July 3, 2009 - 12:43 pm
Filed in: Architecture,Avia-Corner,Contemporary,Moscow Dispatches

Sheremetevo airport, Moscow’s main international terminal, is located eighteen miles NW of the city’s center. Given the Russian capital’s expansion since the airport opened in 1959 this is now not at all far from Moscow proper, though it seems much farther to downtown by car. (It can easily take over an hour to reach the heart of the capital when traffic is bad. And in Moscow, traffic is almost always bad.) As Moscow is Europe’s largest metropolis (current population approx. 10.4 million ), you might expect that city vistas would figure prominently in your airplane window during final approach and landing. By and large, though, there’s not much to see. At least, not in comparison to the amazing views afforded by some of the world’s other great cities.

On a clear day, the approach is dominated by the mundane topography of podmoskv’e (the city’s suburban region): a few roads and railway tracks intersecting forests and fields, accompanied by clusters of small summer cottages (dachas) and some non-descript buildings that grow a bit denser as the plane nears the runway. Although the landscape has altered somewhat recently thanks to increased development near the airport, arriving into Moscow, I’ve always been keenly aware of how much the view is dominated by the countryside: flat, open, and seeming endless. From the air, the city is hard to discern. It’s almost as if it is in hiding, enveloped by prostranstvo – the vast space that encompasses the country’s near limitless hinterlands. In direct counterpoint to the sharp verticality of its politics, Moscow’s topography is decidedly horizontal.

I am always excited to find myself returning to Moscow. But from the standpoint of an aerial eye, the arrival has never made much of an impression.

That changed last week.

As my plane descended toward Sheremetevo last Friday morning I noticed something that I hadn’t seen before: Moscow now has a skyline. Or, to be more accurate, it has a skyline now visible from an airplane. And it’s modern one at that: a distinct cluster of steel and glass high-rises that emerge from the Eurasian plain to mark the location of the capital and its bustling business center. It’s certainly not much compared to New York, Tokyo, or Chicago, but it is definitely there.

The “cluster” is Moscow-City (Москва-Сити) — a gigantic $12 billion (and counting) development project first begun in 1995. It’s the latest in a long line of grand strategies to renovate Moscow. However, as I rode into town toward the apartment where I’m staying (located a brisk twenty-minute walk from Moscow-City itself) I noticed something else – there’s little activity at the construction site. From up close, Moscow-City has all the appearances of an abandoned development surrounded by sleeping boom cranes. Thanks to the onset of Russia’s worst economic crisis since 1998 – work on the architectural mega-project (like others elsewhere) has slowed to a crawl. Although spokesmen for the project pledge that construction will continue, the opening of some of Moscow-City’s partially built structures will be delayed until 2016 — four years behind schedule. The again, things could be worse.

It would seem that skyline that I saw through my airplane window was something of a mirage. At least for now.

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June 10, 2009 - 9:32 am
Filed in: Architecture,Avia-Corner,Contemporary,Great Patriotic War

Even by the typically monumental standards of Soviet-era memorials, “The Motherland Calls” is an impressive sight. Towering seventeen stories above the Russian city of Volgograd, the monolithic statue depicting a windswept woman holding aloft a sword is a striking combination of neoclassical styling and Stalinist kitsch. A symbolic representation of Soviet victory over Nazi invaders, the figure intentionally recalls the “Winged Victory of Samothrace.” Like that ancient masterpiece, the Soviet composition communicates dynamism and strength. A closer inspection of “The Motherland Calls,” however, reveals at least one important difference. Cast entirely out of reinforced concrete, the dull, grey surface (interrupted here and there by cracks and the rust marks caused from embedded rebar) suggests none of the solidity and timelessness of the marble Greek statute…

To read the rest of the piece, head over to The Russian Front by clicking HERE.

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June 5, 2009 - 10:22 am
Filed in: 1920s,1930s,Archives,Avia-Corner,Photographs

This past month, Duke University Libraries unveiled a new digital collection documenting daily life in the early Soviet Union. Titled, “Americans in the Land of Lenin,” the photographic archive contains 750 images drawn from the personal papers of two Americans who found themselves in the USSR during the two decades that followed October 1917.

Robert L. Eichelberger (1886-1961) was a U.S. military officer who was served in Eastern Siberia with the American Expeditionary Force during the Civil War.

Frank Whitson Fetter (1889-1992) was an economist who toured southern Russia in the summer of 1930 — the height of Stalin’s forced collectivization campaign.

I’ve only had time to scan the contents of the collection (which is freely available for use in teaching, research, and private study), but from what I’ve seen so far, it looks fantastic.

For the entrance to the collection, just click here.


