The “story” started with a book “A poet in a restricted garrison” (“Zvezda” (Star) magazine, 2008, compiled by Oleg Scheblykin). In this magazine a talented investigation is described which was conducted by war reporters from the “StrazhBaltyki” (Guard of the Baltic) newspaper (A.Koretsky, V.Egorov, O.Scheblykin). They focused on an off-the-way fact from the poet’s life – that in autumn 1963 Iosif Brodsky, the Nobel Laureate, was in Baltyisk (former Pillau). He went there on a short working visit as a photo reporter of the “Kostyor” (Fire) pioneer’s magazine to document a Soviet bureaucratic scandal. “...the swimmers from a Baltiysk school № 6 went to Voronezh for final pioneer games, were the strongest there, but due to administrative delays they never received their medals. The trainer and director of the sports school wrote to the “Sovetskiy Sport” (Soviet Sport) newspaper about this fact, and several journalists came to the closed city. Brodsky used it as a pretext to visit former Germany and a restricted and practically western-most area of the then Soviet Union. Meanwhile, he fulfilled his task for the “Kostyor” newspaper very well – his article “Winners without medals” appeared in the magazine.
In Baltiysk, Iosif Brodsky stayed at the “Golden Anchor” hotel which was later renamed into the “Hotel for the officer personnel of the garrison residential Apartment Management Unit of the Baltiyskiy district”. The outcome of this trip was not only the article. The poet, already being in exile in the Norinskaya village, wrote several poems. One of them, “A fragment” (1964) was that magic clue that helped us find out about his “secret” journey.
Lighthouse and the “Golden Anchor” hotel (A fragment)
В ганзейской гостинице "Якорь",
где мухи садятся на сахар,
где боком в канале глубоком
эсминцы плывут мимо окон,
я сиживал в обществе кружки,
глазея на мачты и пушки
и совесть свою от укора
спасая бутылкой Кагора.
Музыка гремела на танцах,
солдаты всходили на транспорт,
сгибая суконные бедра.
Маяк им подмигивал бодро.
И часто до боли в затылке
о сходстве его и бутылки
я думал, лишенный режимом
знакомства с его содержимым.
В восточную Пруссию въехав,
твой образ, в приспущенных веках,
из наших балтических топей
я ввез контрабандой, как опий.
И вечером, с миной печальной,
спускался я к стенке причальной
в компании мыслей проворных,
и ты выступала на волнах...
X: We took barometers. We pumped water from the deep – first in a long cuvette, then in a short one, and then continued to pump it in turns. There was a light source – quartz lamps – but I have disintegrated the scheme, I could find some photos if you want to. I have a long optical bench - that is what I was doing – studying the spectral attenuation of light caused by sea water. Which means that I studied it in each section of the spectrum, from the blue to the red range, and it was a challenging task. It also has a practical application and can be used in submarines.
AK: At which depths did you work?
X: Well, we took samples from different depths, with the help of barometers. I will show you later. It’s a special instrument. We took samples of water and I brought those to the laboratory. Then we waited until it acquired the room temperature. We took samples from the very deep where water is colder. And so, it had to reach the room temperature in the lab, and then we poured it into a long and a short cuvette. When a beam of light passes through it’s refracted. So what we had to do is to focus and inject five hundredth of a millimeter – here is the slit of a monochromator…
AK: What is a monochromator?
