Culture and Smiles Transplanted to Novosibirsk
Published: November 30, 2011 (Issue # 1685)
The main artery of Novosibirsk, Krasny Prospekt, on a winter night. 120,000 Leningraders moved to Novosibirsk during World War II because of the siege.
Strangers are apt to approach you and strike up a conversation, a grandfatherly voice wishes you well on the metro intercom “vsego vam dobrogo,” and the ruddiness of people’s cheeks is due primarily to the cold.
Novosibirsk, the capital of Siberia and the country’s third-largest city, offers a welcome contrast of warmth and immediate friendliness — possibly explained by its location as a waypoint for travelers moving between east and west.
The first bridge across the north-flowing Ob acted as the lifeblood of the city and helped form its character as a layover for travelers. In 1905, Novosibirsk’s position as a trade center was strengthened by the opening of a train station along the Trans-Siberian Railroad.
“In its day, the station was the largest in the Soviet Union — prior to World War II,” said Olga Molchanova, director of economics, strategy and investment policy for the city.
Striving to ease modern traffic problems and further develop the city, municipal authorities are getting ready to build a third vehicular bridge across the Ob. During a visit to Novosibirsk on Nov. 8, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced that the federal government would co-finance the project, which is expected to cost 14.8 billion rubles ($477 million).
World War II also played a major role in shaping the city’s character. As the western portion of Russia was being overrun, factories were evacuated to the left bank of the Ob River. About 50 enterprises, including the Sestroretsky Instrument Factory from Leningrad, restarted their operations there in just a few short years. These plants made almost 27 percent of all the ammunitions used by Soviet forces and just under 16,000 planes.
The fall of the Soviet Union and ensuing economic crises meant an end to much of the city’s heavy industry, already hampered by its remote location and severe weather. “Winter is seven months long. We need thick walls, heating and more lighting. And that all adds to expenses,” Molchanova said. The city’s isolation is one of the main reasons why officials are supporting the production of high-tech goods, which are more easily transported than heavy machinery, she said.
Along with industry, culture spread to this isolated region during the war — including a taste for fine arts that accompanied the 120,000 Leningrad natives who moved to Novosibirsk because of the blockade. Many of them decided not to return to their ravaged hometown, and instead stayed and helped form a cultural and intellectual oasis in the frozen wilderness.
In 1945, the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theater debuted. Federally funded, the massive cupola-shaped building in the city’s central square is larger than Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater. Nine other theaters, 88 libraries and numerous movie theaters are spread throughout the city. The Pobeda Theater hosts 12 international film festivals every year.
The artistic passions of the city are now stoked by the staff and students of the 25 institutes of higher learning located throughout the city, and the famous Akademgorodok — a satellite suburb now home to about 127,000 people that was founded in 1957 as a center of research and engineering, thanks to the initiative of the famous academician Mikhail Lavrentyev and the Academy of Sciences.
Due to the strength of its intellectual reputation and current academic spirit, the federal government has started a technopark at Akademgorodok. Ilya Ponomaryov, a State Duma representative for Novosibirsk and head of the regional branch of A Just Russia, told The St. Petersburg Times that the government hopes to recreate Boston in the steppe — where entrepreneurial initiatives are able to capitalize on the high-level of education around them. The government has allocated 21.7 billion rubles ($690 million) for the project. The nanotechnology and biotechnology facilities are complete and three towers for information technology are under construction.
Even political promotion is done with hospitality and warmth.
“When you smile, almost 90 percent of the time, people smile back,” said Etibar, a student at the Siberian Academy for Civil Service, while handing out flyers for A Just Russia. “And the girls, they smile and their eyes beam.”
What to see if you have two hours
Any local would advise going to the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theater (36 Krasny Prospekt; +7 383-22-715-37; opera-novosibirsk.ru). It’s necessary to plan ahead because many shows are sold out weeks in advance. Tickets can be purchased online, over the phone or at the ticket office. If you are feeling lucky, show up at the box office early on the day of the show, and you may be fortunate enough secure a ticket someone returned.
