Published in November last year, the text titled “The Heroes of Brest” doesn’t become less relevant or thrilling today. Instead, it feels neither time nor place-dependent.
BelarusFeed already introduced you to George Pavlopoulos, the travelling writer from Greece, who in his personal and touching letters to Barbara reflects on everything he saw and experienced during his trip. A rocket man in Europe’s last dictatorship, as he called himself, shared his emotions about Minsk and this time it’s Brest turn to become a chapter of his ‘novel’ about Belarus.
There was fog on my way to Brest. A thick veil that prevented me from seeing the horizon. I could see the near trees, but not the distant ones. It felt like a one-dimensional ride most of the time. But, about 40 minutes outside of Brest, the sun appeared.
I could feel the sudden heat in the train, a mixture of warmth and anticipation for the destination. All passengers removed their jackets simultaneously. After a three and a half hours journey from Minsk, everybody seemed ready for Brest.
I’d love to stay at the Hermitage Hotel, a historical establishment with a lot of charm; unfortunately, it was way out of my budget. I have chosen the Molodezhnaya Hotel instead, which is far from luxurious. In a way, though, it seems more compatible with Brest.
The receptionist is definitely a character. Too bad, she doesn’t speak English. She is chubby, has dark hair, and smiles eerily at all times. I can’t figure out if she’s in a good mood or a bad one. She stands behind her desktop and speaks slowly. I have no clue how old this hotel is, but I bet both the building and she grow old together.
There is a certain feeling of decay in the hotel: it feels cheap, run-down, and faceless. The walls are full of wrinkles, just like the receptionist’s face. There is some sweetness in this decay, but I guess it won’t last long. The hotel lies close to the train station, and it’s actually one of the first buildings that you see.
On the contrary, there seems to be a massive reconstruction at the train station — dozens of workers and dust all over the place. There is also a smell in the air, present all around Brest. I have no idea if this is because of the construction site or due to something else. At times it smells like a barn or like extreme humidity that sits on the rotten leaves.
Decay and regeneration seem to go hand in hand here. I can’t tell which one is more compatible with Brest.
Brest has undoubtedly seen things. The major landmark of the city (or even of the whole country) is the fortress. It was built around 1840 and intended to serve as an important point of defence for the Russian Empire.
In 1965, the title Hero-Fortress was awarded to the Fortress of Brest to commemorate the heroic defence of the soldiers during the first week of the German-Soviet War: it was the time that Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, with the launch of World War II’s Operation Barbarossa.
I walk around the fortress, and the open space makes it even more heroic: one can imagine battles and despair here. The main monument – and probably what made me visit Brest – is a thirty meters high memorial made of stone. It depicts the head of a Soviet soldier next to a hammer and sickle flag. As I see it from about 500 meters away, I can feel the enormous symbolic weight that it carries.
However, when I stand next to it, I remain ecstatic because of the detail. This is definitely one of the most impressive war memorials I’ve ever visited, and its name adds extra meaning to the concept: it’s called “Courage.” There is a beautiful church inside the complex as well as several other memorials, but nothing outperforms “Courage.”
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No matter where I find myself in the complex, I keep on turning my head towards that soldier. His head is facing down, but his eyes don’t.
The continuation of the original article can be found here. To plan your own trip (how to go, where to eat, what to see and how to plan a budget) to the hero-city – visit George’s cosy and insightful blog.