Cultural outing — to fascinating locations
[b]Minsk and its suburbs offer many surprises for those willing to be adventurous. [/b]Modern Minsk is a huge megapolis, surpassed by Berlin and Kiev by just a million residents. Minsk boasts a larger population than several other countries’ capitals, although naturally lags behind Moscow. The Belarusian capital has grown through the expansion of its industrial districts and major enterprises, with many constructed in the second half of the 20th century.Minsk’s cultural life is rich and varied, with some real surprises for those who know where to look.
Modern Minsk is a huge megapolis, surpassed by Berlin and Kiev by just a million residents. Minsk boasts a larger population than several other countries’ capitals, although naturally lags behind Moscow. The Belarusian capital has grown through the expansion of its industrial districts and major enterprises, with many constructed in the second half of the 20th century.
Minsk’s cultural life is rich and varied, with some real surprises for those who know where to look.
Sacred family of organs: at Roman Catholic churches and at the Philharmonic Society
Minsk residents once travelled to Riga Cathedral to listen to organ music played by true masters; Minsk’s churches were closed and their organs destroyed. Now, everything is different, with today’s faithful able to enjoy beautiful organ music in the Belarusian capital. Every Roman Catholic church has been restored, inside and outside, with their organs revived.
Well-known firm Johannus installed the organ at St. Simon and Helena’s Church: almost the same instrument as can be found in St. Mary’s Church, in London. Minsk’s Cathedral of the Virgin Mary boasts a seven-octave mechanical organ, comprising more than a thousand pipes. It was made by Pflьger Orgelbau and was donated to Belarus’ foremost Catholic church by the Episcopate of Austria. It plays at mass daily.
St. Roch’s gained an electric organ in 1984, installed by Czech masters. Meanwhile, the city’s only such ‘secular’ instrument is located at the Belarusian State Philharmonic Society. As tall as a three-storey building, it was created by Czech Rieger-Kloss.
Flying to cinema on ‘Rocket’
Minsk’s only cinema to show art-house films is located in the old ‘Soviet’ part of the city, near Proletarskaya metro station, at 3, Rabochy Lane.
Raketa (Rocket) cinema honours the time when all Soviet citizens idolised cosmonauts and retains a reverent attitude towards the traditions of world cinema. Its recently installed equipment allows screening of digital media and celluloid film; many films are shown in their original language, with subtitles.
Raketa’s entrance into the International Confederation of Art Cinemas is now being considered. Of course, Minsk’s International Film Festival, Listapad, has embraced independent film making in recent years. Minsk could certainly become as popular as Berlin for fans of alternative film.
In the southwest — 19th century
The historical centre of Minsk is located near Nemiga metro station, with the city having gradually swallowed its village suburbs through the 20th century. Naturally, many of these settlements existed for centuries, filled with ancient sites. In the southwest, on Lyubimov Avenue, there’s a 4m tall burial mound believed to date from the 9th-12th century. It’s not known who’s buried there, but it’s clear that it’s the resting place of someone notable. Excavations are yet to be carried out. In winter, the mound becomes a sledging hill, while summer attracts picnickers. From the top, you can see all southwest of the capital.
Kurasovshchina’s White Dacha
Another modern suburb with an historical past is Kurasovshchina, with its 19th century manor, nicknamed the ‘White Dacha’, due to its colour. A pond nearby is home to elegant swans, making it an idyllic summer location. In winter, the house merges with the snow, becoming a fantastic castle.
Sausages for burghers in former home of noble family
Svobody Square recently witnessed the opening of a classically styled building, of 19th century design, although archivist Vladimir Denisov has found documents showing 18th century origins. Privately held at first, it then housed a spiritual school, before becoming home to the National Commissariat of Education of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic. Later still, a military commissariat took residence.
After restoration, the building has been adapted to house a branch of the Museum of Minsk, featuring a gallery showing works by artist Mikhail Savitsky, alongside restored interiors with frescos, ancient furniture and other objects: dishes for serving burgher sausages, beer glasses, tureens, Chinese vases and, even, a birdie-saltcellar.
How to find Pivnaya (beer) Street
While the centre of Minsk has long boasted a wide variety of wonderful eateries, some suburbs are only now gaining a choice of places to go. One such venue is Bavarian beer restaurant BierStrasse, on Orlovskaya Street. Its founder loves to visit Bavarian flea markets, picking up souvenirs, which now have a place in his eclectic establishment: small ceramic houses, beer mugs, dishes and, even, waiters’ outfits.
Uruchie suburb’s latest coffee house, Cool Coffee, tempts us to try Belgian chocolate-laced cappucino, served with truffles made from Belgian or French chocolate. Meanwhile, Partizansky Avenue is home to CoffeeLab; a favourite with students, it serves Napoleon’s coffee of choice.
Wake Up Coffee, on Dzerzhinsky Avenue, serves decaffeinated coffee and a range of beverages at affordable prices, aiming to encourage Minsk residents to pay regular visits. Yezhednevnik Bistro, on Kalvariyskaya Street, has a similar ethos, with plenty of seating and a vegetarian menu, including pancakes, salads and various tasty garnishes.
Feeding the soul
Having filled our stomachs, it’s time to feed our souls and stir our minds.
The Museum of Gas-filling Stations has opened on the А-100, near Borovaya village, bordering Minsk. Besides a collection of old refuelling pumps, there are cars and a range of machinery from the past.
The rarest exhibit is a Soviet gasoline tank truck, dating from 1936 and still drivable. The oldest gasoline pump is from 1947 but there is a German fuel can from 1936 and German fuel drum from 1943. The fuel can is one of the first to use a particularly convenient handle, inspiring our modern day designs.
Municipal buildings remain
The oldest engineering construction in Minsk is located on Aerodromnaya Street: the former water tower, built in 1910 of solid red brick. It no longer functions and is enclosed by a fence, but can be easily seen from the pavement.
On the other side of the street, are the early 20th century buildings of the former railway hospital; these now belong to the 11th city clinical hospital and have been recently restored, with a modernist facade.
Snowy avenues await visitors
Going beyond Minsk’s ring-road, to the village of Annopol (named after noblewoman Anna Khaletskaya) we can explore the former park’s avenues.
Korolishchevichi, on the bank of the River Svisloch, evokes the film Indiana Jones with its ruined manor and arched cellars, once home to the Pruszyński family. It’s easy to imagine finding treasure, but be careful on those ruins!
Priluki’s silvery poplars remain from the former park, as do its palace, brewery and carriage house. The nearby spring brings forth the purest of water. The Czapski family once owned the estate, which became home to Hitler’s deputy in Belarus, Wilhelm Kube, during Nazi occupation.
The only way to discover the city’s unique corners and suburbs is to put on your boots and begin the adventure.
By Viktor Korbut