X: Mono means that it spatially separates white light with its prism which is very good. I can show you later… So I turn the lens and different sections of the spectrum are output. The prism is constructed in such a way that a beam of light which passes through a white prism is divided into several constituents. By turning it each section of the spectrum is output to the exit slit and further to the photomultiplier in the light receiver. We register the signal and then calculate it on a logger. Here it is. It’s very difficult to transmit a light beam through such a narrow hole – so there is a rubber band, screws, there is a quartz glass which lets UV radiation through. We can turn it with the screws, so that a beam of light can fully pass through the hole. The size is very important – it should be small for us to see the spectrum clearly, but it also has to let the whole light beam through. It’s a contradictory task – the smaller the hole is, the more precise data we get on the spectrum, but the more difficult it is to transmit the light beam. Otherwise we will have to cut it on the edges and the data won’t be accurate. We have to measure the flow in full - through the long cuvette and the short one. So this is what I was doing with each sample…
AK: So it can be done in certain conditions and depending on water salinity…
X: Well, we didn’t try to rely too much on salinity, more on suspensions, but I probably will give you something to read on this or put it another way… Light attenuation is an integral property, this is a sum of absorption and dispersion. Absorption, in its turn, depends on the dissolved organic matter in water, like dissolved oil. They can also absorb light in their range. Plants are mostly represented as suspensions. High or low dispersed. And water also counts. So everything must be taken into consideration. There is a certain fraction in each section of a spectrum. Organic substances absorb more in the UV light, and plants also absorb more… The integral task is hard – how to figure out which substances prevail based on a spectrum analysis. That’s a pretty complicated property, I mean, it’s more difficult to study absorption there…
AK: So it turns out that sea color is different at different depths?
X: So, now we’re proceeding to sea color. It’s hard to speak about sea color at big depths, as we can’t observe it visually. A sample is taken. At first sight it’s all transparent, but if, for example, we take a sample of the Baltic water it’s somewhat yellowish. The Mediterranean water is bluish. There is a color grade which is not difficult to master, and students from the university are taught to read it. It’s simple, as it’s measured visually. What we’re talking about is a larger study. So, based on light attenuation we can figure out the color of the sea. It is measured as follows: the purest water has the slightest attenuation which means a maximum conducting ability. In the blue range it’s 480 nanometres – that’s the property of deep waters, Mediterranean waters. Let’s take the Ionian sea, for example, I can show you on the map. The more transparent water is, the more blue its spectrum (minimum attenuation is shifted to the blue range) and color is – which means it’s pure water – it’s blue. Reduction is minimal there.
AK: So there are no organic substances in it?
X: Yes, I mean, it has less suspensions and organic substances that reduce the light. This water is most beautiful. For example, the Black sea waters are also blue, but in a different way. Let me be less scientific: attenuation is greater in it which means that it absorbs and disperses more. The Baltic waters are green and yellowish which means that minimum attenuation in them is not in the blue range, but on 530 nanometers – these are green and yellow ranges. It’s slightly reddish.
AK: It’s probably a consequence of chemical contamination, or…?
X: Well, chemical waste has really affected the river Pregel. We’ve been working here recently; there was waste from the pulp-and-paper plant. If you pour the water in the wrong cuvette it will be brown because of the chemical waste. Add to it the dissolved organic matter, river drainage that carries along different wastes, plus something else… I was working with attenuation figures. There are different factors which add to it. For example, if attenuation is strong, there is something in the UV radiation which provokes it, like dissolved organic matter. If it’s in the visible range or red range, we have to search for the substances which absorb sections of the spectrum here, for example, ionic complexes, organic fission products, etc.
AK: Internal waves, other mode of convection at different depths can also change the figures?
X: Indeed, internal waves do change figures, especially in coastal areas.
VGC: What do you personally think of the Baltic?
X: What can I think – I went to sea far beyond it…I had a feeling that I will have enough time to sleep. Before going out to sea there was always a lot of fuss going on – rig check, equipment, food supplies, crew, registration documents… Sometimes you wouldn’t even go to bed… So I was thinking – once we’re in the open sea, I’ll sleep myself out! But – nothing of the kind! I wish I could. You open your eyes; you close your eyes – so much for the Baltic. Seamen say – what matters is that the Atlantic hasn’t dried out – and so the Baltic will stay on…
VGC: Could you describe your Baltic itinerary starting from the port and then out into the channel?
X: I don’t even know how to describe it…
VGC: Which landmarks do you come across in the sea, which colors of visual communication guide you as a captain across the Baltic?
