Dienstag, 10. Mai 2011

Article in the East European Memory Studies Newsletter

My colleague Cornelius and I wrote an article last month for the organisation Memory at War and their monthly newsletter "East European Memory Studies". Just follow the link (http://www.memoryatwar.org/enewsletter-may-2011.pdf) and then you can find the article on page 14.

Donnerstag, 10. März 2011

Russian Holidays

The last weeks in Russia were full of holidays. Starting on the 23. February with the celebrations for the day of the Red Army and ending two days ago with the international women‘s day. Last week Russia celebrated Maslenitsa for one week, which is sort of a pancake week to celebrate the end of winter. My friends and I prepared Russian blinis (pancakes) on various occasions with various kinds of fillings, side dishes and beverages. However, the negative side effect of Maslenitsa is that you eat far too many Blinis, so that you are not able to eat any more blinis for the next couple of weeks. The international women‘s day is a very important and big event in Russia. Every man has to make or buy presents (in most cases tulips) for all the women who are important in their life - be it a good friend, your wife or your working colleague. We also celebrated all these holidays at work, with a lot of alcohol and food. However, there is a difference to how holidays and bridging days are handled in Russia in comparison to Europe. When a holiday falls on a working day, you don’t have to work on that day, but you have to work on Saturday the following week.

Dienstag, 1. März 2011

Yoshkar Ola

Everyday life has also reached me in Moscow. Working, meeting friends, parties, speaking Russian and so on. Therefore, it was a relief that one of my organisations decided to send all volunteers from my organisation to a seminar in Yoshkar Ola to talk about Alternative Civilian Service in Russia. So, finally a reason to write a new blog entry. Hurray. I’ve never heard of the city Yoshkar Ola before. It’s the capital of the autonomous republic Mari El in the Russian Federation. It’s quite a small republic with only about 800,000 inhabitants, of which around 250,000 live in Yoshkar Ola. The city is located a bit more than 600 kilometres east from Moscow, thus, the other volunteers and I had a 15 hour train journey ahead of us, which was perfect for catching up on the latest news in our projects. On our journey we spoke with some people from Yoshkar Ola, who taught us that there lives an ethnic group of Mari people in Mari El, who even have their own language (Mari). They make up aproximately 40% of the population.

I kind of liked the city. It’s of course cheaper than in Moscow (especially taxis - 1 Euro per taxi ride, not per person), and there are quite some interesting and pretty buildings. We lived in a hotel and soon got to know Russian volunteers from various organisations who showed us Yoskar Ola. We also visited a children’s home 2 hours away from Yoshkar Ola, where the Russian volunteers played a theatre play to educate the children about various social problems. However, the most time consuming activity of the seminar was of course the discussion about alternative civilian service in Russia. The German volunteers explained the situation in Germany and the Russian side outlined the problems of civilian service in Russia. For example, men who decide to do such a civilan service do not have the right to choose where they are going to work. So the authorities for example might tell them to work in a post office or even at a military factory, which is of course not the idea behind such a service.

Overall, we had a lot of fun, we met interesting and kind people, talked a lot, learned about Mari El and the situation of Russian volunteers.

Mittwoch, 19. Januar 2011

Berlin, my New Flat and Moscow during Winter

Every three months I need to renew my visa for Russia, because the Russian government only offers one-year-visa for students or workers, but not for volunteers. Therefore, I had to interrupt my work in Moscow for one and a half weeks to fly to Germany to organise a new visa. Fortunately, my organisation organised everything including the flights, the visa and also a place to stay if I hadn’t slept at a friends place. In adavance I had arranged that I would work at the House of the Wannsee Conference in Berlin, because it is cooperating with the Holocaust Centre in Moscow. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to work as much as I had hoped for, but I found some interesting books for our library.

I flew back to Moscow already before Christmas and it turned out that this had been a very good decision, as I needed to move out of my old flat on 26th December. Therefore, my christmas days weren’t the merriest of all, because I needed to pack and I had to listen to the conflicts between my former host family and the land lord. Nonetheless, I had a stress free and enjoyable Christmas Eve. I went to church with a friend where we sang many meditative songs, then we went to a cafe and I had the evening come to an end on a party with some other friends.

