Rain, Not Snow
Lilia Becker’s third letter from St. Petersburg tells of Russia’s mild winter and moving conversations at the end of the semester
Feb 19, 2020
Contrary to what my friends and family expected and feared, the Russian winter has been very mild so far. Unfortunately – because I had been looking forward to ice baths, taking walks on frozen canals, and high-octane drinks on snowy days. I wanted to partake in a few clichés myself.
But climate change hasn’t spared Russia. Both native residents and tourists are surprised at the temperatures this year. Instead of snow, it rains almost every day. For me, I now associate the gentle patter of rain on the colorfully painted tin roofs of St. Petersburg with my winter in Russia.
I attended a seminar offered through the German Russian Meeting Center in Repino, a suburb of St. Petersburg. There on the banks of the Gulf of Finland I did get a taste of the real Russian winter: The seminar participants came together on the frozen shores of an icy beach.
The seminar was on how the siege of Leningrad has been covered and dealt with in different media. The blockade was one of the biggest war crimes committed by the German Wehrmacht against the Soviet Union during World War II. From September 1941 until the end of January 1944, the German troops blocked off the city with the intention of starving its residents. The presumed number of civilian casualties is 1.1 million.
During the seminar, we got to talk with journalists from Russia and Germany and reflect on how people write about historical suffering outside of academic settings. Getting to hear eyewitnesses’ personal accounts of the siege left a strong impression. Hearing these people, who are now very old, talk about their experiences made the tragedy all the more palpable. The large number of millions of dead people and that anonymity became more concrete and personal, and I realized how deeply World War II still affects many families in St. Petersburg to this day. I learned that almost everyone living here back then lost someone in their family.
The end of the semester exams at my host university were scheduled after the seminar, so I am busy writing essays and preparing for oral exams. When I am all done with my assignments, I want to take time to travel a bit in-land. I look forward to long train rides with time to think back on all that I have experienced during my semester abroad.