idea of a Soviet Palace at this place never turned into reality, instead in the 60’s, Khrushchev made the massive crater constructing the world’s biggest public swimming pool. After 1990 due to private donations, the former church was erected once again from scratch with only minor changes and is once again the symbol of the Russian orthodox church.

Of course we also visited Red Square (mind you, the name does not origin from communists or blood, the Russian word also means beautiful, thus it used to be the beautiful square) with its famous St. Basil’s cathedral, the Kremlin walls, the different museums, etc. Close is also the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (the soldier burried here died at the easternmost point of the Nazi invasion). Here, our guide explained why such general memorials are the only ones possible, unlike in the United States where stone wall memorials display every single name of the fallen – due to the unbelievable losses it is just not possible to do that in Russia. Instead they installed just recently electronic databanks were one may search for fallen soldiers. Even today, names are added every year…

But Russians also know how to make jokes about bad times. Our guide told as a few. For example why there is a circular metro line: When Stalin received the plans for the Moscow metro lines, he placed his coffee pot on the map, leaving a brown round stain. Because the planners were too afraid to ask if that was supposed to be a line, they just built it. Hence also its color marking: brown!

Alright, another one: The Ukrainian and the Russian president have dinner together. The Ukrainien president points out their common heritage, how much alike both countries are in terms of alphabet, language, etc. “We are alike just as the water in our glasses!” he exclaims. After some seconds of silence the Russian president replies with a smile: “Only that our water is with gas, yours is still!”, referring to the richness of natural gas on Russias soil.

After the tour was over, a Japanese guy, Shun, whom I met on the tour and I went exploring the old pedestrian street of Moscow – Old Arabat. Very nice estates with many, many souvernir shops. After Shun left for the aiport, I found myself close to the Lenin Library and decided to see it from the inside. Easy one could imagine… Well, not in Russia! The guard (every house, church, official building, government building, railway and metro station, etc. has between one and 50 guards that mostly do not much besides looking grimly) showed me my way to the administration. There I was told to get a pass in order to be admitted. Alright then, I walked to another part of the building. There I had to open all bags to the more-than-usually grim (female) guard and finally could fill out a form in order to get the mentioned pass. To get it, I had to enter the queue… Upon my return to the main building (just took me like one hour…), I had to store my bags, give away my jackets, show my pass, my passport, and my best manners to finally be allowed to enter the library. The inside was interesting but by far not enough to be worth the trouble. An impressing stairway with a lot of marble lead to the first floor with dozens and dozens of wooden cabinets full registration cards for literature. The readingrooms were also worth seeing, but that was about it. So, I sure did not the average tourist program, but it cost me some time.

The next day, my first stops lead me to the Church of Christ the Savior (Russians sure love special names for their churches) and a place called Red October, a former chocolade manufaturing (founded by a German, so it should be good stuff) that is now used as a hot spot for art galleries, bars, and restaurants. Close to that, just over the Moscow River, starts Muzeon Park full of sculptures, collected from all over the city, mostly former memorials that were not any longer needed: Stalin, Lenin, Party officials, CCCP claims, etc. They all found a new home here and their partly quite grim history is not forgotten. A little south of that the Gorky Park continues on. Inmidst the park on the riverbank the wanderer can find the Russian version of the space shuttle, the Buran spaceship. I am not sure this is a worthy last place to put it but at least it was not scrapped.

My last day in Moscow was spent going to Red Square again, first entering the Armory. If you go to Moscow, a must see. So many treasures which the tsars collected, gold, silver, gems, jewelry, clothing, ancient imperial horse carriages, etc. I nearly missed my entry to the Kremlin being astonished by all the beauty. Most interesting for me was one of the famous eggs by Fabergé: It contained a miniature of the Transsiberian Railway – I saw it as a good omen for things to come. Finally also entering the Kremlin, I was surprised how many churches there are. Especially considering the fact, that in this place to actions of one of the world’s largest Armies are decided. You jump from one orthodox church to another and think, that the powerful leaders of Russia should have enough spiritual room to walk a peaceful path.

This night, I entered my second train in Russia and this time without any doubt the first of the Transsiberian Railway. However, I went an only little used path: My next stop was to be Kazan, center of Russian islam and Tartar culture.

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