Have you ever seen the Lumiere brothers’ first newsreel “A Train Arrives in the Station”? Something similar was happening in Minsk on November 16, 1871 when at 11 a.m. two trains were departing at the same time from the brand new railway station. It was the first station of the kind in Minsk. It was made of wood and thus resembled a fairytale house. Both trains were sprinkled with holy water by the bishop of Minsk in advance; when they were departing the enthusiastic crowd started cheering and applauding. One of the trains was headed for Moscow and the other one for Brest. The level of this event could be compared to the launching of the first passenger spaceship from the Minsk spaceport…
by Nastasia Kostyukovich
Once upon a time 157 years ago a provincial Minsk turned into a city with its own railway station. This event had a good impact on the city’s fate. Although that day Minsk dwellers bought only 20 tickets (but next day over 82) the opening of the railway service allowed people from different parts of the country to move to Minsk. Its population began to grow rapidly and in 20 years there were over 100 000 people living here.
But the situation could have been different. In 1866, a decision to build a railway line between Moscow and Warsaw, the capital of The Kingdom of Poland, was made. In the beginning the authorities did not consider building a station in Minsk. Count Fedoyr Berg, who was the governor of the Kingdom of Poland and the honorary member of the Russian Geographical Society, put in a word for Minsk. No one knows why he was so fond of Minsk, but he wrote a personal letter to Alexander II where he described all the advantages of the “Minsk option”. After some time it became obvious that Berg was right. Due to its location in the centre of Belarus (maybe even in the centre of Europe, it depends on the viewpoint) Minsk became the main interchange of the railway lines.
One City – two railway stations
“Brestsky” – the very first Minsk railway station – was one of the points of the Moscow-Brest railroad. It was a stock company founded by “Riga Commercial House Shepeler and Co.” and “Brothers’ Sulzbach banking-house” from Frankfurt am Main. At that time when building a railroad, people put greater attention to the financial value not to the comfort of passengers. The Landvaro-Romny Railroad (later it was renamed as Libau–Romny Railway) the second railroad line passing through Minsk, was built in order to ease bilateral trade between the Baltic and the Ukrainian ports. The mansion in which the railroad’s administration resided survived to this day at Kirova 11 street. Karl von Meck was one of the greatest people who was the pioneer of the private railroad construction in Russia. He was the head of the Libau–Romny Railway administration. Von Meck made a great fortune and became the founding father of the ‘railroad kings’ dynasty. He was a philanthropist whose wife made friends with Tchaikovski and sponsored him all her life.
But the fate of Brestsky Railway station, which was opened together with the central railway stations in New-York, as well as in Stockholm and Prague which were the very first in Europe, was tragic. In a few years it was renamed in honor of the Russian Emperor Alexander II who was the founder of the Russian railroads. The station was situated near the present Belarusian State University of Culture and Arts and witnessed a lot of honorary guests such as Russian emperor Nicholas II and Josef Stalin. But in 1928 it was closed and in 1941 it was destroyed by fire. After WWII it was not renovated and the fact that Minsk used to have two railway stations was forgotten.
The Libau-Romny Railway administration in Moscow used to reside in the same building where today’s Belarussian embassy is situated. At that time, in the end of the XIX century Von Meck, who was the head of the Railroad Administration, used to live in this mansion at Maroseika 11 street.
300 years of one Railroad Station
In 1873 Minsk was granted another railway station called “Minsk- Vilnius”. By the way, the head of this station was Vasily Sklifosovsky who was the brother of the famous surgeon Nicholas Sklifosovsky. The building of the station used to be wooden and only in 1890 the construction of the stone building began. It preserved the old design of a wooden castle with two small towers in the centre. An interesting fact is that the foot-bridge, which was constructed near the Railway station in the end of the XIX century survived until the construction of the pedestrian underpass in 1964.
In the XIX century the building of the Vilnius railway station (which used to be situated at the same place, where nowadays one can find the building of the Minsk-Passenger’s railway station) has been on fire several times during WWI. During WWII it was completely destroyed. After the war the station was rebuilt according to the drafts made back in 1940 by the architect Rochanick. He made a brand new building without tawdry details and changed the architectural style to neoclassicism. This small grey building reminded of a little palace. It used to be one of the beautiful buildings of the railway station square from 1949 to 1991. In 1991 despite of the protests of locals who wanted to save the original architectural style of the city the erection of the railway station was knocked down. The glass building which one can observe nowadays was erected instead of the old one. Its construction lasted for ten long years.
The new railway station was opened on New Year’s eve at the beginning of the XXI century. The uptown hall is the only building that survived the reconstruction. It was erected in 1956. Today it is an international ticket-office.
Minsk “Anna Karenina”
In March 1873 a tragedy took place. People at the Vilnius railway station witnessed a young woman jumping in front of a train. Nowadays we would say: a real Anna Karenina! It’s true but there is one important detail. The famous Russian novel hadn’t been written yet. Leo Tolstoy started it in 1873 and in five years after the book was published the Minskers couldn’t help but recall the story and the woman. Why? Because the name of the woman who killed herself was Anna Sagalskaya.
The Kurlovsky shooting
One of the most tragic events in Minsk history is connected with the railway station square. “The Kurlovsky shooting” took place at the same year as “The Bloody Sunday” in Saint-Petersburg. On April 18, 1905 the Minsk governor Pavel Kurlov ordered to kill dozens of civilians demanding to release all the political prisoners and start democratic transitions promised by the Manifesto of November 17. About 100 people were killed and over 300 were wounded. Before 1941, one could observe a monument in honor of those who died in that massacre. During WWII it was destroyed and never rebuilt.