12.26.18: Listening for the Heartbeat of Leningrad

Today a trip to the Moskovy District to check out some serious Soviet architecture and monuments to Lenin and the Siege of Leningrad.

First up, the big Lenin in Ploshchad Moskovskaya (Moscow Square). One of more than 50 Lenin statues sprinkled around the city, this one apparently used to be paired with a big Stalin “but all ‘Man of Steel’ statues were removed a long time ago.” Behind him, the House of Soviets (“the finest example in St. Petersburg of the grandiose monumental architecture of the Stalinist era”) still looms large but how would Lenin feel about facing a giant Christmas Tree adorned with festive pinecones and sets of ice skates?

The House of Soviets was completed in 1941. In early September of that year, the Siege of Leningrad began. It didn’t end until late January of 1944: 872 days. The goal of the Nazis in surrounding the city was to completely destroy it and its citizens; it’s been said that the siege caused the greatest destruction and the largest loss of life ever known in a modern city with over a million and a half people killed due to bombardments as well as the lack of basic necessities such as heat, water and food, especially in the extreme cold of winter. Diary entries from the time detail the horrors–including cannibalism–people experienced in their fight for survival. The Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad looms impressively out of the landscape at Ploshchad Pobedy (no statues dedicated to the cats who helped save the city; those are located elsewhere…) but what I was most intrigued by was under the ground: the Heartbeat of Leningrad, a metronome ticking that played over loudspeakers and radio that assured people their city was still alive in the bleakest of times. We’d read somewhere that you could still hear the heartbeat in the Museum beneath the monument but alas, it’s closed on Wednesday with the only action around being a small army of snow-shovelers making sure the past remains accessible, seven decades later…




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