X: It’s rather about lights than colors… For instance, when I graduated from the maritime academy I was working on a medium fishing trawler. Which is, by the way, a very convenient vessel that is used for fishing – it’s almost insubmersible, stands any kind of rolling – unless there is pressure from above. When I first went to work on a steamboat afterwards, I got at a loss when going through the Baltic. At that time I was 3d mate to the captain. So, we passed a lighthouse – which emits a certain kind of signal, and each lighthouse has its own signal, for example, two long, one short (which is called group flashing) – and so it’s gone. Swapping from a medium fishing trawler to a steamboat is like jumping from a bike to a Mercedes – the speed is completely different. It only happened to me once – this feeling of loss. So, I asked the captain why there has just been a lighthouse and now there is no signal at all. He laughed it off telling me to keep on taking bearings. So I adjusted the bearing, checked the map – as to how many kilometers and at which speed we passed, and how many seconds passed since I last “counted” the lighthouse – it turned out that all was alright. It was so unusual at that time.
VGC: And how exactly were you “baptized” by the Baltic sea?
X: I can tell you about my internship at the maritime academy once I finished my first year there. I’d been studying for a year already, but had never gone to sea, huh? We arrived at Riga and I was sent to a sailing ship that went to Kaliningrad. Our first task was to manage the shrouds. It’s only these days that sailors have a safety net. In my time we were gliding across a thin rope, hauling the sails. Then we had to wipe the deck clean – to make it shining gold – so we were given a brick and some sand, and the sea water was washing everything away by itself.
VGC: Right. Could you give some figures about the Baltic – some instrumental data, like the sea depth. As far as I know, it’s 51m deep. The navigability is high. What is the salinity of its waters?
X: Well, the salinity isn't high. The Baltic is very much desalted. We never measured its salinity - as far as I remember, it’s 1.7 parts per mille. Nobody actually cares about it in here. I don’t know anything special I could tell about the Baltic – the sea depth is being constantly measured by a number of echo meters – from one broadside and from the other, with data plotters (showing a place where data rolls of the data plotters are stored). If there are some deviations in the regular data readings it is either due to a fish shoal or an object, or a vessel – a submarine, for example.
VGC: Have you ever detected an “enemy” submarine?
X: Yes, actually, we have. And sea bombs as well. I always tried to bypass those. It happened on other vessels when bombs exploded when being lifted and killed some members of the crew. (Examining other instruments on the deck-bridge) From here we communicate with different departments. Here is a bearing, it calculates the distance to an object.
VGC: Were you held responsible for all the ship departments and crew? Have you ever felt that its organism and yours are one single whole?
X: Indeed, there was such a feeling. You’re always wandering around the ship and listening closely. You always know what makes which sound, and if you hear something strange, even without looking at the instruments, – you make a radio call saying that there is something wrong going on, they tell you – ok, we’re gonna fix it.. So that’s how it used to be. Even when you are sleeping you’re listening all the time and counting: 32.50, 32.50…
VGC: And what is 32.50?
X: When I was working on a fishing trawler there was a line with fish briquettes. So in my sleep I heard – “wham!” – the line broaching, and the same period of time later – again “wham!”, and then again it broaches. And so I try to feel the evenness of these sounds. I sleep and count - 32.50, 32.50 – this is the revenue from each fish briquette…
VGC: Were there situations when you wanted to speak to the ship, as if she were a human being, asking her not to “let you down”?
X: There indeed were a couple of times like this.
VGC: So it was due to some emergency situations on the ship?
X: No, it was during a strong hurricane and the ship was lurching heavily. I was thinking logically and understood that nothing would happen. The point of meta-balance is always higher than the point of a ship’s equilibrium.
VGC: This characteristics must be thoroughly calculated by vessel designers, also according to different ship tonnages?
X: Well, it is calculated, but still… My intuition was also telling me that nothing will happen…
VGC: Did you have a feeling that you are waterborne? For example, now, being on the “Patsayev” do you feel that you’re not ashore? There was some connection felt with the water…
X: I never had a feeling that there is water below me. There was a situation with one guy while I was still in the maritime academy. He was saying that when he imagined 200 meters of water below him it was frightening. So he never finished the academy in the end.
VGC: Did you ever set off to your expeditions with scientists? What were they searching for?
