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'City Legends': Lawyer Yaroslav Boldinov on His Favourite Places in St Petersburg

Today, we will roam about grand and unvarnished St Petersburg with Yaroslav Boldinov, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Financial Law. He spent all his childhood in the Petrogradka district—at the corner of Krasnogo Kursanta Street and Maly Prospect, often walked near 'Kamchatka' and the house of Basevich and later became a regular guest of the Senate Square. Find out where you can find atmospheric organ recitals, where rock musicians bought vinyl records and cassettes at the Karpovka and the mansion of Shroeter says—in the interview.

'City Legends': Lawyer Yaroslav Boldinov on His Favourite Places in St Petersburg

HSE University—Saint Petersburg

A Place That Inspired Research

There are so many places like that in our city. One of them is the former Senate House. It is the centre of all the historical events which changed Russian society in one way or another. Now, Senate Square 1 is the seat of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation which did a lot of things to help common people understand the constitution. They made a lot for this text not to be only a declaration and a document for a narrow circle but to visit the houses of everyone and stay there.

The building of the Constitutional Court was of great importance to me. I got there for an internship when I was still a student. Not everyone is that lucky: sometimes an internship turns into classes in cutting and sewing. They literally give students piles of cases, a thread and a needle and say: 'Stitch them up'. But they treated us as real colleagues. They gave us true-life cases and asked us to prepare our viewpoints on them. No snobbery at all, real academic attitude! Our opinions hardly influenced the judges, but it is always pleasant to be heard. So what is the law? It is the voice of the whole society so there is no such thing as a small opinion. We could feel it through the attitude of us, students.

In general, I think that when the constitution loses its human face, it is the scariest thing, which can happen to it. If mercy and justice leave the law, it will turn into a car, which can run over anyone. It is easy to write laws. It is the same book as many others. But there are norms which stand above laws and protect each person individually. The law takes them into account so that people can co-exist and not co-survive.

My Favourite Building in St Petersburg

It is the mansion of Schroeter across the New Holland. It shows a little different, lost in time St Petersburg which absorbed everything which happened on its land. It includes elements of German Gothics and classical Italian proportions—where would St Petersburg be without the architects from these countries?

Shroeter located his mansion next to his own revenue house. It's a good sign! Revenue houses were built for rent, and the competition was very tough. If Shroeter decided to build his mansion next to this particular house, he was definitely proud of his creation. Besides, these buildings are connected to a porter's lodge and front garden. Very prudently. Such little things show the unconditional love of a person for what they do.

The history of the mansion is rather sad. Having been built as a private house, in Soviet times, it was turned into a communal flat. One thing is when it happens to a revenue house where people used to rent accommodation. Another one is when a communal flat is made out of a house which an owner built for themselves. A society invaded the person's inner world—and not with good intentions. As a result, both the society and the person lose harmony. But on the other hand, this story is an amazing allegory of what happened to the country at the beginning of the 20th century.

At the same time, the beginning of the 20th century was the time of big avant-garde, bright and powerful. It was based on the idea that the old had to be rejected and the new, quite the opposite,—created. There are both violence and desire for novelty. Let's have a look at the school in the shape of a hammer and sickle at Prospekt Stachek—there is something scary about it but the architecture itself shows a big stretch of imagination. It is the same with other buildings: it arouses fear, it is clear from the contemporaries' diaries—for instance, of Yury Olesha. But they are worth reflecting on for sure. To my mind, avant-garde in architecture is much more interesting than conservatism which followed it. The movement stopped, it was replaced by facades of Stalin's Empire style, which did not have any fundamentally new content.

A Place I'd Like to Show Everyone

There is one place where it is hard to get but once you do, it is impossible not to fall in love with it. It is the Malta Chapel which is a part of the Vorontsov Palace complex. It was built for the knights of the Malta order—its preservation was of significant importance to Paul I. This chapel still has chivalric aesthetics. It is also interesting thanks to the concerts. The thing is that an organ was built especially for the hall of the chapel—with consideration to all the peculiarities of the space. This is why the sound there is simply incredible. The instrument is authentic as well: it was restored in the early 2000s.

