An accident meeting with a girl in Stalingrad – Travelogue

March 18, 2010

“There is more here than just lands at stake here, this a rassenkampf (race war), where only one can survive! We the German people are the undeniable master race. It is not enough, I tell you to just preserve our Nordic way of life! We must be able to replenish the Aryan, and pursue our policy of racial purity by eradicating the inferiors! Do not believe for one moment we are ordinary people! Ordinary people cannot accomplish our miraculous feats which speak of a great people with a greater destiny! In this short time, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Holland and France have all fallen and so will the city in East, far from here. The city that is the red menace of Bolshevikism that even bears the name of their corrupt leader, Stalingrad! We shall seize it in the name of the 1,000 year Reich!”

Adolf Hitler (1941)

No where else in the world does one hear the word ‘history’ spoken in the present tense as in Stalingrad – I mean Volgograd. For political reasons Stalingrad reflects the name of a controversial brutal dictator Josef Stalin, so they changed it during the 50’s.

But everyone here still calls her Stalingrad. I know you have all seen the stomach churning meat grinding violence of Saving Private Ryan along with the band of brothers – we know the narrative by heart – the West defeated the Nazis. Right?

Nothing can be further from the truth, though historians may differ on who dealt the mortal blow that packed off Adolf Hitler and his uber Aryans to the rubbish heap of history, no one disputes, this is where the story of the beginning of the end for Hitler and his motley crew began –  in a dimly lit bar South of the city, where old soldiers hang out with their medals strewn out like coins, Stalingrad leaps to life; covering the walls sepia prints of young men in uniforms form a collage of the fallen – in one corner a hall of a fame to the fallen is graced with a solitary tongue of light, next to it someone is playing a broken guitar – it baths the bar in an eiree light, maybe it’s just me. I’ve been drinking – I take another swig of fajhir – the local moonshine, stilled from some say potatoes, beetroot and a dash of gunpowder to give it a strangely aniseed flavor – “They used to make right here during the great patriotic struggle, when the Vodka ran out. Somehow it stayed on when world went ahead!” The bartender points to the silent faces on the walls – he pours me another – I down it in one go – it doesn’t burn, feels great as it oils it’s way down slowly like the dark mysterious waters of the Volga; and soon I find myself wishing I had a neck as long as a giraffe, my demeanor says it all, “hit me again bartender.”

Its hard to imagine these days amid the sea of people, just sauntering along – mothers pushing their prams – fathers reading newspapers in parks – kids poking at carp with twigs in the central square in Volgograd – this was once the same place that saw the fiercest fighting and heroic struggles in human history. From time to time, a monument juts out proclaiming, “this was where we stood our ground!” – “not one inch!” – “for the motherland! Urrah!” Despite the way these stone motifs regularly impose their message on the traveler’s consciousness. No where else in the world do they pale in comparison to the narrative these people hold in their hearts whenever they speak about the epic battle of Stalingrad. The mood is climatic and it’s everywhere leaching into the street, oozing out of wall papers, ever present even in the ordinariness of life.

Even the hotel receptionist, a matronly type who looked as if she just retired from some KGB run gulag in Siberia – someone that has as much emotional quotient as stuffed grizzly bear is able to turn to me one evening starring with intense watery eyes intoning, “When you write about Russia, you will write about the things you ate, about and the things you saw with your eyes and hear with your ears, but  this is the only corner of Russia where you can never read, taste or hear about pain, only feel it.” She looks dismissively at my Leica camera while placing a her hand gently on my heart as she walks away – lost in some distant memory – a father, brother, sister, lover or maybe just lamenting the passing of her youth – who really knows – the mood clings to me like seaweed. Though it lasted only a seconds, it left me reeling and wondering: why history had etched itself so deeply into this corner of the world? That even strangers feel the need to bare out their souls like some modern day ancient mariner of time. One rarely hears about those sort personal dioramas in New York, Paris or even in Singapore. 

In those bustling world centers on the otherside of the world everyone is in their own ipod bubbled, shrink wrapped and distanced from the past -only the present and the future matters, but never in Stalingrad –everyone from taxi drivers to street vendors; have one foot in the past; they’re all historians, silent witnesses and like restless ghost; they don’t have a choice it seems but to tell their story again and again, it will not denied – like prayer beads; it matters little who it’s told too; the only thing that really matters is with each retelling; one bead slips smoothly over another till it all comes full circle, only to begin again – an unending meditative litany of shattered dreams and innocence lost; as if with each retelling somehow all the wrongs of the past can be washed away.

The traveler is always reminded of the duality between two narratives in Stalingrad —past and present – shuttling back and forth like a pendulum, the story of people as they turn the wheel of life as best they can today and the story of those who still haunt them from some distant past. And somewhere in this timeline, it seems as though both the past and present have ceased to exist as they merge into one blob to create what we see today – this place I tell myself again and again is where the present resides deep within the folds of the past as for the future; it’s just a word, like something you find written at the back of a chewing wrapper – it might as well be like a comb to a bald man – written is some scrawl that no one cares to read around here.