X: Sure, we did. We took various scientists along with us on catching vessels through the Baltic, such as hydroopticians, or squid experts. All kinds of scientists. Then we were listening to their reports on the results of their research: the whole crew was having fun! For example, hydroopticians had been working for several months. In the end of their complicated experiments they found out that as you go deeper, light transmission gets lower in the water layers – which means that the deeper you go the darker it gets. The crew was always laughing out loud… Or take the squid experts – they found out that the bigger a squid is the more it eats.
VGC: And when you were coming back to the Baltic from the open ocean what did you do?
X: It felt like homecoming.
All Sunday long Nikita was catching amber in the Otradnoye village. Nikita called on me to talk. He was tired and lied down on the sofa. Our conversation was very quiet and calm.
It is only now that I started to decipher the recording of our conversation I noticed this peculiarity – the silence, as if abyssal, filled with noises of the high-frequency mic of the recorder. Though there is a streak of restlessness – in my constant questions and clarifications. I might have spoiled the interview with my impatience, or, more precisely, it suppressed the muteness of the diver. He is silent underwater, he has an oxygen reserve, paddles, a task and a strict plan of its execution. But these are my pure reflections, and here is what he told me about himself and how answered my questions.
To catch amber when it’s thrown out to the shore – is not a job, it’s like shaking off apples in your garden or going picking up honey fungi in the forest.
I can’t tell anything about my job – the 10th order, a military secret. I can’t tell you how we shoot underwater, have training and etc…
I was born in the village of Pereslavskoye, Zelenogradsky district, in 1986. And if it hadn’t been for my aunt Valya, we would have still lived in the village. It was her who said: “It’s time for you to move to the city” – and so we moved to Svetlogorsk. I was two years old at the time.
The first day in school: I crashed a guy’s nose.
When I was in the kindergarten there was a girl – DashkaZhukovskaya. My love. I kissed her on the cheek in the toilet, and she cried.
It was only later in school that I asked her when I kissed her again why she cried then, and she told me that she didn’t know what it was.
When I graduated from the 9th grade I wanted to study for an architect, but the competition was harsh. I thought then – an architect or a builder – there is not much difference (smiling), I wanted to be admitted, but my study results were low. I even tried to give a bribe, but it failed. So I proceeded studying at school and finished the 10-11th grades.
I was drawing.
Took part in a competition “Tree of the year”.
In the competition “Tree of the year” I first was the third, and then won it. It was even covered in newspapers. And then my aunt Valya found out where one can study arts and told me that this is what I’m supposed to do.
And so I studied in the vocational school №10.
My civil qualification is “artist-master”.
I thought that I will finish the vocational education and then go on to higher studies, and then will be painting icons in churches, painting walls – I didn’t want to become a room designer, I only wanted to work in churches.
I wasn’t a good student, but always had the highest marks at the exams. But still I didn’t feel at ease: I was drinking, sometimes for weeks. And then came the ARMY.
I joined the army.
So here’s my story. I used to be an artist, joined the army and my world view changed. I stayed the same inside, but somehow my attitudes changed. After all, I understood that what I do know is what I really want to be involved in.
After my service I wasn’t doing anything for 2 years, and now I’m in the army again, contract service.
Today it’s a job.
A very good one.
I like it.
I like all about it.
When you’re running with a rifle it’s not what I like, but after you’ve finished you feel like you’ve just been in a bath – you’re totally relaxed, almost on high.
And it’s also interesting how we used to live for a week in a forest, in freezing temperatures. The longest underwater trip was 2 miles and 3,5 hours long. And it’s all – dumspirospero. \While I breathe I hope
In the morning I’m getting ready for work – it’s like playing war games.
This is exactly what makes a child and a soldier different – your penis is bigger and your rifle is real.
When I started diving I had new dreams – underwater dreams.
And you can’t see anything from underwater.
Our visibility is poor.
I dived in different places, it’s poor everywhere.
And when the water is cold it’s more transparent.
And you are guided by a compass.
And with your paddles.
Haven’t I told you about the Indian ocean? There plankton has a protective fluorescent reaction: it starts shining when there is a physical impact. Like, at night a ship is sailing and plankton is lit up, like a car. A million of lightnings across the water, bursts of lights – this is sheer b e a u t y. And we have a poor visibility”.
