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Reading about the Urals and Yekaterinburg

The Ural region was closed to foreigners until 1991, therefore there's still little known about the area abroad. European guide books on Trans-Siberia have been the only source of information on modern Urals and Yekaterinburg for travelers for many years. A new detailed book on the Ural mountains and their inhabitants was published last month in Germany. Der Zeit voraus. Grenzgange im Ural (Time ahead. Crossing the borders in the Urals) by Karl and Gudrun Wolff is a story about the Perm , Yekaterinburg and Chelyabinsk regions of the past and today in 400 pages.

The Wolffs presented their book in Yekaterinburg on 7th October. They both know Russia and Russians very well. Karl is a linguist and a poet, he translated the poetry of Oleg Mityaev and other Russian bards into German. Gudrun is a teacher of Russian and an organizer of the German-Russian Society in Munster. When travelling in the Urals the authors met with the Perm-born writer Aleksey Ivanov and having interviewed the playwright Nickolay Kolyada, they stated that the mere presence of Kolyada's theatre in Yekaterinburg can be the reason for travelling to the Urals. The book by the Wolffs tries to describe the society that has gone through the Soviet times to capitalism. Thus, the German travelers managed to find the Ural identity and the trends in the social development. Talking to the youth, the Wolffs, for instance, found out that about half of the young people they interviewed in Yekaterinburg would prefer to move somewhere else with better opportunities. However, none of them thinks about moving to Moscow , let alone other Russian cities.

Marina Сhebotaeva, the General Director of Enviro-Chemie Gmbh in Yekaterinburg and one of the main characters in the book thinks that Der Zeit voraus is one of the few objective books on the Urals. “I've read several books about Russia published in Germany in recent years. Most of them are either mocking or depressing. The book by the Wolffs is written with profound knowledge and love for the place they visited. They do write about certain problems that we, Russians, do not like to hear about from the foreigners: about comunism and heavy drinking. But even such burning issues are written about with a high level of tact”.

Marina Chebotaeva writes about the Urals too. Her travel guide The Urals: a first stride into real Russia – 2 won the National Tourist Prize of Senkevish this year as the best published work on traveling in Russia.

“I've been living in Yekaterinburg all my life and I dedicated the last four years to collecting information about my region. As I met with Karl and Gudrun Wolff I had a feeling that they know about the Urals more than me.” – Chebotaeva said to YY. “I liked the philosophy of their book that the development of the civilization has shifted from metropolises to regions and the regions such as the Urals offer more ideas”.

From Der Zeit voraus on Yekaterinburg (translated by M. Chebotaeva and A. Sinitzin):

The city looks Europe-like-busy, too busy to be a short transit stop for those who travel by Trans-Siberian railroad, with three stereotypes described in the European guide books: the assassination of the Russian Tsar, the city on the border of Europe and Asia and the centre of heavy metallurgical industry.

What makes Yekaterinburg a special city? First of all, it's the understanding that you want to stay here longer. You want to come back again. You want to see how new Russia is changing this city, moving forward, offering its citizens the comfort of the every-day city life with five star hotels instead of a single red star.

Yekaterinburg is worth observing as a city with its own style, its own rhythm and identity. Provincial Yekaterinburg of the past, having broken away from the post-soviet time, lives now in its own time. It is two hours ahead of the Kremlin. The Ural coordinates of crossing the border and seeking something new make Yekaterinburg similar to other modern world cities, one of which is Moscow.

Whether we move on foot, by tram (trams here are red, velvet, yellow and white) or by metro, with every step we open something new: our eyes – new pictures; our hearts – new friends; our minds – new perspectives.

The city is open. You don't need a special key to open it anymore. It is bright, original and self-sufficient.

To date, Der Zeit voraus by K. and G. Wolff is available in Germany in the German language.

The Urals: a first stride into real Russia volume 1 and 2 by M. Chebotaeva are available in Yekaterinburg bookstores and at www.nashural.ru. Each travel guide has 52 routes throughout the Urals, each starting from Yekaterinburg. The books are available in Russian, English, German and Chinese.

By Liubov Suslyakova

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