Even by today’s standards, it’s impossible to imagine the scale of loss and suffering this city once witnessed – the war reduced Stalingrad’s population from 600,000 to only 18,000 – 94% of the buildings were flattened – every square foot was bombed to re-scape the city at least 6 times over! A hell that even the invading Germans referred too as ‘Rattemkrieg’ (rat warfare) where close-quarter combat in ruined buildings, bunkers, cellars and sewers possessed a savage intimacy which appalled even the most seasoned soldiers.

I don’t even have a datum to scale those terrifying losses but my Lada driving taxi driver says, someone he knows does. He fought in Stalingrad, he says, “Only mama can take the pain away” as he pointed to the tallest mount overlooking the city – standing East of the Volga River that runs through the city from North to South – the statue called Mahyearh Koorghan – Mother Russia stands like a great beacon. She towers 164 ft tall and is listed in the Guiness book of Records as the tallest free standing monument. The locals, all refer to her as ‘mama’ she is not simply a memorial, but a sort of wailing wall of Jerusalem that every Russian is expected to make; the great pilgrimage to try to entomb their hurts and pain. Every Russian knows of someone whose father, brother, uncle, relative died in a Stalingrad. Mama is like some great Oprah Winfrey, Dalai Lama, Florence Nightingale and Britney Spears all rolled into one gigantic Beaux structure, the great embracer, patron to those who have loved and loss and looking at her stern features, its hard for to believe only mama can kiss it and make it all go away – but that’s how the narrative goes in Stalingrad; only she can make it better and worth it all, here beneath the giant toe of mama ordinary Russians can believe even dying of honorable dysentery in the great patriotic struggle is elevated to Byzantine glory – in one great sweep where the wind blows from the steppes right across the Volga; “mama, will take it all away.” said my taxi driver –  surveying the stadium sized tits of mama Russia I reckon she’s well equipped for the job.

She’s a mother alright! That’s when I realize, I’ve forgotten to load my camera with film.


End of part 1, to be continued tomorrow when our debonair traveler meets the pretty book doctor – Martha. Find out what their respective histories holds for them.

(The Brotherhood Press  – EP 2309035 – Travelogue Series)

N.B MESSAGE BY MISSY DOTTY:  DO BOOKMARK THIS SITE, IF SOME OF YOU CLAIM, YOU ARE MISSING OUT, BOOKMARK IT, THAT WAY WHEN WE DECIDE TO TAKE OFF SOMEWHERE ELSE, AT LEAST YOU CAN FOLLOW US ON THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD TO CONT READING SOME OF OUR STUFF . BOOKMARK, IT AS WHEN THEY TAKE OFF, AS THEY DO, AT LEAST, YOU WILL HAVE A LINK, DO IT NOW!– ANOTHER GOOD REASON TO BOOKMARK THIS SITE IS THIS HAS HAPPENED  RECENTLY – , THE BP HAS BARRED ALL FUTURE ESSAYS TO BE POSTED BY THE SINGAPORE DAILY. I DID ASK BABY DARKNESS ABOUT THIS AND THIS IS WHAT HE HAD TO SAY, ” There are two ways to read, one is you let someone spoon feed you like a baby. The second is you choose what and how you want to eat.  Remember, if your body is a temple. Your mind has to be the altar piece; it’s the linchpin that makes possible the grand idea of La Convivencia with you and your community, spirit, mind and perhaps 7 million other things- without this one thing, the power to choose, you are simply a cactus on a window sill! 

So understand this little rich girl, there is reading and there is reading, there is a world of difference, if you dont even bother to argue with the belief, you are what you eat. Then you would have absolutely no problem understanding – why, you are most definitely without a shadow of doubt what you read and dont read.

You can certainly categorize what I write, but you have no right to judge ……that was what Singaporedaily did – a broad line has to be drawn, otherwise, dont be surprise, if someone decides its card blanche to give you and me the mushroom treatment, “feed you shit and keep you in the dark.” So this has nothing to do with Anime 3 and her rubberband brigade. I value her readership and support, but this is a bigger sphere we are dealing with here – so this is where I will draw the line…it will hurt…like that other fake site, Temasek review that kept faking doss attacks; but how could they let the real wolf out without first planting the idea in peoples mind, “if it can happen to me, it will also happen to you,” Think about it – they cried wolf – we helped, but this time, I am not going to stick my neck out for no one…its everyman for himself….I dont even care, if the whole house catches fire…call it tough love, but if you aren’t a hard man, then you shouldn’t be in the ring and that’s the only way to deal with people who cry wolf, its all here, the explanation – dont worry dotty, the readers will eventually pick up the scent…they always do, you just wait and see, dont ever sweat the small stuff, life is too short – Darkness 2010……”Missy Dotty

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