What to see if you have two days
Novosibirsk is great for the whole family. Assuming you’ve already seen a show at the opera, there is no better activity than simply enjoying the pure ecological setting that you are in. Unfortunately Novosibirsk’s architecture is nothing to boast about — most of its development took place during the Soviet period — but if you are there in the summer, go for a walk around Akademgorodok and stop in to see current projects. Whether it happens to be the nuclear collider (Institute of Nuclear Physics, 11 Prospekt Akademika Lavrentyeva; +7 383?329-47-60; www.inp.nsk.su) or genetically domesticated foxes (Institute of Cytology and Genetics, 10 Prospekt Akademika Lavrentyeva; +7 383-363-49-80; www.bionet.nsc.ru/public) there will always be lively conversation with an academic on this campus. Finally, no trip to Novosibirsk is complete without a trip to the zoo (71/1 Ulitsa Timiryazeva; +7 383-220-97-79, zoonovosib.ru). Director Rostislav Shilo proudly says his zoo is one of three in the world, along with Singapore and San Diego, which are self-funded. The zoo has extensive botanical exhibits —142 different types of trees and just more than 100,000 flowers in bloom each year, and an array of about 10,000 animals — 702 different types in all. The zoo breeds yellow-throated martens, which they then loan to only 17 other zoos in the world. A 3-year-old liger — a combination of a lion and tiger — named Zita, is also one of the rarities at this zoo. In the past three years, a new aviary, primates pavilion and penguin enclosure have been built, and the zoo expects to complete a dolphinarium by the end of 2012.
Despite Novosibirsk’s young age, the Regional Studies Museum (23 Krasny Prospekt; +7 383-227-15-43, museum.nsk.ru) provides an extensive insight into the history of Siberia’s capital. If you crave art, the Novosibirsk art museum is a great source (5 Krasny Prospekt; +7 383-222-33-516, nsartmuseum.ru). Toward the end of the ’50s, many works were transported to the museum from the Tretyakov Gallery, Russian State Museum and the Hermitage.
If you are looking to party, Rock City (37 Krasny Prospekt; +7 383-22-70-108, rockcity.ru) is the place to go. With standing space for 800, this concert hall is a favorite for the city’s younger crowd when they venture away from Akademgorodok.
Where to eat
One location the locals are very fond of is Ekspeditsia (12/1 Zheleznodorozhnaya Ulitsa; +7 383-363-01-01, expedicia-nsk.ru). The rustic atmosphere envelopes its patrons with a homely dacha feel. Tired after a hard day? At Ekspeditsia you can relax in one of two different banyas, receive a fir branch massage from one of their banshchiki and have cold milk poured on your skin for a total exfoliation experience. Following such rejuvenation, customers enjoy their meal with live guitar music and bard singers who visit weekly from various surrounding towns. An average meal including a main course, soup and northern fish will cost from 900 rubles to 1,800 rubles ($30 to $60).
If you are looking for a fancier option, La Maison (25 Sovietskaya Ulitsa; +7 383-209-00-10) presents a delightful assortment of French cuisine prepared by Francois Fournier, who worked as a chef in five-star hotels in Switzerland before moving to Russia. Fournier has been known to prepare an entire evening event where each meal is paired with a specific wine from different regions of France. Meals, depending on your choice of wine, can range from 900 rubles to 3,600 rubles.
Any traveler passing through must also try the local pelmeni — the universal Russian delicacy allegedly born in Siberia. Beerman Pelmeni (7 Kamenskaya Ulitsa; +7 383-362-12-62) offers 18 different types of pelmeni from salmon to reindeer. Nestled on the ground floor of the Doubletree Hilton, many foreign businesspeople will mix with local families to frequent this establishment. An average meals cost 750 rubles ($24) including a tea or beer.
Zita, a 3-year-old liger — cross breed of lion and tiger — might be pregnant.
Where to stay
Congress-Hotel (1 Vokzalnaya Magistral; +7 383-220-11-20; hotel-novosibirsk.ru) is a three-star hotel with a view that pans over the surrounding landscape. The 23-story building is the tallest in central Russia, and its interior offers space for business and educational seminars. Rooms range from 3,800 rubles to 11,000 rubles ($120 to $350).
Azimut Hotel (21 Ulitsa Lenina; +7 383-223-12-15; hotel-sibir.ru) is recognized as one of Novosibirsk’s premier hotels. Previous guests include internationally acclaimed baritone Dmitry Khvorostovsky, composer Vladimir Shainsky and Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho. Room rates start at 3,000 rubles per night and can reach as much as 9,000 rubles for an apartment-style room.
As per the international norm, the weather is always a good topic. Locals say, “A Siberian is not a person who is afraid of the cold, but one who dresses warmly.” Temperatures dipped to minus 51.1 degrees Celsius in the winter of 1915. However, thanks to global warming, the average range, depending on the season, is between minus 15 and plus 19 degrees Celsius.
How to get there
Rossiya and Aeroflot airlines provide flights between St. Petersburg and Tolmachyovo International Airport (+7 383-216-98-41 en.tolmachevo.ru/customers/schedule). Roundtrip tickets cost about 14,600 rubles ($465) and the journey lasts four and a half hours.
If time is not an issue, a second option is to participate in a 56-hour train marathon from St. Petersburg and view the countryside as you pass through the Urals. A one-way ticket will set you back 4,800 rubles to 11,700 rubles ($150-370), depending on your desired level of comfort.
