Josef Stalin was Born in Gori
It would have been easy to bypass the fairly unattractive town of Gori on our drive from Tbilisi to Borjomi, however, after exploring the cave town and monastery at Uplistsikhe we felt that a stop in Gori was a must for us. Not only was it a good place for some welcome lunch, but especially after discovering that Georgia’s most prominent figure was born in town. He was a man who went on to have a devastating impact, not only on local politics, but also on the wider world 20th century history in general – Josef Stalin. We felt that the Stalin Museum would give us, and Jerome particularly, an insight into the life of a human monster often mentioned en par with Hitler and his atrocities during WWII.
Lunch at Cafe 22
After our arrival at Gori, we decided to have a quick lunch at Café 22, a cosy bakery shop also serving some savoury food, including pizza (always a kid’s favourite) and some local dishes. We opted for the Khachapuri Adjaruli, a canoe shaped bread filled with a decadent amount of melted salty sulguni cheese, topped with chunks of butter and a poached raw egg. Praised as Georgia’s national dish, it certainly filled our tummies for our impeding visit to the Stalin Museum, although the high salt content was not the boys taste.
Gori’s cityscape appeared to be dominated by imposing buildings and wide avenues worthy of a world leader. Towards the west we could see glimpses of old fortifications set high on a hill. Walking along Stalin Avenue we noticed a war memorial and soon after reached Stalin Park, a well-manicured area with roses and fountains. At its end proudly stands, encased by a modern Doric temple, the shabby transplanted hut where Josef Stalin had spent the first years of his life. The humble abode, a traditional “datscha”, consists of only two rooms and anyone peeking through the windows will be able to discover the basic living conditions and his childhood bed. Right behind his birthplace memorial stands still, and proud on a plinth a statue of the leader.
Should There Really Be a Museum for a Monster like Stalin?
I am sure some visitors will fail to understand why a museum has been built on the honour of such a terrible man. Having grown up in Germany with the horrendous cruelties of Hitler being taught at an early age and vouching for similar crimes and injustice to ever happen again, it is even harder to fathom. It is unthinkable that my home country would create a tribute for our equivalent monster leader Hitler. Georgian’s however have lived in a secluded world, under Soviet rule for a long time and only in recent years are trying to come to terms with Stalin’s wrong doings. There’s no doubt that many locals still like to ignore or are just badly informed of his colossal atrocities and we did not expect to see any significant mention of the gulags or the extreme famine that happened under his decades of Soviet rule. In any case maybe they are waiting for foolproof evidence, just like Trump on climate change.
Entrance Tickets for the Museum
Behind Stalin’s protected hut stand the massive Italianate museum building and also his impressive private train carriage, enclosed in bulletproof plating. Tickets are required for both the train carriage and the museum and can be bought at he museum’s ticket office. The palatial structure would probably have found Stalin’s approval and I have to admit that I was quite taken with some of the architectural features, although I could have done without Stalin’s marble statue standing pompously at the top of the stairs, greeting us upon entering. Besides the tickets, (15 GEL for adults, 1 GEL for school children) visitors could buy cups, pipes and even wine adored with the rulers face. What struck me immediately was to see how handsome Stalin was as a young man, if I am allowed to speak openly, having only ever seen photos with his ugly, bushy moustache in later years, before.
Taking the wide stairs to the first floor, we soon entered the rooms that display all kinds of memorabilia of and about Stalin. There are photos and documents of his early life as a revolutionist, working in a secret press and even some poems he wrote. The following rooms show photos and papers of his life up until WWII. The third room deals with the Great Patriotic War. Kids will most likely find the museum an absolute bore. Although there are some interesting gifts from other world figures and countries showcased and some pictures, that might catch some children’s curiosity. None of the displays have any English descriptions they are generally in Georgian or at times in Russian as well.
Not Enough Depth in History
Anyone really interested about getting more information on the artefacts should book a tour, although it is questionable if you will get the answers you might want to hear or expect. To be honest we fairly quickly passed through the museum’s rooms glancing at the art, exhibits and photos, Jerome did seem to pickup some the history from this and later asked some leading questions. Perhaps in a way the architecture and the light shining through the stained glass windows and interestingly shaped shutters were more compelling.
Stalin’s Luxury Train Carriage
Jerome could not wait to step into the train carriage, at first we had to wait for a group to pass through due to the limited space. Stalin certainly had all the luxury required for his lengthy train journeys across the vast distances of Russia. There was a bathtub, a private kitchen where without a doubt a cook prepared his every meal. A comfortable sleeping cabin and of course a study with enough space to plot his next moves. At the end was a sizeable dining room, where we watched a Georgian family pose for souvenir photos, the father flaunting a similar style moustache to Stalin!
Was it Worth the Visit?
Our visit to the Stalin Museum in Gori did not really give us enough insight into the history and atrocities of the dictator as we might have expected or hoped for. However it sparked an interest in Jerome and we discussed it for a long time during our drive to Borjomi. Thankfully it is easy to get information even on the move these days and Chris was able to look up any historical fact while I was driving that we could not answer. There is always hope that with time the museum will be turned into a more informative visit and a perhaps more balanced portrayal of events. For now it is an interesting short visit if you are in the area.
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