The Mystery of the Amber Room

natural amberThe Amber Room in the Summer Residential House of the Russian Royal family, not far from St Pteresburg has been considered as an 8th Wonder of the World, and for a good reason.

The construction of the room started in 1701 by German and Dutch architects and craftsmen and in 1716 it was presented by Prussia to its then ally Russian King Peter the Great.   6 tones (13000 lbs) of  amber of 350 different shades covered 55 square meters (590 sq ft) of the room.

During the WWII St Petersburg remained under Nazi siege  for almost two years, and just before the attack the curators of the Room tried to conceal the panels with the ordinary wallpaper. But Nazis knew exactly what to look for and where, so the wall panels were taken down and sent to Koenigsberg, at that time part of Germany, today Kaliningrad on the territory of Russia. Koenigsberg is the last place where this room was seen.

In 1945 the Koenigsberg castle was heavily bombed and attached by the soviet artillery. And the room vanished. Since then, even until now the enthusiasts and professionals refuse to acknowledge the fact that this amazing treasure has been lost to the mankind and the search continues.

Konigsberg1

koenigsberg-1945

Right after the war Russian KGB together with Eastern German Stasi (Secret Police) started looking for the room independently from each other. There were hints that led nowhere but created more hints. The two secret services were competing with each other in hope to find the room first but to no avail.

The Koenigsburg Castle search gave no results, even if there were found some minor traces of 3 out of 4 mosaic panels.

amber 4In 1968 Brejhnev, at that time the leader of the USSR gave the orders to demolish the remnants of the Koenigsburg castle, despite the global academic protests. The Communists have habitually demolished and destroyed cultural values in their own countries before, but this seemed to be a little bit extreme. Demolishing ancient churches took place in the name of Atheism, Royal Palaces were robbed of treasures in the name of Communism itself. From 1917 the entire country survived on these treasures. But demolishing a Castle in order to build a new administrative building on it’s place was decided just like that, with no obvious reason behind it. Sounds like a cover up to me.

By the way the construction of the new administrative building was almost finished, but it sank, because the dungeons of the old Castle collapsed underneath. Typical soviet way of building grand structures without any proper knowledge. The exterior of the building was nicely covered up for the visit pf the President Putin in 2005. Just bad old habit, covering up a façade to pretend that everything is wonderful, even now. I guess it’s just so hard getting rid of useless old habits.amber1

So the search of the Amber Room continued until the 80-ies. Some enthusiasts haven’t given up yet, but in my opinion they should. Apparently the search of the Room started immediately after Nazis left Koenigsburg in 1945, on the orders of the Soviet State. The Red Army general reported to the headquarters after the investigation that after the castle suffered heavy bombing and artillery attack, the Russian troops have burnt the castle, symbolically, as the end of the war and Nazism. But it sounded that the famous Amber Room was destroyed by Soviet troops. Again this report was tucked away on a far shelf and probably KGB was charged with the order to start the search together with Stasi, to make the general population, especially in eastern Germany, that the room still exists. It was more convenient to blame Nazis in the disappearance of the national treasures. My guess is, this is exactly why it was decided to build a new Administrative building in the place of the old Castle in late 60-ies.

The Black and White photo of the original Amber Room

The Black and White photo of the original Amber Room

Finally in 1979 the decision was made to recreate the precious Amber Room. The project required skills and financial means which exceeded the capacities of both countries. Amber craftsman were too few left, so was amber itself. Besides the only photos of the original were black and white and it was extremely hard, or almost impossible to recreate the color palette of the room. Apparently there were several panels which were destroyed and created over and over again, until the satisfactory final version. With no skills and no money the work was going very slow. But in 1989, after the Berlin was demolished, the German Energy company E.ON contributed 3.5 million dollars for the completion of the project, as a gift to the USSR in gratitude for reuniting Germany again. This I call loving your enemies. Can not stop admiring this deed.

In 2003 the new Room was finished and reinstalled in the Ekaterininsky Dvorets (Catherine’s Palace), it’s old home. But still, as beautiful as it is, it is still far from the original version, as the knowledgeable people say.Amber_for_website_thumb

As a matter of fact, again the Germans, this time the German “Spiegel” financed the search of the dungeons of the Koenigsberg Castle and to the excitement of the archaeologists some part of the treasures have been recovered. The research continues and who knows, maybe the mystical Amber Room is still somewhere there. I doubt it.

