Posts Tagged ‘tourism’

Georgia on My MInd

06/25/2010

In the summer of 2008 I watched footage of the Russian-Georgian war with horror and the morbid fascination that come with having visited a place that has unexpectedly turned into a war zone. I had visited Gori (famous as the birthplace of Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, aka Joseph Stalin) in the summer of 2007. I toured the Stalin museum, the fort, ate khachapuri, drank wine, sifted through Stalin memorabilia at the local market and stood in the central square staring up at the larger than life statue of Stalin wondering – how can he possibly still be standing here?

Well, it looks like the time has come for the museumization of this important relic of the cult of Stalin. A friend who is in Georgia for the summer on internship posted on his facebook page that he’d missed the demounting of Stalin by mere hours. A historic occasion in a city that has for years defended Stalin’s place of honour in front of the municipal parliament building at the base of Stalin Avenue. Al Jazeera picked up the story, stating that the Stalin statue is being moved to the nearby Stalin Museum.

This museum has been on my radar for a little while: rumour has it that the Stalin Museum may soon to be re-designated the Museum of Russian Aggression. If this is true, it marks a cultural shift in a country that has held tight to pride in their “great leader” while much of the rest of the former Soviet Union has worked hard to out Stalin’s crimes against humanity. One exception is Russia, where Stalin is lauded as a great military leader and “effective administrator”, especially during the celebration of the Allied victory in WWII (celebrated with great solemnity in Russia). By removing the Stalin memorial in Gori, Georgia is making yet another assertion of which direction they are looking for assistance – towards Europe and the West. Not that this wasn’t clear already.

On a lighter note, looks like the Stalin impersonators are going to have to find a new line of work.

“I painted Tank Pink to Get a Girl”

04/12/2010

Last time I was in Prague I came across a little girl playing on a tank painted pink. The sculpture, picture above, is in a residential area on the less-touristy side of the Vltava River. I had always wondered what the story was, and now I know. Apparently artist David Cerny painted the tank pink in an attempt to get the attention of a girl he had his eye on. That and he was making a bold anti-war statement… Read the interview, the guy’s charming. If he wasn’t so into art, he’d be a pilot.

There are a lot of military remnants throughout the former Soviet Union and in former communist countries like the Czech Republic. Many of them are on display in more sombre ways than this particular installation. It’s good to re-work these objects with a sense of humour. Perhaps more people will be interested in finding out about where the tank came from (I suspect it’s leftovers from Prague Spring 1968) and learn a bit about the history of the city while they’re buying their Czech glass, taking the historic (empty) synagogue  tour and searching for the perfect Kafka snow-globe.

Lenin lives (and lives… and lives…) in the Antarctic

03/15/2010

I’ve seen a lot of Lenin’s over the course of my travels through the former USSR, from the Lenin my mom remembers standing in downtown Vilnius (now residing in Grutas Park open-air monument and sculpture museum) to the gigantic striding Lenin behind the National Museum in Bishkek Kyrgyzstan. He was moved from in front of the museum to make room for Independence Square. Now he stands overlooking the American University, making his usual grand gesture of benevolence.

However, by far the strangest place he’s turned up is in Antarctica where a plastic bust of the man himself was discovered by explorers in 2007. He stands proudly at the site of an old Soviet base at the South Pole of Inaccessibility. Made from plastic, the Lenin has stood there since 1958 and is, by all reports, in pretty good shape. The man is simply eternal.

Anyways, as soon as the South Pole of Inaccessibility Tourism Association and BIA get their act together I’m positive he’ll be fenced in and farmed out as a prime tourist attraction.

The Holy Land Experience

03/09/2010

Over the past few years I’ve visited a lot of weird tourist sites in the former Soviet Union in the name of research. Lately, I’ve been researching wacky tourism in North America and came across this: The Holy Land Amusement Park in Orlando, Florida.

I quote: “Experience love. Experience peace. Experience joy. Experience Jesus.”

According to their official website, the visitors to the park can go back in time and experience life as it was in Biblical times. A re-creationist’s wet-dream, the park features the most important parts of the bible acted by professionals: A rather caucasian looking Jesus re-enacts the life of the son of God, including daily crucifixion and resurrection; visitors can experience what life was like for Moses and his children to wander the desert at the Wilderness Tabernacle; and if the kids get antsy, drop them off at the “Smile of a Child” kids play-land. Fun for the whole family, indeed.

I suppose with the actual Holy Land a war zone and the deep distrust in the US of “middle eastern” terrorists, this safe and entertaining option is the way to go. Founded by a Baptist minister Marvin Rosenthal (yup, he converted from Judaism) the park has been protested by the Jewish Defence League as promoting the conversion of Jews to Christianity. Kind of the point of the the life of Jesus, but I digress. What I want to know is when religion became defined as “a thrilling swirl of characters, costumes and colour” and how I missed that memo…

Neo-Stainism in Contemporary Russia: Exhibit 1, Kurskaya Metro Station

02/18/2010

Tourist in the Kurskaya metro
Originally uploaded by adventures in leninland

This post is inspired by this news story about information booths to be set up in Moscow extolling Stalin’s role in Allies’ WWII victory.

