When I began my studies, St. Petersburg was called Leningrad. Gorbachev wasn't in power yet, and contacts with Westerners were forbidden. Nonetheless, I booked a three-week journey with a group of fellow students.
When we arrived, Leningrad was dark and freezing. The temperature had fallen to minus 30 degrees, and the whole city was snowed under. However, the beauty of the city center was simply breathtaking.
Just a few minutes' walk away from the centre, it seemed to me that nothing had changed over the last two hundred years. Narrow lanes, old-fashioned lamps, small bridges - it was easy to explore Leningrad as a place of literature, with horse carriages rumbling down the streets and revolutionists lurking round the corners.
Many citizens lived in the suburbs. You got there in a bus whose windows were so frozen that you never knew where to get off. Even the bus drivers got lost. My brother had given me the addresses of his Russian friends. I met them all, with a somewhat naive feeling of conspiracy, and they were welcoming, inspiring, very literate - and often in a rather sinister mood.
On our way home, a customs official thoroughly searched my baggage, found some letters for my brother, read them all before my very eyes, then rudely seized me by the arm and said: "Out you go". I followed her, terrified. To my bewilderment, I was told to throw the letters into a postbox - without envelopes and address. Back in the train, she looked around and said with a deep sigh: "Oy, what an amount of luggage! Let's call it a day", and left.
Für die, die sich einen Kurzbericht über meinen ersten Besuch in Leningrad gewünscht haben... Der Text entstand in einem der Englisch-Kurse, die auf meine Cambridge-Prüfungen vorbereitet haben. Das Schreiben kurzer Aufsätze gehörte zu unseren wöchentlichen Hausaufgaben. Ich habe diese Aufgabe geliebt und mich jede Woche auf ein neues Thema gefreut.