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Still Looking

new-yorker-couch-cartoon_webI have been going to job interviews for few months now. My latest one was yesterday. I was quite excited about it. The vacancy seemed to be just right for me, sounded  like the pay would be OK too. So I went.

The office was set up in a rented apartment, I was asked to wait for few minutes in one of the rooms there. First I pulled out my phone and played with it for a while, then I started looking around, wondering what kind of people work at these empty desks, when they are in the office (It was past 6 pm). The whole place was a mess, the walls were plastered with the sticky notes, some of them already faded in color. The desks were full of scattered papers. The lone poster was hanging miserably on one pin. I instantly got a feeling that people here hate their jobs, and 5 minutes to 6 they were already out through the door.

After 10 minutes I was called to the meeting room. There were three middle-aged women and a young assistant, typing away on her lap top. One of the three was an American, two others were Georgians. I instantly got a feeling that I was done a great favor by these three almighty personas who would or not give me a job and income.

They were shuffling through papers with busy faces, so I had a moment to assess them. One of the three women looked like she does not know that people comb their hair and some of them do so at a hairdressers sometimes. She looked older than me, but I am not so sure. She acted like she was terminally ill, but then it turned out that they have been sitting through the interviews since 9 am and they were tired. Another woman gave out the vibe I have to be here but I have better things to do. The American looked more professional then the rest of them, judging by her looks and her body language. The tired uncombed woman turned out to be a director of the project, the bored one – I could not understand what exactly she did, but after just few words uttered by her and interrupted by the uncombed one I could tell these two hated each other. American tactfully ignored all this, but it was obvious she was fed up with other two.

They asked questions and I answered them. They asked if I read the phrase in the job posting asking to inquire if any additional questions. I said I did read it and I did not have any additional questions.  They found it strange that I did not have additional questions. Here my mind went into the frenzy. Should I tell them what I think about the place? In this case I will never get this job. Should I lie like a school girl and pretend all is OK? Come on. So I said what I thought but tried to do it as politely as the circumstances allowed. The job posting gave a brief description and I learned from it that I am qualified for it. I did check the company background and it seemed it was worth trying my luck with them. This is as much as I need for a job interview. If I get a job I will study all the papers available. If these ladies were selecting a candidate among many, I am also selecting a job among, well not so many, but still. American started nodding her head frantically, bored one probably was not listening and tired one started looking even more tired.

I was asked to send by e-mail a brief report which would show that I have enough analytical skills to merge qualitative and quantitative indicators (yes, this general and vague). I promised, because I believe that if I put out 100% of what I can, it will be paid back eventually.

This morning I woke up and started thinking what kind of life I am getting myself into. How far do I want to go in order to have a decent job. Spending 40 hours per week with unhappy invisible coworkers and being insulted by the tired Director once in a while, because she can?  And should I be happy with just a descent job? Why not go for a great job? So I decided to wait until I switch from my car to a bus, when i run out of money and so I did not merge nonexistent quantitative indicators with the nonexistent qualitative ones.  My analytical skills stay with me, because this time I will need to listen to my intuition.

Employers need to remember they are not the only ones who are picking.

In a moment I’ll be sending a polite e-mail saying that I have some other opportunities which I would prefer to follow through.

Evil of Communism – Holodomor

In memory of the Holodomor

In memory of the Holodomor

Out of all atrocities conducted by the Communists Ukrainian Holodomor was probably the most outrageous. The word itself means killing by starving, and that’s exactly what it was, a man made famine which was aimed at the extermination of the entire nation.

The situation for such famine was ripening in Russia since the Revolution in 1917, there was a great famine of 1928-29 during which Ukraine had to carry the hardest burden,   From 1917 onward in Ukraine as well as in Russia Kulaks, the farmers who had better income than others had been systematically arrested, displaced to Siberia, and more often just sentenced to death. In order to tame the rich, agricultural country quickly and efficiently the easiest way was found – man made famine, Holodomor.

Various sources state various numbers of Holodomor victims, from 6 to 10 million people. The crops and the cattle was taken away from the farmers, those who were suspected in hiding them, were tortured to death. The farmers were not allowed to travel to the cities, in search of job, if they were caught in the city they were immediately sentenced to death. The trains stopped moving so there was nowhere to go. The prisons were overcrowded with peasants and their families, including children.