My story is about the most die-hard Baltic Sea romantics – about the Baltic surfers. These are people who truly believe in their dream. This dream is beautiful: to catch an ideal wave on a sunny hot summer day. Alas, its probability is endlessly close to zero.
Everybody knows it. They know that real surfing waves are only possible in the Baltic as a result of some bad catastrophe. Instead there are only violent breakers that sweep the equipment apart. They know that there is only a bunch of sunny days here, hot days are even rarer. They know that the best surfing happens on a nasty day when a normal person would never leave their house. Know that for the most part of the year one has to surf in a cap and gloves instead of shorts. But in spite of all these circumstances here they are – the Baltic surfers.
There are different kinds of people among those who dare to tread the cold Baltic waters with a board, sail or kite. Professional sailors, businessmen, students, military retirees. Everyone is proud of being engaged in this kind of sport and of surfing in the uneasy Baltic conditions. Despite the fact that our conditions are far from being ideal there is a whole array of impressions and emotions. Those who surge for adrenaline can fully enjoy it during a storm when harsh waves are scratching the shore, and to harness them one has to have really mastered their skills, possess cold-bloodedness and good physical training. And luck as well, as the Baltic storm waves are unpredictable. Those who, on the contrary, are searching for a smooth glide only need a big sail or kite in good weather and feel themselves at peace with the elementals – water and wind.
There is a tradition among the local surfers to mark their cars with their club stickers. If I come across such a car somewhere in a traffic jam I’m glad – there goes a man, strong, healthy and vivacious. And one who has a dream.
There is a distinct parallel between a forest and a sea for me. I’ve made up a phrase, an image, a poetic expression for this – “if I were a sea I would love the embrace of the shore”. This is the basis of my own experiences. In fact, I’m scared of drowning in the sea which is one of the worst possibilities, that is why I keep on coming back home, to the forest…
I’ve been running a festival “Forest” since 2007. I served in the army in 2009, but the activities in the framework of this festival didn’t stop at that time.
That year’s theme was “Touch”. Before going to the army I put forward the theme and I myself landed in a closed space and touched something very closely there…
For the most part my service was in the westernmost point of the Russian Federation, but the first two months I was moving – from one training company to a hospital and from a hospital to another training company.
At first I felt that the army is like iron gloves as there were a lot of people around and you become an absolute unit, a match head, an invisible particle surrounded by a crowd of similarly dressed boys and men. In Baltiysk I was extremely reserved inside, like a contracted muscle. I wanted to drift away from the environment and exist only inside myself where nothing from the outside can ever touch you and drive you the wrong way – a kind of total defense. I was already living on a ship and appointed gunner (an artillerist sitting in a canon on the snout of a ship) – a profession that I had to master during my service.
So I was sent “somewhere” – I just knew that it was in the village of Donskoye. There is a beautiful story of my journey to an unknown division in Donskoye. All my conscious life before the army I never imagined myself doing a military service and I only understood and came to terms with it after I had graduated from the university and had no plans for something. So I decided not to resist and give in…
It was only then that I started thinking about the army. Still, often when I was walking along the Svetlogorsk beach and looking at its left side with the “eye” blinking I remembered that there is a military base on this cape Taran, the westernmost point of the Russian Federation, and sometimes in my dreams I imagined myself doing my service there, at the lighthouse.
So, I’m going to Donskoye on a rattling all-terrain vehicle, with aluminum pans, because the desk commando decided to stuff it with utensils as well. It was all rumbling like some wild jazz. I was enjoying the monotonous views from the window and suddenly through the woods and fields I noticed the Lighthouse protruding on the horizon! And from that moment on all my fears disappeared and I understood that this is where I wanted to be! I wanted it and I got it. There will no longer be any social barriers or fights for me, because I arrived at “my” place. Afterwards I was sure in every minute of my stay there. This place turned out to be a native land for me. So I started doing what I was thinking of, observing and using the time that fate had sent upon me to explore my own interests, myself and society, and the limited number of people around me in this isolated place. This is an interesting environment.
I was already considering the situation as an experiment. I was analyzing what people told me, why they would say so. What I have to do and for what purpose.