I was in Moscow in November and made a special trip one morning to see the newly restored Kurskaya Metro station. It had garnered some controversial press in the previous months because of the restoration of Stalin’s name on the inscription. The Moscow metro is ornate to say the least; it’s worthwhile spending a few hours just riding the clanking trains and checking out the stations, some of which look like ballrooms, or feature huge murals of soviet workers bringing in the ole sheaves.

The Kurskaya stop is interesting because it has created quite a bit of controversy when the inscription running along the main atrium of the upstairs station entrance was restored to include a reference to Stalin. The inscription is a line from the Soviet anthem (of the Stalin era) and reads: “Stalin brought us up to serve the nation well; he inspired us for labor and feats.”

I talked to a historian and guide at the Gulag Museum in Moscow and according to her, the restoration project was done without consulting the proper offices and bureaucracies responsible for the restoration of public monuments. Her take was that yes, there is some kind of neo-Stalinist movement happening but that most people were against restoring Stalin’s name to the walls of the Station. She also pointed out that the line of the Soviet anthem in question has been re-written several times. The original version sang the praises of Lenin and Stalin had it re-written to praise himself. He also built the Metro so it is only logical that that version was used.

Regardless, the station is exquisite; built around theme of red star stained glass and has two large plaques commemorating soldiers who died in various WWII battles. When I was there I took a photo of a fellow tourist; it’s interesting how quickly a controversial place becomes a tourist attraction. For more information on the controversy read this article by RFE/RL, or this one by the New York Times.

Some photos I took can be found on my flickr site.

Cold Beer and Warm Women: Communist Tourism in Krakow

02/17/2010

I’m currently working on a chapter about Nowa Huta, a suburb of Krakow, Poland. Here’s a brief summation.

Nowa Huta was built between 1949-1954 to support the Lenina steel works. The city was constructed by workers brought in from all over Poland and in 1949, the area was nothing but farmland; by 1954 housed nearly 200,000 workers in one of the finest examples of deliberate social engineering in the world. Described as a “Polish socialism city of dreams” Nowa Huta is now a tourist attraction — a group of young entrepreneurs have formed a company called Crazy Guides, offering communist-themed tours of Krakow that include a visit to an “authentic” communist apartment and a ride through Nowa Huta in a GDR-built Trabant.

According to Jakub, general manager at Crazy Guides, an overwhelming number of people lived normal lives under communism. The conditions were different than in Western countries, of course, but people raised families and had fun just like in the West.

Nowa Huta was one of the most successful communist projects in Poland and one of the goals of the tour is to show that there were, as my guide Eryk puts it, good points to communism.

“Our parents lived through communism. They survived and they had fun. There was fun,” says Eryk. “We grew up under this and it’s really disrespectful to say that it was all bad. People lived, had families. I’m a child of that period. We are all a result of that period. And look at me – I’m a bit twisted, but I’m doing quite well.”

Is what Crazy Guides are doing simply nostalgia tourism? There are definitely elements of nostalgia, but neither Eryk or Jakub believe what they do is simply caterer to a desire to return to an idealized past.

“My parents and grandparents did experience life under communism and we have to live with this reality as well,” says Jakub. “We see communism all over the place, still. In particular in my grandparent’s generation. My grandmother says that everything’s the same, that nothing has changed. Maybe we can travel abroad a bit more, but it makes difference to her. It’s of no advantage. My grandfather sees it this way: in communist times we had warm vodka and cold women. Now we have cold vodka and warm women.”

This brings me to the other half of the Crazy Guides organization, the Crazy Stag, basically Pimp-my-Ride plus a stag party. Crazy Guides provide a pimped out shaggin’ wagon for a stag party on wheels. Extras available include sexy hitchhikers, a bad cop booty call and the option of having the groom-to-be kidnapped by Polish mafia.

Communist kitsch and sex tourism: Welcome to the new Poland.

Check out Crazy Guides online.

Welcome to Lenin Land…

02/16/2010

Hi, hello and welcome to “Adventures in Lenin Land”.

About the project:

This blog is part of an ongoing book project looking at the intersection of history and tourism in the former USSR. Over the past three years I’ve spend a good deal of my time exploring the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, looking at museums and tourist attractions that find novel and controversial ways of dealing with the Soviet legacy. Think Lenin Land, Club Gulag, Bus Tour Chernobyl and Stalin Tours. Think former Soviet prisons turned hostels, “authentic” Soviet apartment tours and Cold War bunkers in Moscow hosting your office party. Think and then re-think Soviet history as you know it.

As I’m working on the book I will be posting out-takes, previews and news links related to the project. I’ll also be streaming photos of my travels (past, present and future) via my flickr account.

Welcome to the wacky world of post-Soviet tourism. I hope you’ll visit again and visit often.

Medeine Tribinevicius