At that time lots of homeless children appeared in the streets of the cities, the peasants from the nearby villages would bring their children and leave them there hoping that someone would somehow take care of them, they were kids after all. Back home they would die for sure. But soon special services were created, which would gather those kids in the streets and send them to a special holding camps. In those camps the inhabitants were divided into two groups, those who would live a little longer and those who were already swelling because of hunger. The latter would be taken outside the city and wUkr famine 2ould be left there in the open mass graves, on the mountains of the corpses to die. The “healthier” groups would be crammed into the prisons. The prison inmates were not fed either so the prison was just a waiting place. Every few days the guards would clear out the corpses and send them to the same open mass graves.

The witnesses of Holodomor were telling the grueling stories about cannibalism. People were eating earth and roots of the trees, but the patrolling troops in the villages would shoot anyone who was chewing anything.

The country was isolated so Ukrainians could not pass the border. There was no way out but death. I would imagine that after two years of this horror death was very much welcomed.

The purpose of the famine was to teach the lesson and the lesson was well learned indeed. Collectivization happened, land was taken away by the state. And the victory in the war against Kulaks was declared.

Northern Caucasus and Kazakhstan also suffered from Holodomor.  The State forced the nomadic tribes settle down in Kazakhstan and took away their cattle, which was an instant death sentence to over one million people.

Every evil CommuHolodomor_streetnists have ever committed, it was always presented to people as something that was really good for them and their bright future. I am sure that even then in 1933, when people were brainwashed extensively on a regular basis,  not too many people believed in this, so the war was declared to those who appeared to be doubtful of such measures, this war against the enemies of the people reached its peak in 1937 and continued until Stalin’s death in 1956.

The masters of propaganda were able to conceal the Holodomor horror from the west. Some westerners living in Russia, such as embassy representatives were sending their reports describing the situation to their countries, but these materials were never revealed until 21st century. Hitler was already at the power and the world could already see the coming danger, so to be allies with Russia was beneficial for everybody.

Then the war started and the Holodomor was forgotten by the Soviet Union and by the rest of the world. Well, Ukrainians surely remember it, and they should, they should pass it on to the future generation and remember the innocent victims forever. That’s what a nation with the self-respect does.

Innocent Until Proven Guilty

The true face of Communism became clearer probably in the end of the 20th century, after the USSR fell apart. But 25 years later it is still subtle, and sometimes obscure. People in the former (or current) communist countries ignore their past and the West is not as adamant about it, as it was about Nazism and Hitler.

communicm This is truly puzzling and I am trying to figure out why Communism is never compared to Nazism in its crimes. There might be few reasons.

Soviet Union was a major winning party in the WWII, and if you ask any Russian even today, thanks to intensive post war propaganda, USSR was a sole winner in this war, thus neglecting the contribution of the allies.

Communism unlike Nazism lasted for a very long time – more than 70 years. There were generations who were born, lived and died during Communism. Not knowing better, it was accepted as it was – terrifying, unfair and absurd, but if you learned how to live around those, you could pretend that you had an ordinary life, and even be proud of yourself managing to stay out pf trouble.

And than endless propaganda. It numbs one’s brains. People in the Soviet Union were always told they were the happiest people in the world, lucky to be spared of the degrading evil of capitalism.

Communists were also very skilled in concealing the truth. What the West saw was great athletes, great ballet, great actors and musicians and scientists. The West also knew about dissidents, political prisoners and  ridiculously out of proportion armament – thus the Cold War. What they did not see (or acknowledge in any meaningful way) was plain terror in the beginning and then this terror made subtle but more dangerous – numbing people’s minds, training them to lead still life without any choices, without any opportunities to achieve something in your life, to become somebody. Just small parts in a gigantic machine. At that time the West was busy protecting itself from the Communism.

People in the USSR were told that medical services and education were free for its citizens. Only after the crush of the

Cemetery in Gulag

Cemetery in Gulag, abandoned and forgotten.

system people learned that that kind of medical services and education was free in the West too, and people there had a choice of the better ones.

This is not a competition between Nazism and Communism. I am not comparing these two either. But there are two things that bother me: Communism victims need a closure too, just like Nazi victims did during the Nuremberg process. And the second-by  ignoring communism crimes we allow it to continue it’s existence in modern states as well. In almost all post Communist Block countries the leaders of new, more “democratic” governments were former Communists. Imagine former Nazis coming to power again.

