I travelled from Hamburg to Odessa by train in September 2012, via Berlin, Warsaw, Krakow and Kiev. It was a thrilling and touching trip, leading me to a beautiful world that many people in Western Europe don’t know about. It breaks my heart that Ukraine is in such a turmoil today – let’s hope better days are coming soon
It takes some nine hours from Kiev to Odessa by train – quite an easy trip in a compartment like this. The host will be happy to bring you tea, coffee and small snacks. Staff was very friendly, making it one of my most convenient train rides ever.
Squeaky clean linen, courtesy of the Ukrainian railway company.
Feeling excited like a little boy, I watched trains rush by until deep in the night.
Central station, must be from around 1900 or so.
Inside, soviet design meets modern technology as people wait for their trains. Being quite tall at 6’7″, I really care about comfortable seats and these were just splendid.
At a wall inside the train station: Posters with names and pictures of missing persons. This is just part of the board, it looked like a lot to me. Scary.
Passage, the beautiful 19th century mall at Vul Derybasivska in the center of Odessa.
Save the date.
The façade of Passage: It might like to have a lick of paint but it’s still glamourous nonetheless.
Some blocks further down Derybasivska you find this gem: The Bolshaya Moskovskaya (‘Grand Moscow’) Hotel, it was still being refurbished in 2012. The building was erected in 1904, an impressive example of Art Nouveau architecture.
The opulence goes all the way up to the last inch of the roof.
A sunny afternoon in the park opposite to Bolshaya Moskovskaya hotel at Deribasyvska.
Named after Catherine the Great’s lover Grygory Potemkin, the famous Potemkin Steps lead down from the city to the port. Completed in 1841, they were designed by an Italian architect named Franz Boffo to create an optical illusion: The steps at the bottom are wider than those at the top so when you look down they all seem to have the same width. The Potemkin Steps got world famous when Sergey Eisenstein shot a long sequence of his movie ‘Battleship Potemkin’ here, released in 1925.
I met these handsome locals at the top of Potemkin Steps near the port. The guy offered to put the eagle onto my arm, exclaiming a cheerful ‘Good bird! No danger!’. Well, I liked my eyes the way they were so I declined.
An apartment building in one of the side streets, probably from the soviet era.
A new apartment building near the port: Modern architecture quoting early 20th century style, unfortunately without the harmony of proportions. I find it remarkable that buildings like these hark back to a time when Europe and Russia had an aristocracy, a class which was rich and privileged by birth while otheres had to work hard to make ends meet. The architect probably did not have any intentions of this kind but I still don’t think it is a coincidence.
En face to the building you saw in the last picture, just on the opposite side of the street, you find this one: Old and in obvious decay, the lines along windows, pillars and balconies still look graceful and harmonic in their proportions. As I made this photo in 2012, I wonder what happened to this house in the meantime …
This old cinema must have been so beautiful back in the day.
A Lada Shiguli (red, on the left) waiting for its next mission in a backyard in the city.
Tough gates to protect your property – and loose wires that look like they may burn down your house tomorrow.
The pigeons don’t mind.
The Volga, once the pride of the soviet car industry, is still a common sight in Eastern Europe.
Some can afford more.
Soft September light falling through the foliage of huge trees in the street I lived in.
This is the house where I stayed for a couple of days: Shoddy as it may seem, you can still feel the former wealth and beauty that must have made Odessa so adorable more than a century ago. As for today, the bars on my living room window were not for decoration I guess.
Someone had thought it was a good idea to add an extension to the upper floor. I’m not sure if it is an improvement.
And here it is: The official winner of the 2012 Tiniest Bath Tub In Europe Award. I knew that all those Yoga lessons would pay off one day.
I was told that all houses belonged to the state under Soviet rule and when the system collapsed in the early nineties, the tenants became the new owners of their premises. Allegedly, no provisions were made for staircases, roofs and othere parts of the buildings. This is the staircase of the house I lived in, and as derelict as it seems, the elaborate ironworks are standing witness of better days, probably around 1900. It must have been very beautiful back then – seeing it in this state made my heart ache a bit.
Behind bars: View from my room into my backyard.
My neighbourhood at night: Grey and dark and quiet. Although most houses seemed to be living quarters, windows were dark and there were hardly any people in the streets. All of a sudden it felt very 1978.
Have dog, will stray: I’m not sure if the citizens and administration of Odessa actually like those stray dogs but they seem to tolerate them.
A statue commemorates the Russian emperess Catherine the Great who had Odessa built as a sea port from 1794, envisioning a wealthy and glamorous town that soon got nicknamed the ‘St Petersburg of the South’. Odessa started growing rapidly from 1815 when it was turned into a duty-free port – by 1880 it had turned into one of the biggest ports of Russia.
The Odessa opera house was designed around 1880 by Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer, the architects of the Vienna State Opera.
Return to splendour: After years of reconstruction, the opera reopened in 2007. I was lucky enough to enjoy a spendid performance of Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’ here.
There’s one thing better than gold and that is more gold.
Proportions Revisited or Why go for small patterns?
The boat terminal with Hotel Odessa in the back, possibly the ugliest buildings in town – also mind that triangle structure in the front and the baby sculpture on the right. Well. Different strokes and so.
Late afternoon at the port. Ever noticed that The Beatles never sang ‘All You Need Is A Yacht’?