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How Leningrad was rebuilt after the war and the Blockade

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Andrey Fedorov, reporter: “Count nine windows from the right and take away the fourth floor in your imagination. That is the only way to pinpoint the former building of the English Club today. Before the Blockade, it used to be a separate mansion at Dvortsovaya Embankment 16. But a bomb which fell onto the adjacent building fully changed its look. After the war three buildings were merged into one. Although those are still completely different on the inside”.

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Eyewitness accounts suggest that the tragedy happened on September 8th 1941. The first day of mass aerial raids on Leningrad.

The destroyed building was fully rebuilt and there’s nothing special on its staircase, except, maybe, the view to the Petropavlovskaya Fortress – looks like a typical 1950s building. The only thing keeping the memory of its illustrious history alive is the entrance to the building, currently under renovation. These decorations are 300 years old.

Maria Galina, sculptor: “There were poker rooms upstairs. Now those are residential apartments – and the ceiling there is decorated with card suits. Those have remained to our days, as you can see. And it is believed that there was Russia’s first wooden bowling alley downstairs. Yeah, this was the place for the elites”.

All this is concealed behind a façade styled after “Stalin’s Empire”. But before the destruction, it was an eclectic style. And the embankment itself looked different…

Andrey Fedorov, reporter: “Fascist scorchers are dropping hundreds of incendiary bombs. But the city is not on fire – blazes are being put out quickly. It’s almost like the city is made of fireproof materials – this is an article from Leningradskaya Pravda from September 14th. The last line in it is probably a metaphor, but it definitely had substance”.

Leningrad was on fire. But not as hard as fascists had expected. They were held back by the air defense systems. Monuments were either reinforced or dug into the ground. Golden domes of churches were either covered with cloth or painted green. Self-defense groups were monitoring the situation from rooftops.

Vladimir Barakov, tour guide: “These bombs fell here, breaking through steel – that’s how powerful those were. So people had to grab bombs and put them into bowls with water or sand – all in a matter of seconds. But the water was replaced later, because it boiled out instantly. These bombs were 300 Celsius hot”.

It was much harder protecting buildings from large firebombs. Those literally riddled the city’s center. According to official reports, by September 1942 200 of 300 city’s monuments had been damaged. All major ones were affected by the air raids – Mariinsky Theatre, Adamini Building at Moyka Embankment, Engelgardt Building, Gostinnyi Dvor and many others. The majoirty of those were returned to their original look after the war. But there were exceptions – like Fontanka 12. Find 5 differences.

The House of Literature at Nevskiy changed both the look and the mission.

Pavel Platonov, art expert: “It was a typical building. But it used to be the masterpiece of wooden architecture – the Palace of Beloselskikh-Belozerskikh – and there was supposed to be something special here. And, secondly, this building was meant for the district executive committee, so it had to have a stern official look. Hence the sculptures on its façade”.

Andrey Fedorov, reporter: “One of the most visible examples – the building in Kirpichnyi Lane. It houses the purple line subway station – Admiralteyskaya. But it used to be a residential building, corner of which was sliced by a bomb. And it has remained like that”.

Entire streets were rebuilt. We are standing with Yulia Bakhareva from the city’s Committee on preservation of historical monuments in a park which had not existed before the Blockade – two building were tightly squeezed against each other. But when Suvorovskiy Prospekt was being rebuilt, architects decided to expand the space and moved the building destroyed by a bomb – into the spot several dozen meters away.

Yulia Bakhareva, specialist of Committee on preservation of historical monuments: “The building itself might not have had any historical significance, but if it was part of a certain significant architectural ensemble – it was important to preserve this kind of environment. In such cases, buildings were restored in exact likeness to a certain era. Those buildings which had no historic significance were restored in that era’s style”.

But there were cases when buildings disappeared altogether. And something else emerged in their places. The famous Fairytale Building at Dekabristov Street was dismantled. And architect Eduard Schmidt’s destroyed profit house disappeared from Liteinyi in 1978.

Andrey Fedorov, reporter: “Short excerpts from a newspaper of those days: “it was decided to take down a tall wall during the night, when traffic is slow at Liteinyi. The operation was conducted by a brigade from LenZhilUpravleniye, headed by S.P. Kalinin. Bewildered passengers stopped by a pile of rubble in the morning. There was a building here last night, but now it was gone”. The same article claimed that a twin building would be erected here shortly, but, clearly, something went wrong”.

This archive footage shows the most large-scale destruction during the years of the Blockade. The Peterhoff and Tsarskoye Selo were completely destroyed. The Germans left ruins in their path. It took decades to restore the masterpieces of art.

Raisa Slepushina is among those who have dedicated their lives to that. She restored ceilings, doors and stoves. But her main work – the Chinese guest room. She recreated the unique silk embroidery using her own method.

Raisa Slepushkina, restoration artist: “Yes, it is simple. Even primitive. Like all things of genius are. You stretch it out – as if you are knitting, and then spread paint over it. That’s how water emerged”.

Numerous tourists from China appreciated her work. You won’t be able to distinguish it from the original. But there were suggestions after the war not to rebuild the palace and leave it as a monument.

Natalya Kudryavtseva, deputy director of “Tsarskoye Selo” museum’s department of restoration: “It was considered. But quickly rejected. Because this is not ancient Greece – which is 2000 years behind. It is our history. It would have been a monument to our defeat. We would not have been able to talk about victory – if we had left it like this”.

We all remember the heroics of those who survived the Blockade. But rebuilding after the war is not less of a heroic deed, pulled off by architects and restoration workers. It was them who brought back the shine and the glory to the city.

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