Of course, there is another reason why the chapel appeals to me. This is where Leon Petrażycki joined in marriage with his spouse—he was one of the most interesting classics of pre-revolutionary law.

A special place in my heart is taken by Petrogradka. Good old triangle—'Chkalovskaya'—'Sportivnaya'—'Gorkovskaya'. Perhaps, everyone, who graduated from Classical Gymnasium 610, knows this feeling. If I need to show a tourist, what St Petersburg is truly like, I take them there.

Petrogradka doesn't have that falsity which is peculiar to Nevsky Prospekt and the surrounding streets. Here is more of real St Petersburg, even the scents are authentic. This district is also rich with the architecture of all possible epochs. You can have a walk from the House of Peter the Great to avant-garde houses behind the mosque—and all these things are close to each other, almost in one place.

Recently, Petrogradka has been acquiring some glamour, and it upsets me in some way. Don't think that I don't like when they take care of buildings. I appreciate careful restoration. But it is important for me the city kept its spirit. For instance, not far from Chkalovskaiy Prospekt near the factory 'Pion', they demolished some of the factory buildings and built an apartment complex. But factory architecture is not less valuable, you can feel a sort of impetus in it. If we can give a building new life which will maintain this impetus, it's amazing, we need to do it. Now, when I pass this housing development, I see only a faceless box. But once, there were bikers' half-speakeasy and rock-clubs. Their time has passed. My personal pain is the house of Bacevich. I visited it many times, and when entrance halls started to empty out, I roamed about them with my classmates and went out to the roof. This building created a special atmosphere on Bolshaya Pushkarskaya Street and harmonised with the Printing yard. I can't imagine what would happen to Petrogradka without it.

A Place I Want to Keep Secret

The embankment of the Karpovka River opposite the Ioannovsky Convent to the Botanic Garden and Pavlov University. In one of the houses, under the arch, in a semi-basement space, there is a shop 'Dead Fish'—it's a guilty dark pleasure of my school years. Every time the Karpovka River rose, it was flooded. Vinyl records, cassettes, do-rags, and leather biker jackets were swimming around the basement... Later, they were sold with huge discounts. As the quality of such things did not get worse, of course, I bought them there. This shop is long gone. Only scraps of posters from the far 2000s hint that there used to be something in this yard. 

This embankment is a mysterious place in general. It is easy to stay one on one with the city though the noisy highways of Petrogradka are a stone's throw away from there. Perhaps, it's because the embankment was poorly lit. Or maybe, it's about the abandoned hotel 'Severnaya Korona'. It's a St Petersburg stalker paradise which is shrouded in dark secrets. Or maybe it's because of the deserted garden squares near Gymnasium 56 and Pavlov University... One way or another, it is a magical nook. It is near the Karpovka river where I feel emotions described by Fyodor Dostoevsky in the story 'White Nights'. I usually argue with Fyodor Dostoevsky but right on this spot, our feelings are united.

The Place with My Favourite History

I always smile when I pass the building of Classical Gymnasium 610 at the corner of Krasnogo Kursanta Street and Maly Prospect of Petrograd Side. It is not about the years spent on it. In this place, I always think about one funny episode from the times of my 11th grade—though I do not understand why.

It seems to me that I had always been a quiet student—however, it is not typical for the gymnasium. Suddenly, something out of the ordinary happened... I and my classmate, who now has a PhD degree, were sitting in the cafeteria on the first floor and for some reason decided to jump out of the window at the height of a school day. And so we jumped. The distance to the ground was very small but not enough to climb back safely. At the main entrance, there was a security guard—so you cannot easily enter. We did not have any belongings with us. The exams were coming up. We would be reprimanded for the misbehaviour for sure. And then, we realised that we got into an awkward situation.

Without thinking twice, we entered the gymnasium through the main entrance. Of course, we met the deputy principal and someone from the teachers right there. We were scared to admit that we jumped just for fun. We had to confess to committing something much worse and what we hadn't done for sure.

My classmate and I thought back then: 'Absolutely everything is lost'. But there were no consequences for us. We were just chided—and that was it. As I understand, they laughed at us behind closed doors. It turned out that none of the teachers initially believed that we had jumped to go on our business. We got more scared than it was worth it.

