A Survey into Precise Matters, Specific Generalities, Customs, Manners, and Miscellaneous Items
The next morning things looked much brighter. They had to as the sun was shining brightly from a frosty blue sky. Stepping outside it felt like we had woken in a traditional village atmosphere. Small groups of men in leather caps and felt boots seemed to have nothing at all to do. Women in kerchiefs holding straw brooms or selling cigarettes singly laughed and joked. 

Outside the front door a collection of Lada's and Steployovich's were beaten into life each morning around 6 am by men with large hammers. By the time we showered and walked downstairs the cars were belching low octane gas fumes into the cold air. Women in boiler suits were ripping down walls to make more bathrooms. Behind the counter the receptionist painted her nails. Creaking trolley buses carried the workers of Novogriewsk to their state jobs. A hive of activity.

We walked up the hill.

At the entrance of the university we waited to begin the real business of the trip. Hundreds of students shuffled actross the cracked concrete floors, staring at our delegation. Our hosts arrived and hustled us away.

Diplomacy required strict protocols. 

Every move - even just up the hall to another office - required a half hour of discussion - three people would meet with us - discuss the program - which was never written down - and then we would agree to go to another room for another discussion. After two hours we would walk through large collapsing buildings crowded with students and then arrive at an office where fourteen or fifteen people would be waiting to see Someone Important. Maybe they had been waiting for days - indeed some were holding packed lunches - no matter - we would be ushered past this group of supplicants - all with some important request.

The Important Person would arrive and our hosts would fuss over Him. Nescafe, vodka, biscuits and fruit would be produced, another couple of people would wander in and then there would be a lengthy discussion. We would sit in a gigantic room and eat biscuits and fruit while endless speeches would commence. Another Important Person would arrive and we would shake hands, the speeches would continue and then we would be ushered out. Something Important had happened but what it was we would never know. Outside people were starting to eat their packed lunches, clutching their petitions.

The whole process would start again in another building and this time vodka would be served. After two of these sessions we would be starting to feel drunk. Then we were asked whether we were hungry or thirsty, we were led into another room full of people where food and wine and coffee and fruit and chocolates were laid out. By this time we were really drunk and reeling and needed sleep or at least rest. More toasts to cooperation, the University, the European Union and the German and English languages.

Suddenly - real activity - it was announced we would give a lecture to 150 students in fifteen minutes. On what topic Alex asked? Well - of course - one of your lectures. There was obviously an assumption that any good professor could hold his own for two hours on any subject without the need for preparation. And the topic didn't really matter. Marketing? Web-Design? Video Production? Communication? Anything you like. Karasho. OK good fine. No problems.

They must have developed a system of communication still unknown to Westerners. Already on our way we noticed a constant stream of students upwards on the giant staircase underneath the cracked stained glass pictures of working glass heroes towards the largest Auditorium. Outside the hall some hassles as guards protected the entrance against unauthorised intruders - that means members of other than the hosting Faculty. 

Inside it was packed. The new people, that is those who had experienced eight years of non communist rule. Grey unobtrusive young men. But mostly women. Elegantly dressed in local versions of European fashion - wearing tall boots that would have immediately won the heart of Luis Bunuel or any convinced foot fetishist. And such legs - they walked everywhere after all. Whatever these girls had - they flaunted it. And they had a lot metaphorically speaking. Probably they all lived in two room flats with families of five or seven. But when they were out they were out. Women were rapidly becoming the fastest growing export item.

The large room was filled as well with triumphs of Soviet heavy engineering - the 500mm knurled self locking bolt, the 1000mm worm drive differential as used in the T 72 tank, a model of the 400 meter radio mast that used slightly less aluminium in construction than a Pe-2 aircraft - all these triumphs loomed over us.

