Battlefield Tourism – Stalingrad (Volgograd)

Considered one of the fiercest battles in history, the Battle of Stalingrad from July 1942-February 1943 was the beginning of the end to WWII, with the huge defeat of the German Army by Russian troops. The Soviets defended their city from the Luftwaffe bombings and the German ground offensive crossing the Volga River. Hitler planned to cut off the supply chain from the south to the north of Russia and capture the city named for Stalin to add to his political and military triumph. After an estimated 2 million lives were lost in the battle between the two sides, the plan failed when the Germans were ultimately trapped in Stalingrad and surrender was inevitable.

Released in 2001, Enemy at the Gates, starring Ed Harris as a German sniper, Joseph Fiennes as a political adversary, and Jude Law as the Russian marksman is considered one of the best in wartime movies. Rachel Weisz, whose Jewish parents were captured by the Germans, adds the love interest triangle to the film. Enemy at the Gates is an intense, action-filled story depicting the violence and bloodshed in the historic Battle of Stalingrad.

The city of Volgograd (once known as Stalingrad) in the southern part of Russia is an industrial port on the Volga-Don Canal that connects the Black, Caspian, Baltic, White, and the Sea of Azov. In 1961, the government renamed the city in an effort to remove the stigma of Stalinization, but the great historical significance remains. Today, the rebuilt city is a study in contrasts with evidence of Communism in its historical center, a statue of Lenin in Lenin Square, and a modern university that is recognized worldwide as a leader in Russian education and a proponent of cultural exchange with the U.S. and other countries.

Memorials and Historic Attractions:

The majestic 279′ statue of a woman with a sword, Motherland Calls, stands high upon Mamayev Hill, a key strategic position of the battlefield overlooking the town and the Volga. The entire Mamayev complex dedicated To the Heroes of Stalingrad has an impressive number of memorials, many carefully sculpted from bricks left in the ruins of Stalingrad. At the entrance are 30′ wide stairs leading to the Alley of Pyramidal Poplars and a memorial park. Here you’ll find the Square of Those Who Fought to Death, with a 50′ high sculpture “Stand to Death” in the center of a pool of water. In addition to the Banner Walls complete with the sounds of the battlefield, WWII patriotic songs, and news reports, six sculptures in the Square of the Heroes represent heroic events in the war. Visitors climb the stairs to the Square of Sorrow and the tomb of Field Marshall V.I. Tchuiikov, a hero of the USSR. Within the golden glass mosaic walls of the Hall of Glory, soft music plays while the Eternal Flame burns in honor of Russian soldiers who died in the battle. The somber atmosphere of what was once a bloody, war-torn battlefield still pervades the entire beautifully landscaped complex.

Admission: Free. Open year round.

Each year, memorial events are held at the cemetery on 9 May, the date of the Soviet victory over Fascist Germany, and on 2 Feb, which marked the end of the battle of Stalingrad. Such events not only memorialize the past, but also instill a sense of pride and honor in the people of Russia for the generations before them who defended the motherland and the sacrifices that were made.

House of Pavlov – Once an apartment residence for Soviet soldiers, this 4-story building overlooking 9th January Square is now a memorial to the incredible bravery, ingenuity, and determination of a young Sergeant Pavlov and his small platoon. Built from bricks recovered at the battle scene, the memorial next to the apartments is symbolic of the Soviet Union resistance in the Battle of Stalingrad. Following orders by Stalin to take “not one step back,” Pavlov and his few men managed to defend the house for two months from countless Nazi attacks, killing huge numbers of the enemy before they were rescued by the Russian army and taken to safety.

Panoramic Museum – Features a huge panorama of the Stalingrad Battle, as well as 8 exhibition halls with over 3500 displays, a portrait gallery of Soviet leaders and military commanders, and numerous artifacts from WWII. An ongoing exhibition that began in 1989 contains documents, weapons, and other items collected from the wars in Afghanistan and Chechyna. Over half a million people visit this fascinating museum each year.

Hours: Summer, 10am-6pm, Winter, 10am-5pm. Closed Mondays.

Guided Tour: 1 hour, $21.

Guided Sightseeing Tour of Volgograd: From 3 to 4 hours by bus, $113.

Extended Guided Tours: 1, 2, and 3-day tours. One Day Rates: 1 person, $150, 2 @ 130 p/p, 3 to 5, $100 p/p. Two-Day Rates: $280, $230, $200. Three Days: $350, $280, $250. Half-day Rates: $120, $100, $80.

Hours: Full Day, 9am-6pm. Half Day, 10am-2pm.

(The 2011 Victory Day tour, 7-11 May, is dedicated to the women of Stalingrad.)

Accommodations: Hotels with good reviews and reasonable rates include the Best Eastern Yuzhnaya, Intourist Hotel Volgograd, Hotel Kristina, and Akhtuba. Self-catering apartments and pensions are also available for short or long-term stays. Although Volgograd is a popular international tourist destination, there is not a great deal of information online.

Where to eat: Recommended are the Grand Cafè, Kayfe Cafè, Friendship, Bochka for European cuisine and nightly live music, and Ceramic Cafè, frequented by Russian families. The Gallery is a popular bar/restaurant, and the Central Market is a great place to shop for produce, cheese, and other food.

Transportation: Several daily 2-hr flights from Moscow ($240 rd trip), summer flights from St Petersburg and other cities in Russia. Overnight trains 20-24-hr rd trip from Moscow, $100 upper or lower bunk, $260 for 2-bed cabin with amenities & one meal included. Volga River cruises from Moscow and St Petersburg and on cruise ship itineraries. A 40-minute bus ride from airport to downtown, 35 cents; taxis and trams readily available. Riverboats or trams leave every 20 minutes carrying visitors to the other side of the Volga.

As the famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda once said of Volgograd, “Here the Earth is decorated with the Order of Courage.”

Sharon L Slayton

Filed Under: Grief tourism

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