Marie Vogler
Marie Vogler

Soccer is to Russians What Football is to Americans


Written by Marie Vogler, a Virginia Tech Senior enrolled at Clemson University for Spring 2011

Going to Russian soccer games is as close to American football as Americans can get in Moscow. And although I consider myself an avid American football fan (I’m the girl screaming at the television or in the stands when my team messes up), I found that soccer is just as exhilarating—and certainly when you’re surrounding by thousands of screaming Russian fans!

The streets of Kitai Gorod
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Shelli, Valera, and Marie get ready to cheer for Spartak!

This month, Shelli and I had the opportunity to go to a Spartak versus Portugal soccer game in Luzhniki Stadium, one of the major stadiums in the city. This stadium was the primary complex for the 1980 Summer Olympics and the 1957 Ice Hockey World Championship. It’s an impressive stadium and although it was filled only to a fraction of its capacity, that didn’t in any way diminish the fervor of the Spartak fans as they rooted against Portugal. Red and white scarves and giant team flags waved throughout the entire game, regardless of the score, and bare-chested fans proudly painted their skin with team colors despite the cold weather. We didn’t need any help translating a lot of the colorful Russian language around us! The fans were proud to support their team, despite an ultimately disappointing score of 4-1. The stands didn’t empty until the final score, despite the cold and disappointing teamwork. No fair-weather fans there!

Even though it was a relatively unimportant game—if there is such a thing—security at the games was very tight. We went through a security checkpoint to get into the stadium vicinity right outside the metro, passing several lines of militia and mounted officers. We passed through a checkpoint before going up the steps to get to the stadium, and again at the top. Our

A cathedrals on the streets of Kitai Gorod
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Inside Luzhniki Stadium

bags, tickets, and clothes were checked several times. In the stadium itself, guards lined the field and the entrances to seating sections, even areas that were not being used for that game. But the most impressive part was after the game was over. After we exited the stadium, we were essentially funneled directly to the metro by a line of guards on foot and horseback from the stadium to the metro entrance. There was no going to the left or right, only to the metro. It was a long line of stern, unsmiling faces. I have never seen security quite like that before, especially not at a sporting event. Russians take their soccer very seriously!

It was a lot of fun to be surrounded by avid sports fans all cheering together. I felt like I was back at a Virginia Tech football game as they chanted, cheered for their players, and yelled at the ref. One time, I even almost yelled, “Let’s go Hokies!” Luckily, I remembered where I was and caught myself. Instead I cheered along with the entire stadium, “Periyot Spartak!”

Also in this Issue...

  • Metro Adventures by Shelli Danjean
    "Let me briefly explain how the metro system works. You either have a frequent users card to be filled each month, or you buy passes at the desk each time. To enter the metro, you need to swipe your card before passing through the stalls, otherwise it will slam closed against your legs.  These are supposed to be the two metro options; however, lack of money or perhaps laziness has led to a third option..."
  • Apartment Buildings in Russia by Miles Atkinson
    "There was no effort expended to beautify the buildings and the concrete seams that hold the buildings together are in full view. It doesn't help that most of the cubicles are grey to start with; there couldn't be a drabber color scheme. These box apartments are usually no more than five or six stories high and of course, there are no elevators or garbage chutes in them..."
  • You Know What They Say About Assumptions... by Karlie Tucker
    "I think it's better to avoid having any preconceived notions. It kept me from being disappointed, or truly experiencing culture shock. It allows me to see Russia as it is being presented to me, here and now, not the Russia presented in a history lecture or via the History Channel. It allows me to form my own opinions, to not get upset when things aren't as I thought they should be (except for bear wrestling), and to not continuously compare the Russia I experience to the fairytale Russia in my imagination. "

Apartment Buildings in Russia

Written by Miles Atkinson, a Clemson University Freshman

Miles Atkinson
Miles Atkinson

Remember that Moscow is the seventh largest city in the world and that there are 11.5 million people who live within the city’s limits. Needless to say, there is an endemic housing problem. While we were sitting in traffic our Russian host, Konstantin, told me about the housing problem and what the authorities have done to combat it over the years.

Soviet housing blocks come in two unique flavors that are easily identified: the luxurious Stalin flats and the dilapidated Khrushchev flats. Under Stalin’s reign, apartment blocks were built with aesthetics. The facades are replete with hammer-and-sickle medallions and floral designs in relief, balustrades, and stone. The windows are large and Konstantin said that the apartments have 3-meter high ceilings (that’s almost 10 feet). Most of the Stalin flats are built of stone or brick. I would compare them to the brownstone buildings in the Upper West Side of Manhattan in appearance (of course, the brownstones are not apartments, but the facades looks similar) and in price. During Soviet times everyone was entitled to a free flat from the state, but the nicest apartments were invariably given to high-party officials while the masses lived in temporary housing. Today, the Stalin apartments are some of the most expensive real estate.

Our dormitory
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Our dormitory.

The Khrushchev flats are much more numerous that the Stalin flats, but they are nowhere near as beautiful. After Stalin died the Central Committee of the Communist Party set out to eliminate “all unnecessary extravagance in architecture,” and they did just that. Most of the apartment blocks of this era are like big Lego buildings with prefabricated rooms stacked one upon the other.

A sink in our dormitory.
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A sink in our dormitory.

There was no effort expended to beautify the buildings and the concrete seams that hold the buildings together are in full view. It doesn’t help that most of the cubicles are grey to start with; there couldn’t be a drabber color scheme. These box apartments are usually no more than five or six stories high and of course, there are no elevators or garbage chutes in them. According to Konstantin, the Moscow city government has cited all of the old low-rise block buildings for demolition, but I will be impressed if they can fulfill this order. Other apartment blocks of this era loom at 10-20 stories. Some of the apartments have protruding window wings, like miniature sun-rooms, that dangle from the building. These wings almost always droop in the center and look like they are one stiff wind away from tumbling down onto the sidewalk.

Electrical wires span from building to building like grappling lines. In the United States most of these lines would be underground but here they web across the sky, twenty stories above the street.

Another common feature of the Khrushchev era apartments is that they are all dilapidated and in desperate need of renovation. No one seems to have bothered over their upkeep, probably because the Soviet government became too strapped for cash and the current owners have no reason to repair low-rent apartments. The apartments were built with shoddy materials and without much attention to certain details like ‘does the door match the frame; are the cabinets level; is the grouting neat?’ My door doesn’t stay shut unless the bolt is engaged; there is a continual draft so that the windows are taped shut in the winter; the sink makes loud noises when the hot water is running; the walls are paper thin.

Nearly all Muscovites rent their flats. I have been told that financing a mortgage is cost prohibitive, not to mention the incredibly high price of real estate. Moscow averages $1,700 per square foot on the secondary market. Indeed, Konstantin said that he paid as much for his one room flat as he would have paid for a house in the U.S.

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