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Along the Amber Route: St Petersburg

When the bus pulled up opposite an enormous, floodlit granite obelisk, I realised with a start that I had been here before – decades before, when the city was known by another name. This was the Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad. In September 1941, the German high command issued a chilling directive: ‘The Führer has decided to have Leningrad wiped from the face of the earth. The further exist-ence of this large town is of no interest once Soviet Russia is overthrown.’ It was the beginning of a gruelling siege that lasted almost 900 days. Despite supplies brought across the ‘Road of Life’ – the frozen waters of Lake Ladoga – up to 1.5 million soldiers and civilians died of hunger.

Walking away from the monument, I passed through a shop-ping arcade to the metro, bought a jeton from a woman behind the counter, and let it fall with a clunk into the turnstile. The escalator – a grandiose example of Stalinist classical moderne – was the longest and steepest I’d seen, its bronze neo-Roman torchères on fluted columns casting their beams to the vaulted ceiling. No one bothered to walk up, and few to walk down. The St Petersburg metro is the deepest in the world, on account of the marshy ground – and the expendability of labour in Stalin’s Russia.

From Along the Amber Route by C.J. Schüler

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C.J. Schüler

C.J. Schüler