May 19, 2020

Piter's People – Maxim Kosmin


Piter's People – Maxim Kosmin
His blog about old apartments has almost 220,000 followers on Instagram. Courtesy Maxim Kosmin

Engineer Maxim Kosmin became a blogger by chance after he discovered the hidden beauty of St. Petersburg's historic flats. He shows a side of the city's life that is never seen by tourists, but which is quite common for many locals. 

Maxim, tell us your story.

I was raised in Kirovsky District, which is far from the city center. I lived on Prospect Veteranov [south-west of St. Petersburg] until I was 25, and now I’m 31. I can’t say that my neighborhood developed my interest in history. The same goes for my friends and family, nobody was really into краеведение [study of regional history]. Honestly, I still don’t completely understand the origins of my interest. These days I live on Izmailovsky Prospect, which is a historic part of the city. The house dates to the early twentieth century, but we don’t have old artifacts, as there was a complete renovation during the Soviet era.

I studied finance at St. Petersburg State University of Economics and later worked as an engineer-economist in shipbuilding. I spent 10 years at that, and last fall I quit my job and moved completely into krayevedenie

How did St. Petersburg flats appear in your life? 

I was looking for an apartment, the one I live in now. So I was spending a lot of time on real estate websites. After I’d found my flat, I still kept looking on the Internet, simply for curiosity's sake. I was quite surprised to find apartments with artifacts from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. So I began saving all the photos on my computer and then thought: “If this is interesting to me, maybe it’s worth of sharing with others?”

In 2015 I created a page on Vkontakte [Russia’s leading social network] and named it Stary fond [Old Fund]. I started posting photos there, got some followers, and among them were some professional historians. We got acquainted and I plunged deeper into the topic. Occasionally, followers of my page invited me to their apartments, so I photographed them and made the first publications with my own shots. 

In the summer of 2016 I launched my Instagram account, where I posted just my own photographs. In the beginning, I would be to be allowed to visit, would enter some apartments by chance, or act through realtors. Of course, today people know about my blog and invite me to visit, but in the beginning it was rather complicated. 

St. Petersburg apartment
After the 1917 revolution, the Bolsheviks nationalized the apartments of rich people and turned them into kommunalki: they divided up the living space and increased the number of occupants per apartment, packing in as many families as possible. / Maxim Kosmin

 

If you look at my blog, you’ll see that it’s only 50-60% about communal apartments, so the rest are private flats. The tenants reacted differently, but of course at the early stage it was easier for me to get into communal apartments, because people there are used to strangers. There are some flats that are constantly open. And if you get into the paradnaya [entrance hall], you can easily sneak into an apartment. On the other hand, how is ethical is that, to enter the flats of unknown people? But it’s highly unlikely that anyone will pay attention to you, because if the kommunalka is big, the neighbors often don’t know each other very well. 

Communal kitchen in St. Petersburg
Tenants must share the kitchen and bathroom in communal apartments. / Maxim Kosmin

 

There were cases when I stood on the staircase and some tenants passed by, so I started asking questions. Once, I was very interested to get into a certain flat, because it was round. It was a huge communal apartment and it stretched all around the yard. Surprisingly, they let me in, went into their own room, and told me I could walk around freely. But of course this rarely happens. Usually, people watch you carefully when you visit them. So, if we are talking about private flats, there is almost no chance you can get in without a prior agreement, but it has happened! 

What is the most amazing apartment that you've featured on your blog?

Maxim's favorite
Maxim's favorite flat.

It is a former studio, and it is actually just one room – 50 square meters (540 square feet). There is a kitchen, a bathroom separated by a curtain, a ceiling that is 6 meters (20 feet) high, and a huge window. So it is typical for an artist's studio. An old lady lives there alone, surrounded by a ton of different antiques: pieces of furniture, paintings, statues, lots of things! You won't feel that the atmosphere is messy; everything seems to be in its appointed place, but still there are lots of things.

There is a contrast of things belonging to different epochs. In the middle of the room, there is a cast-iron stove built during the Siege of Leningrad. It’s big – 3 meters (10 feet) high – and connected to the flue, so this lady burns there something from time to time.

What would you recommend foreign tourists see when visiting St. Petersburg?

My favorite house is a Complex Basseynovo Tovarishchestva [a public company named after Basseynaya street]. First, it was built as a cooperative, so it’s not a for-profit house [the most typical form of the housing in pre-revolutionary St. Petersburg]. It was one of a few houses where tenants actually could buy an apartment, not just rent it. It is quite severe, gloomy, but at the same time beautiful.

