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Keepers of a museum under an open sky

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St. Petersburg is most commonly associated with museums - according to tourists. The Hermitage, the Russian Museum, Museum of the Blockade, Petropavloskaya Fortress, Museum of Cosmonautics - those are the most popular ones. 200 landmarks in the city - the world’s second largest number, losing out only to London. But the difference we have to London is that here we have nameless museums - which never make tourist guidebooks. And if we include those corners, we’ll be ahead of the English capital for sure. Maxim Oblender reports on how St. Petersburg residents are preserving the city’s history.

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This private residence at Pushkinskiy area of St. Petersburg can easily be confused for a wedding salon. Olga Morozova holds a collection of dozens of wedding dresses.

Olga Morozova, collection owner: «Every dress depicts its epoch. This one comes from the pre-revolution times. 1912».

The dress is 106 years old, yet it keeps the memory of its owner’s happiest day. A graduate of Bestuzhev’s classes married a maths teacher. The decoration - fleur d’orange flower - was a necessary accessory at the time. Military-styled wedding dresses from the Blockade times were very modest, made by the brides’ own hands. The 1960s dress called «Cosmos» - a matching name for the epoch. By the way - the first Soviet attempt at synthetic clothes. Next to it are the 1970s - Soviet fashion, largely isolated from the West by the Iron Curtain was still diluted by novelties from the West.

Olga Morozova, collection owner: «There was an entire wedding dress store at Okhta, where you could purchase this dress made in East Germany - but only with coupons».

Either purchased with coupons, gifted by mother or grandma or like this 1889 dress brought over from Paris. The 200 years of the city’s history can be learned through textiles, decorations and laces. She could’ve made millions if she sold these dresses, but those would inevitably end up stashed in chests. Olga dreams of opening a museum.

She still uses Leningrad when talking about St. Petersburg. And calls her apartment at Liteinyi «the Museum of the 20th century». She was named after the Soviet leader - Stalina - but in the 1960s she brought invited the banned bards into her humble abode.

Galich, Vizbor, Klyachkin - such lineup would easily fill a concert hall today. But back then only trusted friends knew of «Thursdays at Liteinyi».

Stalina Mishtal, collector: «Im washing clothes and a man walks over to me and asks - have you brought Klyachkin? I respond that I have no time for that. He asks me to show where Klyatchkin is. Comes over, stands and listens. Nothing official - thats how life was at the day. No-one was in a rush»

Small island of the Soviet Union - collection of movies, books, photographs. All barely fitting into a three-bedroom apartment. She remembers every folder, every magazine. Here’s a headline - the Bolshoi concert hall was build where a Greek church used to stand.

St. Petersburg is the capital of Russian antiquities. That term may not be as popular as the «Cultural capital», but see for yourself - at the corner of Pestelya and Gagarinskaya there are 8 shops where you can touch the past. But prices here are told only to real buyers.

Irina Samoilova, expert at the antiquities store: «These particular ones came out of Faberge’s workshop - they bear the name of head artist Fyodor Afanasyev».

A collection of necklaces shaped as Easter eggs. A predecessor of today’s trendy constructible bracelets. Some are dedicated to Easter, others are marking historic events. This egg, for instance, was made during World War I.

On the wall next to it - portrait of Ivan Mozhukhin, star of mute movies and Leningrad’s favorite. The authorship has been determined - Veniamin Belkin, art teacher and Akhmatova’s friend.

But the amount of artifacts which you could find at the flea market on Udelnaya is unrivaled! From small things, like pins and glass holders, to a Sputnik model worth 6 million rubles.

Maxim Oblender, reporter: «The place is unique. Every time you come here, you’d find something new. A museum under an open sky. Free of charge too».

Seller of Soviet-era dolls Svetlana has been coming to the market for more than 2 years, but it didn’t take her any time at all to understand the lure of the flea market.

Svetlana Shalaeva, seller: «Soviet things always generate a lot of interest, many things have been lost. And us - oldies - always have something in our stashes».

It was at the flea market 10 years ago that artist Nikolay Semenov bought his first vinyl. He liked the cover - Leningrad, water-painted. Today there are around 2 hundred vinyls on the shelves in his apartment - and all have our city from the 1950-60s on their cover.

Nikolay Semenov, artist and collector: «I see that those are disappearing. Becoming thing of the past. I felt bad and decided to collect those - to preserve it».

There’s a different clock nowadays at Finlandskiy station. The angel at Alexandrovskaya Column is no longer concealed underneath a cloth during May Day holidays. A Soviet car in the streets causes more wows than a nifty sports car. But the bits and pieces of the city’s 315-year-long history in those little chests at the flea market, at antiquities stores, on the shelves of ordinary apartments. The city which is the biggest museum in the world - which remains that thanks to its keepers.

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