So, let’s now turn to the supposedly most interesting part of this blog entry: my new flat. I now live in a beautiful, quite big, sunny room with an own balcony. The flat is owned by a very nice, very intelligent and intriguing (80 years) old lady. Up to now it seems to me that we really like each other. And living together with her really improves my Russian, because I now speak Russian regularly and intensively. Last week we went to a classical concert together. Nevertheless, I believe she still thinks I haven’t experienced enough culture in Moscow yet. She often talks about various museums and then asks me whether I had visited theses museums already. And when I negate she reminds me that I have been living in Moscow for already 4 months and that it is really about time to experience Moscow’s manifold culture. The flat is located at the circle line of Moscow and it’s therefore a very central place to live. And I pay the same amount of money as I did when I relatively lived far away. My work is only a stone’s throw from here (one metro station), which, however, doesn’t hinder my from coming late to work. Overall I’m really really happy with my new living situation.

Finally, just shortly something about the winter in Moscow. The streets are very often unbelievably slippery because a snow layer on the pavement had frozen. I already tumbled twice, which wasn’t really the nicest experience I had so far, because all Moscovians then stare at the stupid tourist who went too quickly. When it started to thaw last week it was quite dangerous to walk through Moscow, because quite frequently snow or enormous icicles fell off the roofs. I had aready started to believe that it was going to be warmer in the next couple of weeks. But since Sunday we have -14°C again in Moscow.

Montag, 10. Januar 2011


First of all, I have to apologise for not keeping my blog up to date in the last months. This was due to several trips to other cities and the fact that I moved to another flat in Moscow. In early December all volunteers of my organisation who work in Russia had their first country seminar in Volgograd, which was in former times called Stalingrad. All volunteers, except the volunteer working in Volgograd, met in Moscow to take the night train to Volgograd. During the more than 19 hour train journey we ate all the food we had prepared in advance and talked a lot about our experiences in out projects. When we arrived, our country coordinator was already waiting for us to take the bus to our final destination at a German Protestant congregation. This was the first time we noticed the unbelievable dimension of this city. Volgograd extends itself along the river Volga and is therefore extremely long (80 kilometres). I heard that it is the second longest city in Russia (only Ekaterinenburg is longer). On the other hand however, Volgograd is not very wide but rather like a long stripe. Therefore, it took us always more than 40 minutes from our accommodation at the protestant congregation to the city centre of Volgograd.

During our seminar we spoke about our experiences and problems at work, about Russian history, but the biggest part of the seminar was devoted to the exploration of the city and its immense historical importance for Russian history. All over Russia one can find traces of World War II and Russia’s big victory against the Germans. One of the most crucial victories took place in the battle of Stalingrad. Thus, there are hundreds of monuments remembering this big victory in Volgograd today. These monuments, however, do not make Volograd a very beautiful city in my opinion, although the museums and monuments were very interesting (if not a little bit too patriotic and war-glorifying). We had a very good guide through Volograd, unfortunately, it was very very cold and wet so everyone was freezing, especially because we stayed outside for a very long time. Furthermore, it was very dizzy on that day so we couldn’t fully see the beauty of the most important sight in Volgograd - the impressive Rodina Mat (Mother of the father land) which calls the Russian people for the war against the German troops. Although we we were standing directly in front of the statue, which is bigger than the statue of liberty in New York, we could only see her feet and the silhouette. At the end of the tour we visited a soldier grave yard with German and Soviet soldiers. It was the first time for me to see a grave yard with German soldiers and one could see that Germany had given much more money for the German grave yard than the Russian side. On several stones the names of soldiers were engraved who fell during the battle. Among others I also found a soldier with my surname. On the next day we visited a very old ethnic German lady who lives in Russia (like many other ethinc Germans in the Volgaregion do) and talked with her about her life, we sang songs and she read out poems.

