Touching a nerve
<img class="imgl" alt="" src="http://www.belarus-magazine.by/belen/data/upimages/2009/0001-009-429.jpg">[b]Enthusiastic romantics reveal city secrets [/b]<br />According to Russian Oktogo.ru online hotel booking service, Minsk was among the top three CIS destinations for Russians in 2013. Modern buildings dominate but city guides can also direct visitors towards older sites. Local bookshops abound in editions exploring the capital, with many written by amateurs as well as professionals. Ordinary city residents have compiled various guides, offering advice to tourists on local attractions; naturally, their love of Minsk comes across in their writing, as does their continuing desire to discover new places of interest. Many have written incredibly interesting biographies of our ancestors and the buildings in which they lived, having researched in libraries and archives. Their efforts often unveil previously unknown pages of city history: an invaluable legacy.
According to Russian Oktogo.ru online hotel booking service, Minsk was among the top three CIS destinations for Russians in 2013. Modern buildings dominate but city guides can also direct visitors towards older sites. Local bookshops abound in editions exploring the capital, with many written by amateurs as well as professionals. Ordinary city residents have compiled various guides, offering advice to tourists on local attractions; naturally, their love of Minsk comes across in their writing, as does their continuing desire to discover new places of interest. Many have written incredibly interesting biographies of our ancestors and the buildings in which they lived, having researched in libraries and archives. Their efforts often unveil previously unknown pages of city history: an invaluable legacy.
In recent years, new discoveries have been made thanks to such enthusiasts. Of course, Minsk’s future is just as important as its past, making it the country’s ‘calling card’. Last year, I was happy to join a circle of writers and Minsk historians, to present my own book, entitled Minsk: The Best View of the City. As a compilation of materials previously published, including from Belarus magazine, it aims to reveal the city’s most astonishing places. Even residents may discover something new.
Speaking to my fellow authors on the subject of writing about large cities, we soon realised that we share common problems. Vladimir Volozhinsky, Khristophor Khilkevich and Leonid Moryakov tell us more.
Disputes give birth to books; or anyone can write
Vladimir Volozhinsky began his writing ‘career’ with the launch of www.minsk-old-new.com – a site uniting a wealth of documentary records and photos of the city from various sources. Vladimir’s idea for publishing such materials was spontaneous. “I think anyone who treats their hobby seriously would approve of sharing materials. The site ‘began’ with family photos of Minsk: taken by my grandfather, Nikolay Ivanov. After a little while, I realised that the photos need to be supplemented with descriptions - of streets, buildings and monuments. It also seemed right to offer ‘excursions’ to the past, using photos taken through the decades of the same site. Several years later, my work resulted in a whole album: Minsk: Old and New. This features shots of city districts taken during different time periods,” Mr. Volozhinsky explains.
Leonid Moryakov has already published two volumes of his research: both devoted to Nezavisimosti Avenue. Founded in the early 19th century, and many times re-named and reconstructed, the subject has occupied him for a decade. Minsk’s Main Street is the result of much hard work. Leonid tells us that his motivation was pricked when a friend challenged whether he’d be able to adequately describe the history of Minsk and all its buildings. “My work continues: at the moment, I’m searching for documents on Svobody Square,” he admits.
Khritophor Khilkevich worked with photographer Sergey Plytkevich in compiling Minsk: Day After Day. He likens the city to a 350sq.km iceberg, with just a tenth visible ‘above-water’. He stresses that only true ‘divers’ – history lovers – see the rest. “They plunge into our historic depths, each time bringing new factual pearls to the surface, which they present to readers, so that they can enjoy beauty previously unrecognised,” he smiles.
Stones keep silence; or some secrets remain
Every Minsk tourist is sure to believe that the city was destroyed during WWII but Mr. Khilkevich is ready to show houses remaining from at least a century ago. I happened to know of a building dating from the early 17th century. Meanwhile, Mr. Volozhinksy’s huge archive of photos allow us to track 20th century changes in every suburb. He’s now close to completing his new book, featuring 650 Minsk photos, dating from 1941-1944 (when the city was under German occupation). This year, Minsk and Belarus are to celebrate the 70th anniversary of liberation from the Fascists, so Mr. Volozhinsky is keen to show – in words and pictures – the real losses of the city.
Let’s fuel; or how new tourist sights appear
Naturally, some books prove more ‘popular; than others, being sold or sent to libraries. However, for them to achieve their true mission, we must act, rather than only reading.
Mr. Volozhinsky recalls that the release of his History of Fuelling Stations in Belarus (published in 2012) inspired interest from Minsk City Executive Committee, and the unveiling of a commemorative plaque in August 2013, on a building close to the location of Minsk’s first fuelling station.
Mr. Khilkevich’s plans are even more ambitious, since he hopes that anyone hosting a foreign visitor will feel confident enough to share nuggets of information. He recalls a comment on an article he placed online: a young German stayed with a Belarusian family as part of a school exchange programme and, over three evenings, told them of the history of his own small town. With so much rich history to draw upon, he feels that every Minsk resident should be brimming with stories.
Flight over Komarovka; or past sights forever lost
Mr. Volozhinsky has plenty of ideas to make Minsk even more interesting to residents and guests. His proposals include the erection of a sculpture of Minsk’s first duke, Gleb, and the installation of a monument to honour the first flight by Russian aviator Sergey Utochkin (in 1911) over the Komarovsky Market area. He also wants to mark the site of a pagan temple, near the River Svisloch, which existed until the early 20th century, and unveil a plaque on the site of Minsk’s first car accident (over a century ago, at the intersection of Karl Marx and Yanka Kupala streets): to warn careless drivers and pedestrians.
Mr. Khilkevich dreams of restoring St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic Church, which stands at the intersection of Internatsionalnaya and Engels streets, believing it would enrich the beauty of this suburb. He also hopes to see Kosmodemyanovskaya Street restored (connecting Holy Spirit Cathedral and Bogdanovich Street).
Plans and ideas abound, with many writing books on their cities and districts. Such researchers can be found countrywide, penning guidebooks and bringing the past to life. Of course, not every edition appeals to everyone but new sculptures and plaques are unveiled regularly and beautiful churches and houses are rebuilt. All words committed to paper endure through time and can transform into action…
By Viktar Korbut