Anna, our Volgograd city tour guide, was nowhere near born when World War II was destroying her city. Even so, she sure knew Volgograd’s history and led us through this historic area. Our hotel was located just off the main plaza so we started there. A poplar tree had survived much longer than its expected life. At one time, a large, elaborate cathedral had anchored the west end of the plaza. Hundreds of poplars had been planted around it. The cathedral was destroyed, not by the two hundred days of bombing by the Germans, but by the Soviet regime. In the 1920s and 30s, the Soviet government set out to eliminate religion by destroying churches. Only three churches were functioning in Stalingrad (Volgograd before 1925 and since 1961) at the start of WWII. All three are still being used today.
Kevin, our Expedition Leader, Mick, Expedition Guide, Jeff, Support Vehicle Driver and Mechanic, and Anton, Russian Guide, we all able to join us in Anna’s tour. Usually, these guys are working so hard on our “Rest Days” that is is unusual for them to have time for city tours.
Mamayekil Hill, the highest point in the cities at about 350 ft, is the location of a moving, memorial complex. The sculptures began at the base of the hill. A group of Russian soldiers was learning about their military heritage.
Throughout the cities we have visited in Russia, it has amazed me at the height of the heels that women wear. Their legs are long enough! Then they add 4-5” and walk long distances in those seemingly uncomfortable shoes. Guess I must be getting old and/or practical, comfortable in my flat sandals.
As we climbed the hill, we passed a huge statue of a soldier with “Mother Russia” atop the hill in the background. A look of horror on one soldier’s face and a depiction of a woman carrying a wounded soldier to safety were along our path.
The hundred of thousands of unknown soldiers had their own memorial. We saw the changing of the guard ceremony complete with high-stepping soldiers.
A pool surrounded the “Woman weeping for her lost children.” The human and property loss in Stalingrad was staggering. 800K German and 1,129K Soviet soldiers died here. An estimate of half a million civilians lost their lives since Stalin had not ordered an evacuation of the city prior to the battle. Women, children, and elderly were left to their own devices, digging trenches for survival. 99% the children who survived the battle were orphaned.
The winter of 1942-43 added to the carnage. It got to -40 degrees Celsius. This froze many of the Germans who remained since Hitler declined Stalin’s offer for humanitarian evacuation.
“Mother Russia” stands above the 34,000 bodies buried on Mamayekil Hill. It turns out that, since the memorial was finished in 1967, near the height of the Cold War, the Soviet leader edicted that the statue should stand twice as high as the Statue Of Liberty. She does. Since this is a cemetery, the beautiful, gold domed church was recently erected near by.
The Mother Russia memorial area is also a place for wedding photos. I sure hope this bride & groom have a happier marriage than the moment they shared with me.
Our final tour stop was at the Volgograd Musem area. A steel factory, bombed out during the siege, remains as a remembrance of the severity of the war on this city. Across the street stands a house where those inside defended their turf for fifty-eight days. Inside the museum, a 360-degree panorama depicts the battleground on the hill with the Volga River in the background. A woman represented one of the many that served, pulling thousands of soldiers from certain death.
A photo shows what the city looked like after constant bombing raids for 200 days in 1942-3. 96% Stalingrad’s buildings had been destroyed. Russian motorcycles played a part in the war effort. A statue commemorating Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin’s meeting at Yalta was the final exhibit of our museum tour and that of the city. A sobering, enlightening, and learning day for us all.
Ernst, Frajo, & Werner then rode out in the countryside to visit a German cemetery. During WWII, Ernst’s father & two uncles, Austrian citizens, were drafted into Hitler’s army. Both uncles died in Stalingrad. Being the only remaining son, Ernst’s father was sent back home to run the family farm. Nothing of the uncle’s exact whereabouts was ever told to the family. Ernst & his brother were named after their two fallen uncles. Today was a significant day for Ernst and the Haring family– he found the name of one of his uncles engraved in the memorial at the German cemetery in the Russian countryside.
After a long day of learning history, Larry & I still had tasks to do. Our bikes both got their needed wheel bearings installed so we rode them back to the hotel.
Both Larry’s & my GPSs are kaput. Thomas has the same model and his just navigated its last route. At Thomas’ request, Anton located and took us to an electronics store that had exactly two Garmin Nuvi GPSs. No dealers in Russia were listed on the Garmin site. It sure pays to have a local guide. Thomas & I are now praying for dry weather since these are non-waterproof units designed for cars. Fortunately, Larry doesn’t seem to mind when I tell him where to go. At least, when I’m navigating!
In search of a simple supper along the Volga, Larry & I heard a live band concert near a lovely
fountain. This dog seemed to be enjoying the music too. Our stroll “home” took us by several sport bikes “decorated” by ladiesin skimpy outfits and high heel shoes. You know, if I got some platform shoes like the silver ones being worn by this woman, maybe I would feel comfortable riding a big, tall, BMW Adventure bike!
16 Jul Volgograd Russia rest day
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