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A New Kind of Thinking in Odessa

By Susanne Wiedamann

Baumann, Joachim and Moosburger Baumann, Uwe. Odessa: Facets of a Changing City. Regensburg, Germany: Fr. Ant. Niedermayr, 2003.

Translation from German to English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado


Even in earlier times it was always said that "Soviet power ends at Odessa's city limits." Journalist Joachim Baumann of Berlin adds, "Odessa never really conformed -- and that is evident even to this day." Ever since he was a university student in this Ukrainian city in the 1970s, he has felt deep ties to her -- with love, with horror, but with deep emotion in any case. Yet, he was totally shocked when in 1991, after a ten-year absence, he returned to this "Pearl of the Black Sea" and witnessed the extent to which the city had deteriorated, had sunk so low. Businesses were empty, buildings dilapidated, and the people exhausted and without courage.

It took him at least ten years to gain enough distance to be able to get over that deep impression. Only at the beginning of this century was he able to return again, this time along with a convoy of aid and assistance from Regensburg. Witnessing, in the center of the city, restored and cleaned-up houses, neat shops, smiling people on the streets, he reflected again on the way the original impression had hit him "like a sledge hammer." As the author Isaak Babel once said, "Odessa has known times of bloom, but also times of wilting." In the meantime, it would appear that Odessa is once again beginning to show growing buds and fresh greenery.

Photographer Uwe Moosburger is providing witness to this. The journalist from MZ has accompanied many a convoy of assistance and tends to look with special care into the face of the newly developing harbor metropolis. During one of the trips bringing aid, this photographer became acquainted with the author Joachim Baumann. They decided to combine their efforts in order to do something good for this sister city of Regensburg. There was to be a photo exhibit -- and indeed that happened, from May 17 onward, in the Donaueinkaufszentrum [Shopping Center Danube] of Regensburg. Then they also came up with a book [with the English title of] "Odessa -- Facets of a City in Transition." It is a colorful picture album, a sensitive portrait of a city, and a helpful travel guide, which in effect becomes a winning advertisement for a city that even as early as in Tsarist times was a gate to the world.

What is so fascinating about a city that has always been such a strong magnet in attracting mechanist, travelers and artists? A million people, representing more than one hundred different nationalities, live here -- "and in peace," Baumann emphasizes. "One senses this multicultural richness in the people, in the culture, and in the architecture." In spite of, or perhaps because of, their openness to the world, the people of Odessa, predominantly speakers of Russian in the midst of the Ukraine, have developed a proud self-assurance, and through all those periods of hard times, have managed to hold on to their cheerfulness.

Odessa is a city of contrasts. While ladies decked out in western fashions walk through the shopping and pedestrian streets of Deribassovskaya and Pismorski, or stroll up and down the Potemkin Stairs, and the nouveaux riches partake of the pleasures of night clubs, a few meters away the poor dig through the trash for something edible. Tourists enjoy bargain-priced, world class ballet in the Odessa Opera House at bargain prices, one of the world's most beautiful buildings of its kind, while, as Baumann knows so well, for the ordinary citizen the same experience is an absolute luxury. Dilapidated backyards round out the current image of the city just as much as its wide, acacia-studded avenues. Yes, the water in the city's Arcadia section had become a little cleaner, and in the harbor impressive technology from Hamburg is on display. The city is in transition, its upturn is palpable, and there is a new confidence in the air. A new kind of thinking is taking hold.

Our appreciation is extendted to Alex Herzog for translation of this book
review.

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