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Privyet from St. Petersburg!

A letter from Russia! Lilia Becker travels through the former Soviet Union to St. Petersburg and finds an apartment by the city’s grand boulevard.

Oct 16, 2019

Lilia Becker will be sending letters regularly from the Russian port city on the Baltic Sea.

Lilia Becker will be sending letters regularly from the Russian port city on the Baltic Sea.
Image Credit: Elena Nustrini

A compartment with wood paneling, the gentle rocking of a Soviet train, a hot cup of instant coffee in my hand: Saint Petersburg was a welcome sight after the night train from Moscow. But that was just the last leg of a long journey. Leaving Berlin, I first headed to Georgia. Russia and the entire Soviet past are present there – and not just in the architecture and language. Since the Russo-Georgian War in 2008, there has been a steady wave of protests against the “occupancy,” a word you hear often in the region. Moscow suspended all air traffic with Georgia this summer, which meant I had to travel to neighboring Armenia to continue my trip to Moscow – a city of outrageous proportions to my mind. Each house, each street seems a bit bigger and a bit wider than the one before.

The underground passages in Moscow are like entire cities where you can find pretty much everything from manicures to groceries. They are just as full of people as the city above ground. The capital seems hectic with tourists and business people all over the city center. So I was really happy to see that “Piter,” as the locals call St. Petersburg, was much more low-key. The buildings with their never-ending, interconnected courtyards in the old downtown neighborhood were influenced by Italian classical architecture. Above them, power lines criss-cross to form a chaotic web. I was surprised to discover that small shops and even restaurants are often open around the clock. It is both convenient and exhausting. Rest on Sunday? No way!

After a week in an AirBnB rental, a fellow student and I found an apartment near Nevsky Prospect, St. Petersburg’s grand boulevard, where we could move in. Our landlady is an elderly woman who used to give tours to art enthusiasts at the State Hermitage Museum. We signed the lease late one night, just before midnight, in her kitchen with tea and cookies.

As part of my master’s thesis research, I am going to contact the human rights organization Memorial, which raises awareness about the history of Stalinism. It is an exciting time for me, and I wonder if I will be granted access to the archives in the next few days.

Further Information

We look forward to more “Letters from ... St. Petersburg” from Lilia Becker. She is one of eleven students from Freie Universität reporting on their study abroad experiences.

Here you can read the German version of her first letter.