Gates to Europe and the hallmark of Belarus
Brest railway station celebrated its 120th anniversary
Brest railway station has always produced a great impression on its contemporaries. It resembles a fortress located on an island.
It was the first railway station in Russia to see electric light in 1888. Waiting halls and office premises were illuminated by 160 electric bulbs 20 candles each, moreover, 12 lanterns 50 candles each were installed at the platforms. According to the author of the reference book called “City of Brest in 1913”, Brest railway station was the most stylish and comfortable railway station in Russia at that time.
After Brest became a part of Poland, the railway station lost its importance as a transfer point. The building was severely destroyed during World War I, but the Polish government decided to restore it. A contest was announced to find the best project to reconstruct the railway station. In 1929 the reconstruction was completed. Brest railway station acquired a new appearance.
Fortunately, the building did not suffer much during World War II. When the war ended Soviet mine-pickers spent about two weeks to demine Brest railway station. Then another renovation process started. By the way, German war prisoners were involved in the renovation.
Brest railway station lived through one more restoration between 1953 and 1957.
“The famous Soviet sculptor Yevgeny Vuchetich, the author of the monument in Treptower Park in Berlin (a monument to a Russian soldier holding a child, with a sword over a broken swastika), helped designers to make Brest station building more spacious and fine,” the director of the museum of Brest railway station, honorary railway man, Savva Shpudeiko said.
According to him, the sculptor was traveling via Brest and while waiting for the train gave designers a word of advice to take away strands that fastened the walls of the building and use reinforced concrete instead to make the ledgement.
While restoring the building designers made use of different types of geological material, including granite, granodiorite and various types of marble imported from Georgia, Karelia, the Urals and Ukraine. The color palette is so diverse that the walls and floor of the station building may serve as a museum of marble types.
That reconstruction presented the railway station building with a spire on the central tower and a five-pointed star. Well, the architect was a man of those times. As any artist he planted symbols of the historical period in his work.
Brest railway station was renewed in 1993–1994 one more time. The Polish company PKZ that deals with monument and building restoration wanted U.S. $1.5 million to carry out the renovation, but the Belarusian railroad was able to pay just a little bit more than $1 million. As a result some important work was crossed out from the renovation project.
Moreover, there was much debate whether to leave the Soviet symbols on the building. It was decided to preserve them as they have certain historical value. A new star was made in one of Warsaw restoration workshops.
“The station needs one more detailed renovation that will cost a pretty penny and take a lot of time,” Shpudeiko believes.
Lenin stopped down here, Georges Pompidou used to dine here
It is clear that the railway station with such a long life witnessed many historical events and got acquainted with a good deal of famous people.
On August 29, 1886, not long after the station was put into operation, Russia’s Emperor Alexander III and his son Nikolai were meeting German Crown Prince Wilhelm at the station. In 1900 Vladimir Lenin stopped down in Brest on his way to Germany. Among other famous visitors were Nikita Khrushchev, Alexei Kosygin and Valentina Tereshkova.
Distinguished guests enjoyed the food in the restaurant of Brest railway station. Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev as well as France’s President Georges Pompidou used to wine and dine in the VIP-room of the restaurant.
Illegal migrant Tosha Radayev
The necessity to entertain VIP-guests has never frightened employees of Brest railway station. besides, they have coped with many emergencies. Savva Shpudeiko refers to December 1979.
It was very cold then. Snow never ceased falling and trains ran very much behind the schedule. When trains from Terespol finally managed to reach Brest, all employees came to work, although it was on January 1, 1980. Passengers were hungry. They swept all food from the railway shop and restaurant, including canned goods. Additional trains were put in service to convey people to Moscow, Kiev, and Leningrad.
“The 90s were also remarkable. The USSR collapsed and many people were departing to the Western Europe. In 1992 about 10 million people proceeded via Brest railway station, in 1993 there were more than 11 million transit passengers,” the manager of the station, Natalya Gatsuk, recalls.
Brest railway station has witnessed amusing episodes. According to another manager of the station, Elena Klimovich, one day a frontier guard did not allow one Belarusian family that headed to Germany to take their parrot with them. They had to possess sort of permission to transport the bird. Elena decided to take care of the parrot that appeared to be very talkative. He kept repeating: “Tosha’s good, give ‘im some porridge”. Fortunately, in the cage there was a note with the address of his masters. Elena wrote a letter to them. Soon the parrot was able to rejoin his beloved family as his masters got a permission to pick him up.
Brest railway station expects so many distinguished guests to appear and is ready for any emergency. Those who travel by rail name the station “gates to Europe” and the hallmark of Belarus.
by Valentina Kozlovich
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