Main Industries: metallurgy, oil pipes, machine-part manufacturing, electricity, airplanes
Mayor: Vladimir Gorodetsky
Founded in: 1893
Interesting fact: Novosibirsk is home to the Institute for Cytology and Genetics, which has spent the past 50 years breeding a unique population of domesticated foxes that behave very similar to dogs in order to observe the effects of evolutionary selection.
Helpful contacts: • Mayor Vladimir Gorodetsky (+7 383-227-40-10; novo-sibirsk.ru); • Olga Nezavayeva, president of the Novosibirsk Small and Medium-Sized Business Association Opora (+7 383-218-84-81; novosibirsk.opora.ru); • Pavel Mityakin, director for the Novosibirsk Innovation-Investment Corporation (+7 383-227-43-84; novinkor.com)
Sister cities: Varna, Bulgaria; Mianyang, China; Sapporo, Japan; Osh, Kyrgyzstan; Daejeon, South Korea; Kharkiv, Ukraine; Minneapolis and St. Paul, United States;
• NAPO Chkalova (15 Ulitsa Polzunova; +7 383 278-85-01; sukhoi.org), one of the largest airplane factories in Russia, which produces commercial and military fighter jets. The factory is owned by Sukhoi, the third-largest global producer of fighter aircraft.
• Liotech (Selo Tolmachevo, Dom 16/1; +7 383 354-54-99; liotech.ru) is a new joint project between Chinese company Thunder Sky and Rusnano, producing green energy lithium-ion batteries to be used in electric cars and other forms of transportation. Rusnano invested $30 million into the factory.
• Alawar Entertainment
(41 Russkaya Ulitsa;
+7 383-363-71-47; www.alawar.ru) is Russia’s leading video game developer, producing games for Mac, PC, PlayStation and Nintendo. Its products are offered in 28 languages and are sold in more than 60 countries.
The cultural gem of Novosibirsk, the opera house that opened in 1945, overlooks the impressive Lenin Square.
Mayor for the past 11 years
Q: What Novosibirsk industries are attractive to investors?
A: I think that there are multi-faceted segments in the city that should interest foreign investors. We have proposals [to investors] in Moscow in spheres that are lagging [here].
For example, we were looking at water parks. There was a proposal and we showed our readiness to Russian and foreign investors, and they were ready to sign a deal, but then the last crisis came.
I think the hotel sector is generally covered, but there are some niches left. Construction of multi-functional sports complexes is more promising. We suggest foreign investors go in that direction.
Q: What are you doing to encourage investment?
A: We understand the current scale for development of industry for foreign investors in Novosibirsk, along with Russian businesses. We are currently supporting the completion of construction of the lithium battery plant of Rusnano and its Chinese partner. We analyze and understand the interests of many countries in order to propose well thought-out incentives. The battle for investments is real between cities and territories and this is normal; therefore, about a year and a half ago, we created a special organization under Deputy Mayor Vladimir Znatkov to deal with investments and study the conditions to increase incentives for investors to enter our territory. I think that there is interest today and we are developing proposals for further investment. We are moving in that direction.
Director of the Novosibirsk Zoo since 1969
Q: What sets your zoo apart from others?
A: The liger. She is an interesting object and in general presents value to science. Will the liger produce offspring and continue or not? These are some questions that need to be answered and the very fact that such a liger exists is interesting. I believe another liger lived in India about two or four years before it died there. Ours is three years old already.
Q: Will she be able to give birth?
A: We [briefly] placed a young lion with her this year. What does the future hold? Probably something will happen. If she becomes pregnant, this would also be interesting. We’ll see … I don’t like to make predictions early. When something is, it will be, as they say.
Q: Where would you recommend a visitor to eat?
A: Restaurant Beryozovka. The best in Siberia. They feed you there. There’s hunter’s trophies, you can get a first course, second course, third. Eat up and drink good beer.
Q: What should happen to improve the tourism industry?
A: First of all, tourist agencies should do their job. It depends on them more than anything. Then the image of Novosibirsk needs to increase; thirdly, infrastructure should be [improved]. We don’t have a single five-star hotel, or if I remember correctly, not a single four-star one. Hotels and all services should run well. And that is what we need to develop.
Q: How is investment in the zoo going?
A: We have signed a 500-million ruble ($16 million) deal to build a dolphinarium. There will be dolphin shows. And it should be finished by the end of next year. There will also be pavilions for giraffes, small apes and penguins. The pavilion for small apes and penguins should be built next year. It’s not that big of a project, about 100 million rubles.
Q: What part of the city is your favorite?
A: The zoo.