Also, you must include Kamenny Island, with its pre-revolutionary dachas, on your itinerary. It’s good for a long stroll, and you can see how people lived in the early twentieth century (back then it was then a suburb). I would especially highlight Hauswald Dacha, which was recently restored. Of course, you can’t get inside, as it’s privately owned, but it’s worth seeing. It’s especially good during the period of golden autumn.    

Art noueveau architecture
Hauswald Dacha is unofficially considered to be the first wooden building in Russia built in the Art Nouveau style. / Citywalls.ru

 

I would also say Petrovsky Island, which attracts me with its contrasts. But I must warn readers that it’s not a place of the greatest beauty. It has several interesting spots: old mansions, a new bridge, built very close to a house, and abandoned brewery and a retirement home for actors. 

Addresses:

  • Complex Basseynovo Tovarishchestva - Nekrasova street, 58-60.
  • Hauswald Dacha - Kamenny island, Bolshaya alleya, 12-14/32
  • Petrovsky Island

Maxim and two co-authors have compiled a book on pre-revolutionary life. Check it out here.

Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

Murder and the Muse

Murder and the Muse

KGB Chief Andropov has tapped Matyushkin to solve a brazen jewel heist from Picasso’s wife at the posh Metropole Hotel. But when the case bleeds over into murder, machinations, and international intrigue, not everyone is eager to see where the clues might lead.
Fearful Majesty

Fearful Majesty

This acclaimed biography of one of Russia’s most important and tyrannical rulers is not only a rich, readable biography, it is also surprisingly timely, revealing how many of the issues Russia faces today have their roots in Ivan’s reign.
93 Untranslatable Russian Words

93 Untranslatable Russian Words

Every language has concepts, ideas, words and idioms that are nearly impossible to translate into another language. This book looks at nearly 100 such Russian words and offers paths to their understanding and translation by way of examples from literature and everyday life. Difficult to translate words and concepts are introduced with dictionary definitions, then elucidated with citations from literature, speech and prose, helping the student of Russian comprehend the word/concept in context.
The Moscow Eccentric

The Moscow Eccentric

Advance reviewers are calling this new translation "a coup" and "a remarkable achievement." This rediscovered gem of a novel by one of Russia's finest writers explores some of the thorniest issues of the early twentieth century.
Woe From Wit (bilingual)

Woe From Wit (bilingual)

One of the most famous works of Russian literature, the four-act comedy in verse Woe from Wit skewers staid, nineteenth century Russian society, and it positively teems with “winged phrases” that are essential colloquialisms for students of Russian and Russian culture.
Survival Russian

Survival Russian

Survival Russian is an intensely practical guide to conversational, colloquial and culture-rich Russian. It uses humor, current events and thematically-driven essays to deepen readers’ understanding of Russian language and culture. This enlarged Second Edition of Survival Russian includes over 90 essays and illuminates over 2000 invaluable Russian phrases and words.
Russia Rules

Russia Rules

From the shores of the White Sea to Moscow and the Northern Caucasus, Russian Rules is a high-speed thriller based on actual events, terrifying possibilities, and some really stupid decisions.
Fish: A History of One Migration

Fish: A History of One Migration

This mesmerizing novel from one of Russia’s most important modern authors traces the life journey of a selfless Russian everywoman. In the wake of the Soviet breakup, inexorable forces drag Vera across the breadth of the Russian empire. Facing a relentless onslaught of human and social trials, she swims against the current of life, countering adversity and pain with compassion and hope, in many ways personifying Mother Russia’s torment and resilience amid the Soviet disintegration.
Jews in Service to the Tsar

Jews in Service to the Tsar

Benjamin Disraeli advised, “Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory.” With Jews in Service to the Tsar, Lev Berdnikov offers us 28 biographies spanning five centuries of Russian Jewish history, and each portrait opens a new window onto the history of Eastern Europe’s Jews, illuminating dark corners and challenging widely-held conceptions about the role of Jews in Russian history.
At the Circus

At the Circus

This wonderful novella by Alexander Kuprin tells the story of the wrestler Arbuzov and his battle against a renowned American wrestler. Rich in detail and characterization, At the Circus brims with excitement and life. You can smell the sawdust in the big top, see the vivid and colorful characters, sense the tension build as Arbuzov readies to face off against the American.

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
73 Main Street, Suite 402
Montpelier VT 05602

802-223-4955