And I treated it ironically and easily. It was exactly this kind of confidence that resulted from my being on the native land - because it was the seacoast, a slope and I was always surrounded by the sea, like in Svetlogorsk where I was born and grew. You hear it every morning during the forming-up which looks like this: 20 people in a small village, only fields and empty warehouses around – and that would be all… people of staff, seamen and 10-12 officers, and also some civil servants in the hydrographic service who function separately.
We were observing what was happening above, on and under water.
We were supposed to observe, and if there is a plane or a ship passing by we had to get in touch with them and guide them…
If the air defense is an executive body, then we are eyes and ears, we listen to, observe and report…
My specific feeling of the place comes from its history. It all mixed up with my interest towards the place I live in, the essence of the nature and my own philosophy. I was curious to know how this place was called in German, as the lighthouse was left over from the German times. It was called Bruster Ort – which means “a place of a woman’s breast”. This feminine factor is of great interest to me, as the earth and the nature are feminine, and the sky is the spirit. Thinking in these categories I landed in a feminine source – it’s a woman’s breast, the cape is shaped like it if seen from above, though the Russian title – Taran (English – “ram”) emphasizes its protrusion into the sea which is more masculine, bizarrely…
There is an interesting phenomenon on the cape which makes you feel that it is really a distant point and it’s created by the winds on both sides of it and waves which are not linear, but form a kind of a grid – i.e. waves meet and make up squares.
The fact that the place was off-the-map was a positive development for me. It’s an isolated farm - an opportunity of unity with cherry and apple gardens – which in its essence is close to living in full harmony with the nature. There are small German houses on the territory of the lighthouse, its equipped with German machinery as well, one of good quality, which is why it’s still used…
One of the most pleasant discoveries during my service on the lighthouse was my introduction to a nautophone. When I saw this metal construction for the first time I didn’t get what it was used for, but once I heard it emitting sounds in a fog. It was a serious discovery for me as a person interested in music instruments, their ways of playing and sounding. In its size a nautophone is like an organ, but what concerns its sound I can say that I’ve never heard anything like this before.
Its design is fairly simple and at the same time brutal, and the sound it makes thrills you down to the bones. The first 6 months I was working as a stoker, and the stoke room was 50 m away from the nautophone. It emitted sounds of a certain frequency – these are four sounds and I was measuring the length of the hoot and pauses in-between.
Four differently toned sounds with different intervals – this was most likely to be a sound code ciphering the name of the place. When I had a 24-hour shift in the stoke room and it happened to be a foggy weather, that animal was howling all day long. The vibrations from the machine which I could feel even in the basement were always having a positive effect on me. Like, I’m stoking coal and feel the vibration, and my body is jerking. And certainly I had a number of mythic visualizations that this sound produced – it’s a beast and its howling in this foggy smoothness and emptiness. Middle-age images popped up in my mind, the Northern lands and endless sound.
I had no intention to record it, but one to reproduce it. For this I wrote down the parameters of this sound, probably thinking that it was exactly this sequence that has this special ambience and mood which are so appealing to me. This all certainly sounds Coilish* – it has no beginning and no end, just the given time which lasts forever, a harmonic combination of space and time. I liked to come up to this device and peer into its face – three mouths, three big holes piling one above the other, with a farm behind them that launches the hydraulic device and sends bell mouths into the air.
I think that the cape Taran is a place where fogs are born.
When I sometimes woke up in the fog this howling was always welcoming me. When I was serving in Svetlogorsk once in a snowstorm I heard it again…
* Coil – a cult British post-industrial music band.
* Nautophone (Greek “náutes” – seaman and “phone” – sound) – an electro-acoustic membrane device that is installed on lighthouses and shore landmarks to warn vessels in foggy or dull conditions with a high-pitch sound. The audibility range of the N. is up to 15 miles (appr. 30 km)
The Big Soviet Encyclopedia
(1:21 – 3:00)
I would like to tell you a curious story. It happened one year ago. Here, at this place, there are two great breakwaters that attract many people every summer. Our life-guard, Andrey Romanov, had saved a girl. She was in shock as the strong sea current carried her away. But Andrey swam to her. She seized him by the neck and he took her in his arms. There were many people on the beach. The girl was so happy and thankful to have been saved. She kissed him. After a couple of days she came to us with her father and gave Andrey a watch, weeping with joy. We are proud of Andrey.