My Favourite Place in the Leningrad Region

Without any doubt, it's Vyborg. Two hours on a commuter train—and you are in a Swedish mediaeval town. Vyborg has something I cannot live without: small cosy coffee shops. There is a comfy coffee shop 'Krendel' next to the monument of Knutsson, and there are some nice places at Krepostnaya Street. You don't even have to choose—I usually drink 12 cups of coffee a day.

Fifteen minutes away from the centre of Vyborg, there is Monrepos Park. It is not a forest or a country estate but at the same time, it is all together. It is a perfect place for thinking, drinking tea and making some notes in your notebook.

The Leningrad Region with its rough profile is a very contemplative place in general. Nature here is Gothic, strict but still friendly. You just have to sit on a stone, and there is a seagull next to you. You sit and exchange glances for four hours straight. It is completely different northward from St Petersburg. I have gone fishing in the Barents Sea more than once. The feelings are incomparable: there is no shore in front of you, and below you—a depth of two hundred meters. But on your way to these areas, you can see how the forest is slowly thinning and becoming lower, and somewhere near Apatity disappears almost completely. In the Leningrad region, there is no riot of colours as in the South of Russia but there is no place with such pines.

What I Hate About St Petersburg

Petersburg, heartless and rumbling,

Trampled half of the world,

I hate your alleys

And smirks of your lanterns.

Never pity the free and the shy,

Including all of them in grainy granite,

Your throne is cast in

Ground bones just like in gold.

Without knowing the Siberian cold,

The moaning of the desert garrottes,

There, you send your people

For this crude dream of yours.

I roam about your alleys,

Leaving my shadow and footprint,

What will you answer me with a resounding echo

That rings above the Neva River for three hundred years?

But seriously, St Petersburg has one unpleasant habit. It doesn't contend with a person at all, it does everything its way. For instance, after the revolution of 1917, it became Petrograd, later—Leningrad. But it didn't stick. The words 'Petersburger' and 'Piterer' remained in use. Or Nevsky Prospekt. In the Soviet times, it was called 'Prospekt of October 25th'—to the first anniversary of the October Revolution. No effect on it. It had to be renamed back. Or look at St Petersburg bridges. Palace and Trinity Bridges radically differ from each other in style if you look closely. You wouldn't say so from a distance—they surprisingly harmonise with each other.

What I Love About St Petersburg

For the same thing—the city changes everything around it by its own laws. It is impossible to destroy St Petersburg, it will grow again in a magical way. A good example is a story with Okhta-Centre which never appeared. It couldn't happen anyway as only Swedish 'Landskrona' can exist on this patch of land. You can't do anything there, this is such a place.

Mike Naumenko or Viktor Tsoi?

Tsoi for sure. He combined incredible energy and inner freedom with an utter absence of histrionics. Tsoi couldn't do the histrionics and if he tried to depict it, it was a real buffoonery. 

Tsoi is a very powerful and sincere part of St Petersburg. Delicate caution raised in many citizens of the late USSR is not typical for him. He simply couldn't learn it. Tsoi is the most powerful figure, now they can turn him into a monument by changing everything. And he won't have a chance to retort. I think that a similar thing happened to Gorshok (Mikhail Gorsheniov, a member of the musical band 'Korol i Shut'—translator's note). They created a TV series about 'Korol i Shut'. The band became legendary in some way though once, quite the opposite, they were rather marginal. Gorshok himself was a very controversial person, very hot-tempered and not always pleasant. It seemed that no one would believe in this beautiful picture. But people do.

Of course, 'Kamchatka' is dear to me—the boiler house on Petrogradka where Victor Tsoi once worked. It is quite civil, there are even a tablet and flowers. But in 2005, this place had a completely different atmosphere. Dirty St Petersburg yards, techno club 'Tunnel' in the former bomb shelter and some kind of incredible atmosphere around 'Kamchtka' itself. Right there, on the ground, people in leather biker jackets were sleeping... They came from Nizhny Novgorod and Ekaterinburg just to be next to the place where Tsoi once was. In all these things, there was a sort of loneliness. But at the same time, it was the place where you could feel that Tsoi's music was still alive.