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May 20, 2009 - 9:29 am
Filed in: 1920s,Avia-Corner,Eastern Europe,Guest Bloggers,Technology

[While in Europe in late November and early December, my friend and colleague Nathan Wood began research on his next project, a book-length study that will explore the introduction of bicycles, automobiles, and airplanes in the lands of East Central Europe (specifically Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland). Tentatively titled, “East Central Europe in the Age of Speed” Nathan’s future work promises to shed a great deal of light on a region typically ignored by historians of technology. It’s a terrific concept. Soon after his return from Poland, Nathan drafted a short piece describing his project accompanied by a few photos he collected during his travels. He graciously agreed to allow me to post them here — back in January. But as one thing led to another (including my first site hack) I put-off blogging altogether. At long last, I have resolved to get back up to speed blogging about Russia, technology, aviation, and whatnot. So without further delay… ]

Here’s Dr. Nathan Wood on East Central Europe’s “Age of Speed”:

If East Central Europe is often considered backwards in comparison to its Western neighbors, what did this mean in an age of fast new forms of personal transportation? Could transportation technologies be seen as a way to “catch up” or even surpass the center? I will look at the mechanics and specialists who built and steered the machines, the avant garde and futurist artists and poets who rhapsodized about them, and the popular reception of these machines in the illustrated press.

In the four photos I have selected here, you can see something of the interconnectedness of these machines. The people who were interested in bicycles were also intrigued with automobiles and airplanes. Recall that Orville and Wilbur Wright had a bicycle shop and that Charles Howard, the owner of Seabiscuit, worked in a bicycle shop before specializing in cars. Moreover, to the public, his knowledge of bicycles meant that he should also know something about cars.

The inventors of the first plane in Cracow were a Czech and a Pole who worked in an auto garage. The Czech pioneers of motorcycles and autos, Václav Laurin and Václav Klement, were cycling specialists first and then they designed airplane engines. Ferdinand Porsche (yes, that Porsche) designed a revolutionary airplane engine, and BMW first built airplanes, before specializing in cars. In my research, I found that bicycling magazines soon had sections on automobiles, while car magazines, like Samochód (the Polish word for automobile) had sections on motorcycles, motorboats, and especially airplanes. The question on the cover of this issue, one frequently asked in the popular press, is: Who’s faster and defter? (The plane or the car)

There is also a sense of progressiveness connected to the new machines, especially for women. For a woman to ride a bicycle was at first scandalous, but of course it was also empowering, offering her freedom of movement otherwise impossible in an age when a respectable woman was expected to have an escort in public. Note that the girls in the top photo from the 1920s demurely pose sidesaddle for the picture, even if they did not ride that way.

The cover from Auto and Sport from 1928 seems so familiar to us today because we are accustomed to seeing pretty women and fast machines on the cover of specialty magazines almost exclusively for men. It is also telling that automobiles and sport are connected. Dunlop, the company that made the tires for 60% of the early automobile racers also made tennis racquets. The connection between cars and sport was natural. To play tennis, ride motorcycles, and drive cars was all part of being modern.

The final point, and this should come as no surprise, is the fact that much of the language regarding the new machines is readily recognizable in a variety of languages. Just as the driver in this last photo probably looks no different from a motorist in any other country at the time, so too, do many of the words look familiar. I suspect you had no trouble deducing what “Auto i Sport” is all about, or “Auto i Turysta”–especialy given the clue in the Polski Touring Klub’s title. The Polish word for bicycle, “rower,” came from an English invention, the Rover, the “safety bicycle” invented in 1885 that looks like the bicycles of today and gradually rendered the large front-wheeled “pennyfarthings” obsolete. Does this make everyone who used slight variants of the original word derivative, or are the terms simply evidence of the interconnectedness of the users of these new technologies in the Age of Speed? Well, that is something I still have to work out. . .


October 5, 2008 - 8:17 am
Filed in: Avia-Corner,General

This past Thursday the USS Intrepid returned to New York harbor to take-up her post at Pier 86 along Manhattan’s West Side. The Intrepid‘s arrival marked the end of a two-year hiatus during which time the ship (and its Hudson River berth) underwent a $120 million restoration. A veteran of the Second World War, Korean War, and the conflict in Vietnam, the Intrepid, since 1986, has served as home to the floating Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. The museum is scheduled to re-open to the public in early November.

Today marks my own return to action here at DotA following a late-summer hiatus. I suspended blogging during September in order to wrap up one scholarly project and to begin two new ones. I’ve also returned to teaching following a year off devoted to research and writing courtesy of American taxpayers. In the days and weeks to come, I’ll have more to say about what I was doing with my time (and our money). I’ll also have DotA’s first guest article, updates to an older, favorite post, and new articles of my own, together with links to related new items, and the like.

In the meantime, visitors concerned about recent Russian military developments may want to check out this post from The Russian Front.


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