The term Communism probably can be argued. The Wikipedia says – “In political and social sciences, communism (from Latin communis – common, universal) is a social, political, and economic ideology and movement whose ultimate goal is the establishment of the communist society, which is a socioeconomic order structured upon the common ownership of the means of production, absence of social classesmoney, and the state.” As a kid I was taught that Communism is where people work as much as they can and get as much as they need.

But the origins of communism stem in Ancient Greece. Plato described a city where there is no poverty, no corruption and no government. Thomas Moore in 15th century described a mystical land called Utopia, where everybody was happy. So Carl Marx did not invent it. In my personal opinion he was big looser who lived and died in poverty and for this he blamed  everybody around him who had money. He was a typical victim with convincing writing skills. His “Capital” is an ode to all losers.

Communism is Utopia, it is not happening. Not in this life anyway. But that’s not the point. The point is that the Bolsheviks took it and turned it into a terror instrument. So whatever is a true meaning behind this word, to me it is an instrument of terror.

Even today it is not possible to count the victims of all communist regimes,  former ones are not willing to disclose the whole information, because people who have hands in the blood of the victims are still around. Current communist countries still

Gulag

Gulag

deny their crimes. But here are some facts:

The victims of Nazi repressions mounted up to 20 million people.

The victims of Communist terror in all communist countries equals to 100 millions.

Nazis created concentration camps based on Russian model! I have been to one of those in Prague. It left unforgettable impression on me, I was 8 then, and did not know that children of my age die at all. And there were these photos of little Jewish kids who were sent to gas chambers.  This trip shattered my view of the universe, showed me that the world was not just my mom and dad and it was not always fair.  It also taught me to respect victims of a violence, any violence.

There are no museums of such places anywhere in Russia, and this means total denial of the past to me. Denial of past mistakes that went unpunished inevitably leads to their repetition.

Hitler’s reason behind of his terror was completely ridiculous, fight for a better, “cleaner” race. Communists reason sounds somehow not so racist, the obvious madness does not jump into your face. Right after Revolution of 1917 Bolsheviks started their was against certain classes, and against the enemies of the revolution. The problem is that the term “Enemy of the Revolution” covers everyone in this wide world. The definition of antagonist classes was changing thorough out the history of communism. First it was the Royal family, aristocracy and land owners, and then it were peasants who probably worked harder than their neighbors and thus had more income. They were exterminated like cockroaches (Lenin’s term, not mine) and their property was “nationalized”. They were called Kulaks. Then it was “Inteligencia” – simply educated people who actually were really dangerous to the regime, because they could think. Most valuable of them were sent to “closed cities” (another term of a large prison) to work for the good of happy builders of communism, others, not so valuable, ended their lives in Russian concentration camps. Thousands of them of them were simply sentenced to death and their families were doomed to live in shame and poverty. . Just for having a bit more talent and education than your regular Joe.

The Soviet  terror started right after the Revolution, and never ended until Stalin’s death – it lasted for 40 years! Here by terror I mean physical extermination of people. After Stalin’s death terror took on a new meaning. Lenin massacred thousands of people but of course Stalin diligently outdid him so much that no one remembers Lenin anymore. More than that – they still (21st century!!!) keep his mummified corpse in Moscow. What is wrong with the nation which  keeps a dead body of a bloody terrorist, who massacred their ancestors for his own political agenda on a display under a glass?

Lenin MausoleumI met a very young German girl few years ago. We were talking about German economy and the quality of their products. German quality really means a lot. She said that they really had to try very hard to be good at something because the nation feels responsible for Nazism and for the damages  it caused to the world. She was 25 at that time,  she did not even know anyone alive who went through the Nazi period, and she felt responsible for it. And Russian keep Lenin on a display. Sick.

The former communist countries on the contrary to Germans are in complete denial, as if nothing happened, or at least this generation has nothing to do with it. Past is past so lets put it behind us a go on with the life. I think this is happening because Communists got away with it, unlike Nazis.

Innocent until proven guilty.

Born Single

“Realize that if a door closed, it’s becauselone_tree_i_by_zobo_dodo-d5yc96i

what was behind it wasn’t meant for you.” 
― Mandy Hale

If you Google “single woman”, the first thing that comes up is “single women searching for men of a certain age”. Why is the world “Single” synonymous to “No Life”?.

