We were excited to be driving through Volgograd during the Mongol Rally. It is a city that has a famous past of enduring an epic battle that was possibly the major turning point in changing the outcome of World War II.
Formerly known as Stalingrad, it is the site of an epic battle between the Russians and Germans.
For 200 days the German forces assaulted the Russian town but it held steady and fought back with force. Not without a toll though, 1.75 million people died during the battle from starvation, freezing to death and brutal combat.
Enemy at the Gates starring Jude Law and Rachel Weiss gives an account of the battle of Stalingrad and as I visited this town, I thought of the suffering that was endured all those decades ago.
It is believed to have weakened the German army so much that it was the beginning of the end of the war. Hitler had made a grave mistake spreading his forces so thin and could not fight on so many fronts.
The centerpiece of the city is a giant statue commemorating the battle. Mother Russia stands proudly overhead at 91 meters high! She holds her sword with mouth open in a roar of battle and looks out over the horizon.
The monument is impressive.
We walked up the 200 steps representing the 200 days of battle into a memorial housing an eternal flame. Thousands of names of those who died in battle are written in mosaics on the circular walls surrounding the flame.
Two guards stand at attention watching over the flame and we had the opportunity to witness the changing of the guard. It was an elaborate ceremony. A group of soldiers marched towards the tomb. The entrance is from below and they entered the tunnel which circles up inside slowly to the entrance.
With high kicks and high stepping, they proceeded with a choreographed ceremony to chance two guards standing by the flame. They then joined the formation and circled their way up around the memorial to the exit where two more guards were relieved of their duty.
We were the only foreigners in the complex.
All tourists were Russian and they were snapping photographs celebrating their victory and paying homage to those who gave their lives.
Tourists are the same all over the world. Everyone jockied for position to snap their photographs and get their time standing in front of the flame and the guards to have themselves forever frozen in the moment.
We couldn’t read anything about the place or understand anything that was going on, but we could understand that this is an important place in Russian history and the people who died during this battle will forever be heroes and will not be forgotten for their sacrifice.
We are hoping that Mother Russia will survive. We have heard that she is sitting on unstable land and has a pronounced lean. It is becoming so strong that there is a legitimate fear that she will topple over in a couple years time. The price tag to fix however is 6 Million Euros and the city does not have the funds.
We commented that they should recruit the Russian mafia to help. They’re rich and even though their corrupt, I am sure that they must have some Russian pride. If they sold off a few of their luxury cars, they’d be able to come up with the money in no time.
Just a thought, we are witnessing a lot of money in Russia. There is a great divide of rich and poor, but this is a country on the move and it’s moving on up.