I knew Kurt liked to lecture sitting relaxed on the desk in front of his students. But here - no way, the old order still prevailed. There was a long table in front of the room from the days when the regional Comsomolz chapters had held their meetings in here. And like way back then there was a fixed order of seating. From left to right (never the other way round!) there sat the Dean, then the Head of School, then the Chair, then Kurt and then the translator. The Dean adressed a few welcoming words in a ten minute speech stressing the benefits of co-operation with a western university. The Head of School adressed more welcoming words stressing the benefits of co-operation with a western faculty. 

When all three left the room for other urgent business, Kurt moved over and sat down on the desk. The students smiled. Clearly we had demonstrated to them a piece of Perestroika.

Our rebellious student histories from the 60s began to emerge. I scored a major hit when during my final lecture I announced we had drafted an agreement on student exchange. Now everyone in the room with suitable background could apply for the funds. Man, this was Glasnost pure, unheard of before. No hush hush, no red tape. No descisions behind locked doors. No nepotism, no favoritism. The New Order. Kurt made himself pretty unpopular during our many interviews. Repeatedly we were asked about our view on the future of the country. And repeatedly Kurt responded that he would not be afraid if the young people had a chance to take over. And everyone understood from this that the old generation (and with it most of the old order) was still in control. The intimate high profile lectures to a select few now exploded into a travelling circus - the nascent local news media were on our trail.

Oh, these interviews! We were on all TV stations and in all newspapers. Our hosts never understood why we generated such interest. Shit, media is only interested in media. And that was our professional area. We were interviewed for hours and invited to all local TV stations, videoed in converted apartment rooms lit by garden lights euphemistically called studios. 

Local TV studio

And we spoke a lot - gurus for a day or so. With hooks and all, according to Western professional standard. Still, the broadcasts were cute. Two minutes on air. For 110 secs the Rector/Dean/Head of School (make your choice) would declare in detail how much time he/she had spent to get us here and how modern thinking and planning they were for university/faculty/school (make your choice again). Then for about 3 secs we could be seen. Strange animals from exotic countries. That was all for today, folks. Long live the hierarchy! For almost 80 years it had been in their veins. And under the Czar before it had been obligatory to remove your hat and bow low in the presence of Authority.

Not that public celebrations of Communism had been forgotten - not at all. It was still alive. The anniversary of the October Revolution arrived. The Parade. The Red Flags. This nostalgic dream many of our academic colleagues back home had dreamt for many a year with tears in their eyes. Here it was. Life. 

Red Flags - nostalgic dream of  Western academics

A ten meter high grey Lenin still standing high up on an impressive granite pedestal overlooking the square. Well, it was not exactly the city center anymore but definitely not more than about 5 km from there. Rotten capitalists had crept in from behind him and built a Lunapark - this cheap plastic Disneyworld imitation for the poor masses. But at least looking at the master of the proletarian revolution had become more colorful - thankfully not to his left but to the right of him. Actually, from the point of view of Vladimir Iljitch it was the left but what the heck.

And here they came, the marching masses, all 274 of them. Clearly the Party had picked up on the recent political development waving posters that read "Socialist Revolution - satisfaction guarantee." Did they refer to Monica Lewinsky? Mostly pensioneers in the columns, decked with medals and orders that were now on sale at the local market for about 2 $ a pound. Plus a couple of innocent babies too young to speak up for their own. On the sidewalks ordinary people were minding their own business. They were waiting for the delayed busses to work as this was not a national holiday anymore. When the loudspeakers started blaring in good old-fashioned style the tune of The Internationale many a tear slowly slid down wrinkled cheeks.

The PA looked so antique it had to be hidden behind Lenin's one meter high foot and safe guarded by a whole police brigade in case someone would like to steal these riches. 

Guarding the PA

But mostly they had to protect the democratic rights of the Communists to held rallies - as passers-by shouted nasty remarks at the nostalgic marchers and once in a while even engaged them in small scuffles. Counter-revolutionaries no doubt, paid by the West. But after 81 years the revolution was on the winning path again. That's at least what the front page of the local version of Pravda said, resurrected today. For such a welcome message the old and tired and hungry unhesitatingly handed over their last rubles.

Hey Bobby, really, the times they are a-changin...

Forward to Chapter #3