When I see city Metro stations with names like Tractor Factory and Proletariat, I just know that a place like Minsk will be interesting. The capital of Belarus, Minsk has seen more than its fair share of conflicts over the years. But this is a city where the forests surround the metropolis and where there is history and culture all around.
Tractors are big in Minsk. Right by my hotel there’s a huge factory churning out tractors, for which local people are rightly proud. Alongside it is living accommodation and even a children’s playground with mini tractor rides. Every now and again, huge tractors trundle down the main roads on test drives. Belarus is the last bastion of communism in Europe.
Downtown, my first stop is the new National Library building, a landmark in the city. This was opened in 2006 and is a really unusual shape- known as a rhombicuboctahedron. At night it is an impressive display of light but even by day you can tell the building is something special. This library stores 14 million books which are conveyed through the building on rails like mini trains. But can the locals borrow anything? I know there are restrictions on writers here- and sure enough, you do need a permit to borrow some books. The viewing platforms at the top of the library are excellent for views across the city- even on a windy day when the north wind chilled me to the bone.
Victory Square is one of the prominent places to go in Minsk. It commemorates those who died in the Great Patriotic War and is a solemn place. Beneath the square, schoolchildren dressed in military uniform chanted patriotic slogans as they spent time at this monument.
Close by is the house where Lenin first met colleagues to talk communism and the Russian Revolution. Overlooking this house is the apartment where Lee Harvey Oswald lived at one time before returning to the USA. Belarus even has a KGB headquarters- close to Lenin Square. They are very open about this and continue to call it the KGB, even though Russia has dispensed with the term.
In Belarus the people are very proud of their statues of Lenin. “We don’t have any of Stalin- he killed too many people,” says my guide. Today, Lenin glowers over the Parliament Square in Minsk.
Close to the Lenin statue is the beautiful church of St Simeon and St Helena. It was touching to see the Nagasaki memorial bell- this unites two countries ravaged by the effects of radioactive disasters.
I liked Minsk. It was an intriguing city with lots to see and do- and yet it did not feel crowded at all. Look out for more posts on Belarus.