About two weeks ago   I ended up in an elevator with an older guy, about 70 by looks, in my apartment building. He eyed me carefully and then asked : “Do you live here?” I confirmed. Then he blurted out: “Are you married?”   I passed on the thousands of smart-ass answers that instantly jumped into my brains and just said that I’m single.  The reaction was shocking and amusing at the same time. Suddenly his tired old eyes lit up (kudos Grandpa!) and he looked at me as if a husband would be the only obstacle between two of us. And hen the question “Why?” came.

Many years ago, in the beginning of my career one of my the bosses explained to me what an elevator speech is – describing the core of your business in few sentences – just enough to explain it to someone while you are in the elevator. What has never occurred to me, is that I need an elevator speech, explaining why I am single. I obviously needed it now.

Instead I shrugged my shoulders and smiled at him.

He meant it well. And many other people who have told me this before meant it well too. And probably who have never asked me these questions thought of them. But the question “why?” always puzzled me. What people expect you to say, there is no “because” in being single. It is a fact of life. That just happens.

From people I know closer than that guy I have heard even more insulting statements. And they meant it well, just like that guy. I hear from mothers of my friends quite often: “guys are so stupid, if they don’t have smarts to marry you”. Really? REALLY? These people think and tell me into my face that I am not married because nobody wanted to marry me! And people who do not say it, they think it.

Just few months ago, I had to go through yet another “why are you single” challenge at a much bigger scale than I expected. It was a class reunion after thirty years (yes I am that old). Most of the school mates are my friends even today, I was blessed that way, but there were few who I haven’t seen in all those 30 years. I don’t know if people in general have the same understanding of appropriateness as me but studying in the same school does not give anyone the right to start the investigation 30 years later on why I am single, never married and never had children. And inevitable comes– Oh everything is still ahead of you, Tina Turner got married at the age of 72. People! I am not looking! I AM FINE!

When I accidentally run into distant acquaintances, they always have to ask “and how are kids?” As if they care. They don’t even know I have no kids.  So why ask?

It was like this all my life.

First it was

  • When you get married…

Then it was

  • It is time for you to get married

Then the biological clock thing came.

And now Tina Turner is supposed to be my role model.

At work life is not easier but in a different way. My last employer, when hiring, me admitted out-loud that he is happy I am single. This would allow me to concentrate on the job since I don’t have to worry about kids and their kindergartens and their medical check-ups. I could not believe what I heard. After I started working for him, this turned into an abuse – I was supposed to do weekends and holidays, because everybody else had families. Hey! I have family and friends too and they want to have me over for Christmas too!

This guy said it, others have thought it.

The good thing is that all this does not get to me. Because I KNOW that being single does not mean I don’t have a life.

But nobody believes me, so I have to work on my elevator speech.

The Door to Death

So it started

originalJust how much social responsibility is enough? Maybe train ourselves to close the tap while brushing the teeth?  Or maybe a hybrid car will do? Or maybe even eco-terrorism can be justified from a certain point of view? How far into the future do we think when we talk about environment?

I watched a documentary on the nuclear waste disposal about an year ago and could not just put it out of my mind since then. It’s called “Into Eternity. A Film for the Future”, by Michael Madsen.  Apparently a spent nuclear fuel repository is being constructed in a place called Onkalo, in Finland. Once finished in 2020 all the nuclear waste from all over the world for another 100 years (up to 2120) will be deposited there and sealed for 100 000 years. This is how long the waist remains toxic.

The questions pressed in the film remained mainly unanswered.  And…

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Sorrowful Brides

Home for a Nomad

imagesVietnam is one of the five remaining countries in the world where the government still tries to convince its population that people will work as much as they can and earn as much as they need, staying super happy about that (communism in a nutshell). They still keep the corpse of the “Great Leader”, Uncle Ho on a display in Hanoi, and after the decline of communism in Russia they even were able to attract Russian qualified out of-job-experts to take care of it.

You still can find people in Vietnam who think Ho Chi Minh was a blessing for their country just the same as Ho_Chi_Minh_Mausoleum_2006some Russians (including current president) claim that Stalin was a great leader.

But mostly Vietnamese just live their lives and try to make it better –like the rest of us. The thing is that for them making life better is a bit harder with…

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