(3:01 – 5:43)
The Baltic sea is very dangerous. I lived here in my childhood. We know all about the nature surrounding us. We know that the seashore in Zelenogradsk is – in particular – very dangerous. Why? It seems that the sea is calm at first sight, but there are underwater currents which hold danger for people. These powerful currents are at their most hazardous at the beginning of August. We, the life-guards, call this period “the devil’s days”. The water is so warm – 22 degrees – waves up to 2,5 meters high, so many people… And the crowds go crazy. There is one person to each square meter. We give warnings, but everybody wants to swim and bathe. We notice that two young men are behaving badly. One pushes the other. We react and immediately manage to save the first guy.
But the second young man was already under the water and it turned him over and over. We couldn’t find him where he went under. After 15 minutes he was washed up on the beach near the third breakwater”.
(5:45 – 6:25)
You know the sea is unpredictable. We don’t know when misfortune will strike. But human- beings love the sea. Everybody goes there to relax. But that doesn‘t mean that the sea likes people in return, especially those who don‘t treat the sea with respect.
(6:28 – 7:46)
Man is a friend to man, not wolf. We see this when we try to rescue people who don‘t treat the sea with the respect it deserves. People who swim far from the seashore, sometimes kilometers. We manage to rescue such people but they swear at us, tell us that they are ‘sportsmen’ and make up other excuses for their recklessness. We are all too well aware that people die because of their lack of responsibility. There was a case I recall of one such ‘sportsman‘, maybe he was a policeman, 180 kg in weight, who discovered he wasn’t as competent in the sea as he thought. A wave got up and took him to the breakwater. When we rescued him he was really stressed and told us: “Yes.. I did not think that could happen to me”. That is why we always try to warn people and we never stop trying to save everybody – even if they think they are indomitable.
A huge concrete block on a cart near the locked front gates; if an enemy dares to get inside the watchman will move the cart in such a way that the concrete block will be placed in one row with three other blocks of the same kind. I tried to push the cart, was leaning on it with all of my weight – it wouldn’t budge. I was experiencing a mixed feeling of helplessness and delight. I believe that this is a pride for those men younger than me who can move such heavy objects. And as it turned later, there was even more to it. On our way from Kaliningrad the deputy director of the Baltic fleet press service Andrey explained to us what a brigade, a battalion, a military unit is – what includes what, and the principles of subordination. I soon got my wires crossed, but I strongly remembered that Baltiysk is called “a city of flying bags”. The brigade was relocated to Baltiysk in 1963. It currently counts up to 500 people from approximately 10 Russian cities. It has casernes, cafeterias, a first- aid room, a club, a munitions park, a sports area, the headquarters, a residence for officers. We aren’t invited to the headquarters, and we can’t see the munitions park – it’s forbidden, as the munitions are getting ready for the proving ground, and it’s not destined for outsiders to see it.
First of all we go to a special ground where conscripts and contract soldiers have an on-the-ground parachute training. The actions and words uttered are indescribable and irreproducible. One thing is certain – it’s fairly tough to do it in -15 fully equipped. The others are getting ready for the parade of the 9th of May in Red Square. “It’s important to keep balance, train the body, poise, position of the weapon, to learn to raise your foot to a certain angle,” – the battalion chief, Yury Boychenko, says, as if having appeared out of the blue and disengaging after a while. Anyway, it’s hard to keep track of what is happening due to low temperature conditions and because everybody is wearing the same clothes.
On entering the caserne the duty officer salutes the commander deafeningly. There is a silhouette of the orderly man nearby – motionless and silent. A stand on which he has to spend one third of a day is in fact a kind of a plinth rising a few centimeters above the floor. The orderly man is not supposed to do anything the duty officer prohibits. The second commander Alexander Kuvshinov joins us.