Mittwoch, 24. November 2010

A Radio Interview and a Brawl

Some weeks ago the other Holocaust Center volunteer and I were invited to speak in front of students at the Moscovian university of foreign languages. The lecture dealt with Antifacism in Germany and mostly students studying German attended this event. A couple of days later I recieved a message by a young Russian journalist who currently works at the Russian radio station Голос России (Russia’s Voice) and who also took part at the lecture, because she wanted to organise an interview with us for one of their German speaking programmes. As far as I know this weekly programme is called „Foreignern in Russia“. So, we went to the radio station last week and we recieved special cards to pass security and then we entered the recording studio. I had not imagined the studio to bet that modern and it was really interesting to see how radio station work and look from inside. Before it was our turn to have the interview they were about to finish the German news for this day. The interview was taking place in a tiny room and we sat behind two microphones together with the journalist who was interviewing us. Another lady was sitting behind a window behind a computer to record, cut, and edit what we were saying. I was really nervous, however, it was better than I had thought. You can listen to the final result when you click on this link: http://german.ruvr.ru/radio_broadcast/26178531/35307980/
My voice sounds awful and what I am saying is really not the most intellectual of all things. I also do not really look good on the picture. But it is nevertheless, or perhaps just because of that, kind of funny.

On Friday I was having dinner with a friend in a Japanese restaurant and it would have been a normal evening out if it was not for a brawl to start. We do not really know how it began but at some point there were two relatively young drunken men throwing chairs at a 40 year old man who was with his girlfriend. The older man was also really agressive. They were kicking and beating each other really brutally in that restaurant. They also threw down most of the furniture and at the end there was so much blood on the floor, because the older guy and one of the younger ones had open wounds. Overall, it was really frightening and it showed that some Russian men still try to impress women by being agressive, especially once they are drunk. The police came thirty minutes after the fight was over. Normally they are everywhere, but when you need them they are late.

Finally, I would like to say that last weekend it began to snow in Moscow, but today it is only raining. On the picture you can see my favourite place in Moscow: Patriarshi Prudi.

Donnerstag, 11. November 2010

The Beautiful Sides of Moscow

In the last two weeks I was exploring Moscow a little bit more, because I felt that I haven’t seen a lot yet. I wasn’t really fond of Moscow until then. Only big buildings and everything seemed to be grey. Butit was obviously true that I hadn’t seen much up to this point. In the last two weeks I’ve seen so many beautiful and interesting places in Moscow that I much more enjoy living in this city. I’ve been to several museums, abbeys, churches and parks and I walked through beautiful streets with lovely historic buildings. I especially liked the Gorkij Museum, which is situated in the last house of this famous Russian writer before he died. This house and its interior were built in the East European Art Nouveau style and the stair case in the house is supposed to be the prime example of this style. My favourite place in Moscow, however, is a small lake in the center of Moscow. It’s called Patraiarshi Prudi, and this place is so beautiful, because this lake is surrounded by trees and then by tall and old buildings and it’s really quiet there. And this is really an exception in the center of Moscow, because normally it’s always noisy. So, definately my favourite place to relax. At this place Mihael Bulgakov also wrote his famous novel „The Master and Magarita“ or the novel starts at the Patriarshi Prudi. I can’t really remember anymore. I guess I should just read the book. On the picture you can see the Cosmonaut Museum, where the Russians proudly demonstrate that they had been the first people in space and not the Americans and not the Europeans (That's what a Russian mother told her 5-year old son, when she showed him the first man in space on a picture in the museum). Alyways very interesting to listen to such conversations.

Maybe some updates on my work. At the Holocaust Center I‘m rearranging the book compartment and I’m starting to look for interesting books on the internet, which might suit our library. My Babushka unfortunately has a member of her family staying over for the winter. Therefore, I have to wait until my organisation finds a new Babushka for me. Until then I’ll just work one day longer at the Holocaust Center. I hope that I can start working in the Refugee Center next week, because I miss doing some social work as variation for my office work.