Ekaterinburg: More Motley Than Expected
Posted on Aug 13, 2015 by Bimbino
Window on Asia
If you cross the Ural mountains from West to East, Ekaterinburg is the first city you can find on Asian soil. Only 40 kilometers away from the border to Europe, Ekaterinburg has been called 'The Window on Asia". With more than 1.3 million inhabitants itis the fourth biggest city in Russia. Like all cities in Siberia Ekaterinburg is relatively young. Founded in 1723 as a settlement for miners, the city became quickly a center for metallurgy and later also for the arms industry.
Arrival in Sverdlovsk
Ekaterinburg was supposed to be the final destination of the train the monkeys had boarded in Kazan. When they stepped out of their wagon onto the platform the sign on the main building of the station indicated that they had arrived in a different city: Sverdlovsk. Before they could even start asking questions their Couchsurfing host Alla appeared. Apparently they must have been in the right place, but why was there nowhere the right name of the city? Alla quickly solved that riddle: Like many other cities in Russia, Ekaterinburg was renamed during the Soviet periode. When the citiy changed its name back to the originals, the Russian train company simply didn't follow this move.
Bimbino and Bambina couldn't have wished for a better host than Alla. Alla was born in Sverdlovsk/Ekaterinburg and knew her city by heart. She offered the monkeys to take them on a sightseeing tour. And of course, they pleasantly accepted the offer. In their minds the monkeys had imagined Ekaterinburg as a grey, and boring industrial city. What Alla showed Bimbino and Bambina instead was a culturally colorful city with a rich diversity of architecture.
Things to See
Alla tried to give the monkeys a 'Best of' of her city, showing them the most interesting places in the center. The monkeys were happy to see that Ekaterinburg cares about tourists. For a big part of the tour they were following red and yellow lines, a help for city visitors to find their way around the most important sights of the Ekaterinburg.
They realized quickly that Ekaterinburg is a city of statues and monuments to all kind of things and famous people.
Ekaterinburg appeared visibly spruced up during the visit of the Travelling Monkeys. Reason was the city festival that was about to take place, unfortunately one day too late for Bimbino and Bambina. The monkeys were not really sad about that fact as they decided to come back to Ekaterinburg in 2023. They became just too curious to find out what was hidden in the time capsule, which was buried on the main square of the city.
The most beautiful part of the monkeys walk through central Ekaterinburg was the park-like section following the Iset River. The monkeys came across various monuments, and street art until they finally stood in front of two of the best known landmarks of the city: the unfinished TV tower, and the circus with its lattice steel dome. Especially the TV tower became a very infamous landmark as it had been very popular among people with suicidal tendencies. The government of the city had to arrange security day and night. The guards ensured that nobody could climb the tower. Suicides stopped, and after a while the government ceased the efforts of protecting
people the tower. Probably until the next case of suicide.
Close by the Iset there was the Museum of Fine Arts. Even without visiting the permanent exhibition the monkeys could sense that this museum was something special
The absolute highlight of the monkeys' stay in Ekaterinburg was the visit of Vysotsky tower, the tallest building of Russia outside of Moscow. From there Bimbino and Bambina had wonderful panoramic views all over the city.
Ekaterinburg is a city relatively small in size for its number of inhabitants. The plan of the city is strictly square like it is more characteristic for cities in the Western hemisphere. People usually live in apartment buildings. Solitude standing private houses are basically not existent. In fact, Bimbino and Bambina found Ekaterinburg architecturaly completely different from all other Russian cities they had been to so far. There was little to see in Ekaterinburg that had been built before the 20th century. Old aspects like the historic fortification walls had vanished without leaving a trace. Still, to the monkeys' surprise the city had a rich architectural diversity. Though, most of the buildings belonged to different forms of modernist architecture: socialist classicism, postmodern architecture and especially constructivism. Not everything was interesting. The obligatory Soviet-style apartment blocks were grey and boring as usual.
One of the younger examples of Ekaterinburg's architecture is the Church of All Saints, also known as the Cathedral on the Blood. Despite being a rather boring than beautiful piece of architecture, the church has developed into the most famous and best known sight in Ekaterinburg. The reason for this is the ground on which the building stands. Until its demolition in 1977 this was the location of the Ipatiev House. It was here where Nikolai II, last Tsar of Russia and his family were executed by Bolsheviks on the night of July 16th/17th 1918.
How People Live
Ekaterinburg feels young. It has a lot of alternative corners, galleries, pieces of art. It has a lot to offer its young generation and it seems to be developing in a right direction.
Iset river embankment is the best place to meet up with a friend and have a walk. It seems to be always full of life.
Coffee cars became very popular business all over Russia. Such cars stand in every more or less crowded place of a city. However the quality of the coffee is questionable. No good barista would agree to work on such conditions. Moreover, the salary of such a barista is ridiculously low (around 15 Euros for 12 hours of work).
It is better to get fresh fruits and vegetables not in a supermarket, but in such a kiosk on the street. It is not always cheaper, but the quality is usually good. Such small businesses are normally supported by older generation. However, seems like young people can be inspired as well.
For a visitor of Ekaterinburg, especially for a foreign guest, it is impossible to get along with the public transport system. And why would they need it if a taxi ride costs less than two Euros? However, the prices for the public transport are even more ridiculous. A ride in a tram would cost 12 Rubles (≈ 15 Euro cents). The Travelling Monkeys were mostly walking, but out of a sheer interest they went with an old style tram just for two stops.
Ekaterinburg tends to be in step with the most popular cities in the world. Following the example of London with its red busses the government of Ekaterinburg introduced two-colored busses. Grey color is to be applied to the lower part of the body of three quarters of the bus fleet by December 2015.
There is such a thing as comfort zone. What is it? For example, for US-Americans the comfort zone is the world, therefore they try to establish their military bases in each country. For Germans the comfort zone spreads all over their country, but they don't actually care much about Greece. Some people care about the city they live in: they don't through trash on the street, and sometimes even pick up trash others left. Some people just care about their own garden or if they live in a store-building they care about their stairway and their public yard. The comfort zone of Russians usually ends with the door of their flat. Therefore such announcements are often needed:
See you next time at the border between Europe and Asia!