The menu in the cafeteria is put to an LCD screen hanging above sinks. To my surprise I’m told “That’s how it should be”.
A sports are which is situated in the vicinity of the ground is a kind of a playground, save more brutal, – mostly because of targets on the fences. Sasha, the photographer, gets lost. We talk to the officer – it’s Alexander’s fourth year here. He lives in Baltiysk, but was born in Arkhangelsk and graduated from the Moscow Military School. He says that the food here is much better than in school. Sasha is found.
There is a museum within the brigade’s club dedicated to the Chechen campaign. In the second hall we see presents given to the brigade – including an iron bust of Vladimir Putin.
The librarian Valentina Platonova was reading a fresh edition of “Strazh Baltyki”. She tells us that military men ceased being interested in detectives and they mostly read scientific books. As opposed to those, there is a Bible and other religious literature in the library that fell to its lot from Father Constantine – a brigade assistant commander responsible for religious soldiers.
Once we pass the checkpoint I notice a plastic bag flying in the wind, caught up by a barbwire. I look at Andrey and Alexander, then at Sasha, then again at Andrey and Alexander – and I get it that if I make a photograph I will uncover a military secret. I look aside.
Thanks to my participation in the project “Telling the Baltic” and the acquired experience in interpreting somebody else’s background I posed myself a question: why haven’t I resorted to my own history and the story of my father whose job is tightly connected to the sea…
… After my father moved to Svetlogorsk in 1987 with his family he started working at the BaltBeregoZaschita (BaltCoastProtection, which sounds strong) where he has been a geodetic engineer up to now. His duties include surveying the surf line, checking data on instruments on tripods, writing down some numbers in his log, and constant walking, walking, walking. As a result – a map and systematic updates of data on the movements of sand and the shore, an object of research – changes in the surf line and deterioration of the shore.
We used to have a lot of drafts at home made with a thin pencil, with neat credits below them, tiniest details and realistic drawings of landscapes.
That is how a lively, restless and cranky line appeared in my life between the sea and the shore. My father was drawing maps, moved along the whole Kaliningrad coast and I was walking along the beach and slopes, collected rocks and logs, sometimes I picked up buoys that were cast ashore, and then took it all home, thus preserving the history in these material remains. The sea is more feminine, the shore – masculine. Their child is the coastline. A line, together with spot, color and texture, is an artistic device. A line that connects the sea and the shore is an inspiring beginning, a God’s child, a love, and a perfect formula for the creation of love…
“If I were the sea, I would embrace the shore”
In the XIIth century when the Teutonic knights first spotted the treasures cast ashore they declared them the property of the state. Having conquered these lands the Teutonic order assumed the right for collecting and trading amber. The governor Anselm von Losenberg ordered to hang everyone who was collecting amber without permission on the nearest tree. Later the Prussian prince-elector adopted the so-called “amber regalia” which instructed to turn in all amber, even that found accidentally on the sea shore, to the authorities. There also existed a special kind of legal proceedings – “Amber courts” where those who hid amber were convicted to death.
To keep track of how the law is observed special “amber lords” were appointed. They controlled the process of amber collection and paid the diggers with salt or money. In the XVth century an absolute taboo was put on amber collection. Anyone who disobeyed was be executed. In 1828 there existed an executioner in Koenigsberg who was responsible for death penalty for unauthorized amber collection.
The old gravures usually depicted a gallows behind amber catchers – as a warning to those who wanted to appropriate some rocks.
Once the waves of the Baltic sea cast ashore three tons of amber. The locals collected it in buckets and carried home to use instead of firewood. When the Russians came to East Prussia in 1945 they had no idea of how precious amber is. And during the harsh winter of 1946 they burnt in stoves huge lumps of amber which they could find practically in each German house in Yantarny. Amber was burning well and gave a lot of warmth. From Yakub Loginov’s article “Mirror of the Week”, №29, August 8th, 2009: «…for this the historical “amber way” from Gdansk to the south of Europe is used. In the times of the Roman Empire it connected Rome to the barbarian North and was used for trading. Well- off Roman women valued amber which was burnt in stoves on the Baltic coast and in Polesye…